Karate: A Transformative Experience
This blog entry talks about the life-changing impact karate made in the life of one martial arts practitioner. If you have an inspirational, uplifting story about how martial arts personally affected you, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to share your story.
By Connie Litorco
In 2009 our daughter, Celeste, was born. We were thrilled, scared and excited to be new parents, but something was wrong. I was tired all the time and felt constant, intense pain. There were times when my heart would race until I felt like passing out. There were times I couldn’t breathe. Understandably, my symptoms were attributed to the fact that we were first time parents with a newborn, postpartum depression, and my obesity.
About a year after these symptoms surfaced, I experienced my first fainting episode. Within months, I was so exhausted I could barely care for the baby and I was fainting up to six times a day. I saw multitudes of specialists and went through scores of tests as doctors slowly ruled out MS, Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, early-onset Parkinson’s and epilepsy. Eventually, a rheumatologist diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia which explained the extreme muscle weakness and nerve pain, but not the fainting.
One evening, my heart was beating so irregularly and painfully, I thought I was having a heart attack at 31 years of age. After an ECG in the emergency room, I finally received a diagnosis to explain my fainting and cardiac symptoms: Long QT Syndrome. Essentially, when my heart rate spiked due to fibromyalgia pain flares, my heart would stop beating altogether. 24 hour heart monitoring showed that my heart would stop up to 13 seconds at a time, multiple times a day. According to the Cardiologist, it was a miracle I was still alive.
I underwent pacemaker implantation and became the second person in Canada to receive a ceramic, MRI compatible, dual chamber pacemaker. I experienced rare and nearly fatal side effects after the operation which led to emergency surgery, and just before Christmas 2011 I came home with a functional heart.
Recovery from that medical emergency was very slow and mentally challenging. I was so afraid to exercise or do doing anything to cause my heart rate to increase because sudden cardiac death was still a very real possibility for me. I was not allowed to work, drive, or take care of Celeste on my own. I felt like my life was over and that I was a burden to my family.
For several years I lead an incredibly sedentary life. I lost most of my muscle mass, any semblance of cardiovascular fitness disappeared and I easily tired while walking or going up stairs. I thought my heart condition was worsening and thought that resting more would help. I was trapped in a vicious cycle of degrading health and my quality of life was at an all time low. I became suicidally depressed and started to self-harm.
In 2013, Sensei Alex Capicio started teaching at Eastlake Industrial Park and I encouraged Bryan to check out his friend’s dojo after retiring from martial arts 10 years prior. After seeing his excitement and realizing how much karate meant to him, I made it my mission to nag Bryan until he agreed to start training again. After watching Bryan train, Celeste was interested in starting karate because dance wasn’t holding her interest, but she felt scared. I made a pact with her: if she started karate, I would too so we could learn together and do our belt tests together. In September 2014 Celeste and I officially joined Capicio Zen Karate and became part of the Zen Karate family.
I cannot express just how impactful karate and martial arts has been on my health and lifestyle. I went from being completely sedentary and housebound to co-owning a dojo and taking martial arts classes (karate, kickboxing and Rutano Estokada Kali) 7 days a week. I’ve met so many friendly, supportive, non-judgmental people who’ve all helped me achieve things I’d never thought possible. As an extremely introverted and shy person, the idea of participating in group classes and martial arts tournaments seemed like an impossibility, but I now look forward to training and competing.
The best part about joining martial arts is I now feel like a real role model to my daughter and I cherish the time we spend training together and competing as a family. I feel like a productive, useful individual again for the first time in many years. I have the ambition to set goals for myself and the motivation to work to achieve them. It fills me with happiness to hear Celeste say, “If you’re doing it, I should at least try.”
I encourage anyone who is interested in martial arts to try it, regardless of age, ability or fears (check out our previous blog You’re Never Too __ to Start Martial Arts). If you experience even a fraction of the benefits I do, you’ll be forever grateful you did!