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While waiting in the chiropractor’s office to have him work his magic on my aching back, I thumbed through a health magazine. On the last page was a reader-written essay about the first time something new was attempted for better health. At the end was an invitation for other readers to send in their 400-word “first time” pieces. So I sent in this:

Kiai!: How Donning a Karate Gi Rejuvenated Me
by Felicia Hodges

I've always been very physically active. In grade school it was kickball, tag and later, the middle school's softball team (I played first base). As a freshman in high school, a few moths after watching my uncle in the NYC marathon, I decided to give the track team a try. I ran and jumped my way right into an athletic scholarship, seeing the US and earning a B.A. without any school loans hanging over my head after graduation.

Through career shifts, marriage, pregnancy and divorce, I kept competing. In July 2004, I retired from the sport so I could work on my master's and still keep up with my then 11-yr-old son. A few days after I started graduate school in August, I found a pea-sized lump in my right breast.

Thanksgiving break was spent recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. In February, after watching my son do kata from the balcony of the dojo while trying to read my school assignments, I decided to take the sensei up on the offer to join the class. Since track had ended, I hadn't even run to the refrigerator. I missed being active. I missed sweating.

And sweat, we did – thanks to the generous helpings of pushups, jumping jacks and ab work sensei dished out. At least that was familiar – unlike the stances, katas and punching/kicking drills. I felt like the world's least coordinated person for quite a while (which sensei assured me was totally normal), but it felt really good to hit something. Plus we were encouraged to scream loudly while punching and kicking. Physically yelling while hitting a heavy bag proved to be pretty darn therapeutic - and a whole lot cheaper than psychotherapy.

Three weeks before my last radiation treatment, I entered my first competition, (I wore a hard foam protector to keep the radiated chest from getting hit). That did it: my passion for a new physical activity was ignited.

Next May, I will test for my black belt and close in on my five year "cancerversary". Through all the physical changes breast cancer brought, karate was the one constant, proving that I may have had cancer, but cancer didn't really have me because I could do things - very physical things - that I'd never even tried before my diagnosis. I'm so glad I donned a gi and decided to line up in the back of that class. Sweating is good for the soul.  

So tell me about your  first time!


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