Rewiring the brain for success

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I’m about to experience a life-changing seizure, but I don’t know it at the time. I’m standing in the shower, while attempting to watch my two children, a two-week-old baby and a one-year-old, through the misty screen while simultaneously rehearsing out loud a presentation for work.

This kind of ‘productivity’ is typical of my post-Olympic existence. After 12 years devoted to the Australian Olympic Rowing Team, a marriage and having two children in world-record pace, I was living in catch up mode – constantly trying to cram as much mothering and career as I could into every moment – so much so that I’m not really ever fully present.

Out of nowhere, a wave of vertigo consumed me, then the left side of my body collapsed and proceeded to convulse. I scrambled out of the shower, puzzled as my body had never let me down before. As I attempted to exit the bathroom, I called out for assistance for a health concern I knew nothing about. As I fell heavily on the floor, off-balance by the dead weight of my left side, I realised in a frightening rush of panic that I might be living through a stroke. This was the start of an awakening – the biggest adventure of my life was about to commence.

My identity, the characteristic which defined me – was that of my physical ability. At this point in my life, I discovered that this element of my being and identity had vanished in a flash. After a seven-hour craniotomy, I woke up in intensive care as an athlete in an infant’s body, paralysed down the left side. No one is sure of what the future would hold.

As the hours unfolded, I discovered the neurology team couldn’t predict whether I would even walk again. I had to learn how to dress and feed myself, and complete daily tasks by reconnecting new neural pathways for the left side of my body. I didn’t know at the time, but I wasn’t to go home for eight months and would not engage professionally for one year.

The good news was that I survived my stroke. The bad news was that I need to reboot, not just the body, but the brain.

I had to draw down from my career as an Olympic athlete and recall that success was not defined by just training the body, but also, training the mind.

It was time to redefine success, and give new meaning to “being Olympic” by turning this obstacle into an opportunity.

 Sally Callie is a professional who knows what it takes to get back up. She is a current Olympic record holder and long term educator, who shares her strategies of success. When she suffered a stroke at age 37, Sally faced a challenging reboot – a greater challenge than all of her challenges to date: retraining her body and mind despite medical opinion to the contrary.