By Valerie Driscoll, Lead Coach and Coaching Program Developer for Apollo Health

In high school, I spent more time upside down than right-side up. I was a passionate member of our gymnastics club, and after the grade-school humiliation of losing every race and being one of the last chosen for kickball, my discovery that I had the natural ability to bend in half backward was thrilling. I was never really good, but I was good enough to have fun.

My outstanding achievement, the one I can remember nailing almost 50 years later, was doing a cartwheel on the balance beam. Considering that consistency is not my strong suit, this was tantamount to Olympic- level stuff. I can still feel the sensation of my second foot landing on the beam and hear the cheers, my brown Danskin forevermore known as my lucky leotard.

For anyone unfamiliar with the balance beam, it lives 4 feet in the air and is 4 inches wide, which is a distance one can easily span with the forefinger and thumb of the same hand. Circa 1975, my tiny school at the bottom of New Jersey had no fancy equipment, like a harness with pulleys to keep you from falling or giant mats and walkways for spotters; we had a “baby beam”: 6 inches in height and made by the football coach, the “big beam” and a couple of guys from the wrestling team who volunteered to catch you if you fell, and possibly ask you to the prom. Baby beam mishaps were no big deal, but big beam mistakes could easily result in an injury to a part of the body you were probably going to want to use at some point in the future,

As you might imagine, one does not start out 4 feet in the air; one starts cartwheeling on a line, which for me, then made everything a line: basketball, tennis, volleyball courts, parking spots, sidewalk cracks, linoleum seams at the market, hardwood floorboards, etc. My supportive parents even allowed me to tape a line on the oriental rug in the living room and moved the glass coffee table into the hall, where it stayed unless there was company.

Sticking the cartwheel took double-digit months — maybe even a year. It included but was not limited to 6 a.m. practices, quitting, tears, swearing, purple or black bruises in a variety of locations and shapes, scrapes, blood, quitting, the north-pole equivalent of ice, and no fewer than 50,000 cartwheels (I just did the math). Still, finally, I became so consistent that I knew where I was going to land, even when upside down. Next came months on the baby beam and, ultimately, the cheering.

This Bredesen Protocol® is like walking a 4” beam, 4’ in the air, yet I witness members so hard on themselves for not being able to jump right up there and nail it every time. I hear lots of berating and shame, which is never helpful — ever. The truth is, to be successful, most of us are going to have to metaphorically cartwheel 50,000 lines and know where we are, even upside down. Fortunately for us, the world is full of lines ready for your cartwheeling. All you have to do is see them as the opportunities they are; as you gain consistency, up the height. CELEBRATE every time your second foot lands securely. If it does not land — don’t give up. Be kind to yourself, take a breath, and collect the data to see what went wrong. Thought you could have ice cream in the freezer for the rest of the family, but finished the quart at 10 p.m.? Stop having ice cream in the house; lock the freezer; tell them to finish it while you go for a walk; get an accountability buddy; read about the evils of sugar —  get closer to the line.

Relish the upside down-ness of this all, a theme here at Apollo! The entire protocol generally turns the traditional beliefs regarding Alzheimer’s on its head, and our Brain Food Pyramid is a topsy-turvy version of what the USDA tells us to eat.

And remember, there are spotters everywhere to help you with your form and falls: enlist friends and family, consult with a coach, or join one of our monthly support groups, such as the one focused on Habit Change.

All this talk just prompted me to go out in the yard and try a cartwheel for the first time in roughly 35(?) years; it wasn’t bad, and nothing fell off, so I am going to look for some tape. 

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