Why Peyton Manning is more remarkable than you think

Peyton Manning has had an incredible year by any standard. He was named SI Sportsman of the year, he broke the single season passing yardage record, named MVP, and is playing in the AFC championship game. While this is an impressive season of football for any quarterback, Peyton’s success is a lot more personal to me. Like all healthy 34 year olds, I had a double cervical fusion. See, Peyton and I have a lot in common aside from liking beer, we both had neck surgery. And from experience, it’s no easy feat.

As a neck surgery vet, being able to explain the scar on your neck by simply saying: “you know, Peyton Manning?”. . . is more helpful than you would ever know. In fact, my Dr. said the same words to me when he first told me I needed a double cervical fusion. For the first 20 minutes of the appointment, I just heard noise. I was in denial and didn’t understand what the Dr. was telling me until he said . . .”you know Peyton Manning?”. Then it clicked, and somehow neck surgery was slightly less scary.

Peyton had to learn to throw a football again. In September 2011, Manning had his FOURTH neck surgery. Along with neck surgery comes numbness and tingling in your arms as well as loss of motion, strength and grip. It’s disheartening, maddening, frustrating and every other emotion in between. Peyton couldn’t hold a 3 pound dumbbell less than 3 years ago and now he is breaking passing records. He had to start from scratch, was cut by the team he adored and is now playing for the AFC Championship. It’s truly incredible. It took me 6 months to be able to hold my coffee again without spilling (or dropping) it. I am not allowed to lift carry on luggage over my head and Peyton Manning is playing football. Lee Jenkins, of SI, did an amazing job of capturing what Peyton went through. (If you haven’t read it, read it)

I am not the only one that feels this way. You often wonder if you will ever be back to normal. If you will ever do the activities that you love again. There are times when I wanted to quit physical therapy and give up, but I didn’t. I can’t tell you how I often I thought, If Peyton can play football again, I can . . .
My first win wasn’t throwing a football, but walking to a Target 3 blocks away by myself. Sounds pathetic but I felt like I regained a bit of my independence. Manning receives hundreds of letters from individuals battling debilitating illnesses and to me and to all of those people, he embodies hope. Recovering from neck surgery and and getting your life back no longer seems impossible, but probable. Seeing him be successful pushes you a little harder because you know recovery is possible. I went to SPIN class for the first time last week. Sounds simple, but it was a big deal.

Whether or not, Manning wins another SuperBowl, will not alter the impact that he has made. (I’ll be rooting for Peyton come Sunday; us neck surgery vets, have to stick together). Manning has already received every football accolade imaginable. It’s not just about Peyton’s success on the field, but the honesty behind the injury. Knowing that the most competitive guy on earth, had doubts and questioned his comeback, makes recovery a bit more tangible. So, thank you, Peyton…I think I’m going to have a beer.

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