Unfortunately, injuries can happen in training, competing in an event, or looking to stay fit in our daily lives. With today’s medical care and treatment, we have the knowledge to develop successful injury prevention programs to help athletes stay at the top of their game, injury free. But what do you do when that injury does knock you down and down for the count?
Injuries are not something anyone plans and there never seems to be a perfect time to be out of “commission” due to an injury. Reality is, they do happen and there are some helpful things you can focus on while going through the injury. I personally had a season ending injury and my biggest injury of my career keeping me sidelined for 7 months with intensive rehab. I tore my right ACL and meniscus during a game at Toyota Park with the Chicago Red Stars. It was a traumatic injury but at the same time something that has taught me a lot about my body, life and challenged me mentally in ways that have made me a stronger individual.
As I changed direction to go after a last minute flicked ball, I collapsed. I immediately heard and felt something that wasn’t normal. I knew right away what I had done and there was nothing I could do. I sat on the field helpless, feeling sorry for myself for all the “offseason” plans I had set (this happened with 4 games left in season). I wouldn’t be doing any of it, the Chicago Marathon, traveling or pursing playing overseas. This sucks I thought and how terrible this was going to be. Nothing was official until I had my MRI results the following day and I was hoping for that glimmer of hope that it wasn’t what I thought. After meeting with my Dr. and hearing the results of a torn ACL and meniscus I just sat there once again feeling sorry for myself and in tears. My amazing team of Dr.s and physical therapist supported me and believed in me that I would be back stronger than ever. Needless to say, it took me a long time to ever believe this!
The road to recovery couldn’t have seemed longer. And let me tell you, day one of rehab after the surgery, 7 months was looking like an eternity. I went from playing a professional sport running, jumping, cutting and kicking to not being able to lift my leg for a straight leg raise. Which I thought was rough enough, but due to my meniscus repair, I was also non-weight bearing for 6 weeks. Talk about frustration. I didn’t want help, I wanted to do everything on my own. I never wanted to look weak or have people think I was being a wimp and couldn’t handle the challenge. I wasn’t allowed to bend my knee past 90 degrees for 4 months due to my meniscus repair and it made my rehab “boring”. I wanted to be up and moving and walking like most ACL patients. I wanted to be running at 3 months and seeing my quad muscle again. Instead, I was tied to straight leg raises with 8 pound ankle weights. There were days I thought I’d never bend my leg past 90 or run fast again. Dramatic? Maybe to outsiders, but not me. It seemed like a realistic view on some days. I would have a great week of rehab and be so happy with my progress and the following week my knee would ache, and I couldn’t perform the exercises I was successful at the previous week. Always, 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
In my experience the state of the injury was the first challenge to overcome. I’ve had minor injuries here and there, rolled ankles and tight muscles but nothing that had left me in complete fear for the road ahead of me. I had to accept what was happening and tackle it with a positive attitude or it was going to be a long road to recovery. Once I had come to terms that I was going to have surgery, which I for some reason was deathly afraid of, I was ready to get the recovery process started. Before I headed into surgery I wrote down my goals for rehab and post rehab. I could have looked at my injury as a complete negative timing because I was going to miss the end of the season and my offseason activities, but I started to look at it with a positive light. Our offseason is believe it or not 7 months! If I were to get injured, it happened at the right time for my career as I had all offseason to rehab and come back for preseason better than ever. For the first time I accepted what had happened and what was about to happen and put my mind in the right place to tackle the 7 months of recovery.
I was driven to come back. I did double days of rehab and pushed my body to it’s limits constantly begging my Dr. and therapist to develop a challenging work out. Annoying them with request for new work outs involving swimming, cycling anything to make me sweat and feel I worked out. I knew I had to push myself if I wanted to come back for preseason in 7 months. I was impatient and always was ready for the next step and wanted to move quickly along. That wasn’t always the plan coming from my medical team. They wanted to make sure I was regaining all my strength and performing all my exercises correctly so I wouldn’t run the risk of being re-injured. It annoyed me at times because I felt I was ready to be pushed. Then when I was pushed, I would have a set back of a nagging ache. I would mentally break down.
Most think injuries are physically demanding and they definitely are in order to really take care of yourself and heal. But with out your mind in a good positive spot, the physical energy becomes draining. You have to train your mind as much as you train your body. I was extremely lucky to have a a phenomenal sports phycologist on my side. Someone who had helped me through my college playing career was also by my side through my professional career and kept me in check. She helped me set my goals, stay in tuned with them, but really helped “heal” my mind. I was mentally broken down. I wasn’t doing what I loved. I couldn’t play soccer, I couldn’t train for preseason the way I had for all the past years. At this time of my offseason I would be running fitness, getting as many touches on the ball and playing with boys to help better my game speed. Instead, I was struggling to do single leg squats. She challenged me in a non physical way to get my mind in the right frame to overcome my obstacles in therapy and put me in a good place to fight to make my come back stronger than I was before.
For as many 2 steps forward and 1 step back I had through out the 7 months of rehab, I had a breakthrough of many steps forward and never looked back. Without determination to overcome the obstacle that is laid out in front of you, you’ll stand there staring it right in the face. It’s up to you to make the first move to jump over it. Set goals for what you want to accomplish in and after rehab. Set a standard of your mentality and determination. What kind of patient do you want to be, one that works hard to come back stronger or one that will find an excuse. Train your mind mentally as much as you train your body to heal.
My biggest breakthrough is when I stopped trying to be so strong and brave on my own. I realized my Dr.’s, therapists and friends were in my corner to help me come back stronger than ever and they wanted to see me succeed on the field once again, it took the load off my shoulders. At times I only saw myself as one thing a strong, healthy athlete. This injury made me recognize the importance of life. I am not labeled as an athlete and I am human, I can have set backs and challenges and I can be strong enough to over come them. Not everyone has a serious injury such as mine, but we all know a rolled ankle, pulled muscle or plantar fascitits are not fun injuries and take us away from our passions. You aren’t defined by what you do but be defined by how you handle the uncertainties, set backs and obstacles that stand in your way of doing what you love. Set goals, work hard towards them and allow people to help you. Because without my amazing team of medical staff, family and friends, I wouldn’t have gone on to play 4 more years at the professional level. This injury taught me how deal with situations that I can’t control. I couldn’t control my injury and what had happened but I could control my attitude and how I wanted to approach the injury. It taught me to take a step back and see the greatness in things and count my blessings. Also, things could always be worse and how are you going to have determination and passion when you’re at the lowest of lows and share it with others. I am grateful for going through such a traumatic injury and I think looking at your injuries in a positive way and looking at the bigger picture, you’ll take something away from it. Whatever the lesson is, there is something to be learned in every obstacle we face in life. Have an open mind and be willing to struggle through it because you’ll never know the positive affect it can have on your life unless you let it.