Athletes encounter many struggles during their continuing journey toward perfection; but the one demon who can extinguish those hopes and dreams of excellence, in the blink of an eye, is injury.
Injury is a common part of training and especially training at an elite level. For those that have never sustained a significant injury, consider yourself lucky, but not invincible. It will happen. And it will happen when you least expect it, and probably at the most inopportune time. Fear not, you will get through it. For those that have endured a setback due to injury, hopefully you came out of it learning something about yourself physically, emotionally, and most importantly, mentally. Injuries are oftentimes worn as medals, battle scars serving as reminders of the hard work and sacrifice we’ve made to our chosen pursuit. The blistered and ripped up hands from lifting weights, stress fractures in our shins and feet from miles upon miles of running, broken fingers from forcing the jump ball or going after rebounds with reckless abandon…the list goes on and on of sports-related injuries. It is all part of the game and putting forth your best, day in and day out.
Four days into training at the U.S. National Team Training Center in Princeton, NJ I’ve sustained my first real rowing injury. Timing can truly be a bitch. This isn’t my first rodeo and I have had plenty of injuries (hand and knee surgeries, torn ligaments, strains, tendonitis, etc.) during my years of running, basketball, softball, and volleyball, but the “rowing” injury is foreign and newly experienced. Historically, I have been the worst patient when it comes to injury. The thought of missing workouts or having to “go easy” on anything makes my stomach turn and my skin itch. Especially at this juncture. But here I am having to take off three full days (at least), nursing a pretty wicked back strain. This is my Hell. When it comes to feeling an injury first come on, the initial instinct for most athletes is to “fight through it” — which is what got me to the place I’m currently in. Some lessons are learned the hard way…over and over again. Listening to one’s body is an important part of training, competing and being successful at an elite level. I recently had a conversation with a friend who, in her efforts to knock some sense into me about a few things, said:
“It’s not enough to train well most of the time. To be successful at this level, you have to do everything right all the time. That means training, sleeping, eating, taking care of yourself, healing injuries, etc.”
Injury truly can be Hell, but if you maintain the same approach to recovery and healing as you do to your workouts, you can come out stronger, smarter, and better prepared for the next time…or even preventing. But inevitably, injury will most likely happen again. So whether it’s maintaining a religious ice, rest, and physical therapy schedule or getting your daily lift, run, etc. in–work hard, relentlessly and consistently. In addition to that, maintain the same mental edge you do in competition. Nothing can throw off an athlete’s confidence and motivation like injuries. They can appear at any time and do most of their damage on the mind rather than the body. From personal experience and witnessing fellow teammates and friends training at a high level go through an injury, mental recovery can be the most difficult part. Stay positive and do what the Doc tells you…oh and stock up on plenty of DVDs and popcorn if you’re on bedrest.