Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The mind of an injured athlete

“You've done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.” -- Ralph Marston

I started playing soccer when I was 8 years old, after a friend introduced me to it. And I kept playing it for another 10 years. I wasn't amazing, but I played on varsity all four years of high school. It was pretty much the one thing that I could do that took me into "the zone". Where you are operating without thinking. In fact, even when I play today and people ask me to do a certain "move" again, I have trouble. I don't think about it. I just do it in the moment.

Like most kids, I had a dominate leg that I kicked with. My right leg. But during my senior year, I pulled my right quad. The pain would come and go and I tried physical therapy but nothing seemed to help. Like most high school athletes, I kept playing--because it was a huge part of my life. It was my last year. I wasn't going to sit on the bench and give up. So, I started using my left leg to shoot with. I even played in the final tournament game with my right quad tightly bandaged.

Today, I play with both legs. I can shoot with my right or left leg. I can play on either side of the field (I usually play center). My left leg certainly isn't as accurate as my right--but that injury in high school was a blessing in disguise. I learned to do what most people (except the pros) don't--how to shoot with either leg.

When athletes get injured they tend to lose their sense of identity, their self esteem, and their stress coping mechanism. Not being able to do what they do best, feeling weak, and becoming frustrated and bored are all common. I haven't really been injured since high school--because I haven't really been an "athlete" since then. Until I started Crossfit. And then I recently injured my knee playing recreational soccer.

I've been struggling a lot with this injury. For those of you who know what Crossfit is like (or really any sport)--you probably also know what its like to suddenly lose the opportunity to do what you love doing. Yes, I'm still working out as best I can. But my goals of hitting a 175# back squat went out the window when I hurt my knee. And although Crossfit gives you a great sense of community (like other team sports), I can't do the same workout as every one else. Which leaves me feeling left out of that community--even if I'm still in the same room.

Crossfit is not my identity. It is just something I do for "fun". Or is it? It is also my way of coping with stress. It is my social outlet. It is something I do at least 4 times a week, and have been doing for over a year and a half. It is a lifestyle. Its my reason for eating healthy. And feeling good. And I think mostly importantly, for me, it is my sense of strength. It is my physical strength--but that radiates out into all aspects of my life. When I'm feeling weak, down, or vulnerable--Crossfit reminds me of my inner strength. So the loss of my right knee--is a bit of a blow to my sense of self.

But when I think back to what I gained from my high school injury--I have to remind myself that I can still come out on top from this. In fact, I started Crossfit for a reason--I wanted upper body strength. I was tired of feeling weak and not being able to "keep up with the guys". I couldn't do a push up. And, one of my major goals has been to get strict pull ups. So here it is--my chance to focus everything I've got on upper body and core strength. Does it suck that I can't do deadlifts? Yes. Do I feel like all of my hard work is going down the drain? Yes. Does it terrify me that maybe I'll never get to play soccer again? Yes.

But for right now--all I have is the chance to make the best out of a shitty situation. All I can do is try to turn my frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination. Strength comes in many forms, and if I have learned anything from Crossfit-- it is that mental strength concurs all.

For more on the mental state of injured athletes check out this great page that I found very helpful:


No comments: