Updated: Jun 28
Dear Injured Athletes,
You know each and every sacrifice that comes with being an athlete. From early morning lifts, to late night games/meets, there’s a lot more that goes into being an athlete than shown on the court, track, or field. There’s days when you leave in tears of frustration because things don’t seem to click. The hard days that make you wonder if this is even worth it. But then it all seems to come into place: getting a new PR, winning a big meet/game, the countless stories with teammates on the bus ride home; all these joys triumph over the pain.You can’t imagine life without your sport… until you’re forced to.
Injuries suck, a lot. They make you fill up with regrets and if only’s. “If only I would’ve known it was going to be my last meet.” “If only I would’ve known it was going to be my last practice, maybe I would’ve savored the moment more.” The situation is tough, there’s nothing you could’ve done in that moment that would change this. No matter what, injuries are going to leave you questioning why this happened to you. Everything you worked so hard for got thrown away in a short span of time. The days go by extremely slowly as you anxiously wait for the day you can go and do what you love, and you know you would do just about anything to get back to your sport.
However, when the day does finally come where you are cleared, you are filled with joy which leaves you feeling on top of the world. The high lasts about a week, and you remember what doing what you love feels like again. As a competitive athlete, the comparison and frustration soon take over. After sitting out for a prolonged period of time, your body isn’t used to the stress you once put on it. It’s humbling coming back and realizing you were nowhere near the level you were before the injury happened. You see all the other athletes scoring all these points, running these PR’s, winning all these medals, and you can’t help but feel envious. You think how amazing they’re doing and realize you’re running 15 minutes per week at a pace 4 minutes slower than you’re used to. Yes it’s exciting you’re finally cleared, but it’s disheartening not feeling the same way pre-injury. You expect so much out of yourself and the so-called “comeback” that when it doesn’t go your way, your spirit is soon crushed again.
Injures seem like a cycle of never ending disappointments. There’s moments that make you question why this even happened to yourself. And as much as you don’t want to admit it, there is a legitimate reason why this happened to you. It just takes time to realize it.
Getting injured might just seem like this random thing that happened to you, but 99.99% of the time it’s your body’s way of trying to tell you something. Whether it be underfueling, going too hard in a short period of time, having too many stressors in your life, or whatever it may be, your body is saying it needs a rest. It’s truly amazing that the human body works in such a way. As an athlete, it’s most likely that you’ve pushed through pain that really shouldn’t have been pushed through. Athletes have a tendency to put a band-aid on things so they are still able to compete. While it seems like it works, this is only temporary. Getting injured gives your body awareness you never knew you had before. You are aware of all the little nicks in your body, can tell when the injury hurts a little more than usual, and most importantly the difference between soreness and a fracture/something more serious. This bodily awareness gained will make you a stronger and smarter athlete for the future. You now have the tools and knowledge of how to treat something quickly and how to proceed afterwards.
In the sports world, a win is most often noted as being first place across the finish line, having the higher score on the scoreboard, etc; however, a win isn’t just that. A win is the fact your body is doing everything in its capability to heal itself, a win is being able to walk without pain, a win is being able to do literally any exercise at all. With an injury, there’s always a cloud of distress that covers up the joy, making it really hard to find the positive. From personal experience, finding little victories along the way makes the process of healing go by ten times faster. Whether you swam 10 minutes longer than normal, get to try new things at physical therapy, or simply being grateful you have more time exploring new hobbies, you can find the positive in almost everything. You’re not going to heal any faster by complaining or wishing, so you may as well make the best out of the given situation.
Besides being optimistic, one of the best ways to make the best out of an injury is to control what you can control. There’s a lot of uncertainty with injuries and a lot of things that aren’t in your control- the length of recovery, how long you’re out for, the exercises you are/aren’t allowed to do, etc. It feels as though nothing is in your hands anymore, which can no doubt create an anxious feeling. As scary as it is, those things you have to place in God’s hand and accept things as they progress. By no means does this means to live by “whatever happens, happens,” 24/7; in fact, surrendering outcomes means quite the opposite. By surrendering the timeline and the anxiety that comes with it, it leaves room for the more important things in life. You’re letting go of unnecessary stress on the body and now are capable of spending your energy on things YOU can control. A coach once introduced me to the concept of W.I.N. (What’s Important Now.) The concept is asking yourself what you can do to better yourself for tomorrow. From an injury standpoint, this means making sure you’re fueling your body with enough food, doing PT exercises, going to bed early, and keeping stress as low as possible by journaling, prayer, music, etc. When accomplishing these, allow yourself to W.I.N. the day. Doing this will make yourself feel good and accomplished, because it is an accomplishment letting your body heal! You aren’t in control of the day your bone heals itself, what the next season will look like, or what others are accomplishing. God already knows this and has a greater plan for it. It’s your job to use your knowledge and tools in the given moment to make the best out of the situation.
The most important aspect of recovering from an injury is to know you are more than an athlete. Your friends aren’t going to stop supporting you because of your injury. The sun is still going to come up the next day. Coffee dates don’t change, spontaneous trips to Target don’t change, your personality doesn’t change, and your worth doesn’t change. Getting injured forces you to see yourself as more than an athlete. And though uncomfortable at first, knowing your worth outside of athletics is the most powerful tool of all. “In fact, even the hairs on your head are numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7.). God created you for a bigger reason than just athletics. He called you to be a daughter/son, a friend to others, and a supportive teammate. Other people value you and see you as more than just a PR or a win. Athletics are a tiny part of who you are. And though it is heartbreaking not to be able to pursue your athletic goals at the given moment, trust and know there will in fact be a day when it does come back. And when it does, you are going to come out stronger, more driven, and more grateful than ever. It may take time to feel good or feel like yourself again, but trust that it will indeed come.