One of the biggest setbacks for an athlete is injury. Every athlete at some point in their career has had an injury, whether it was minor or major. This topic is something I can closely relate to and has affected me tremendously. The sport of gymnastics is one of most dangerous sports in existence. Throughout my career as a gymnast, I have dealt with a lot of back and ankle problems. It is just the nature of the sport and sometimes injury is completely unavoidable. In this segment I am going to talk about what I am currently struggling with and ways to overcome injury both physically and mentally.
I have been struggling with ankle pain since I was a sophomore in high school. I severely sprained my right ankle and it never completely healed coming into college. The transition into college athletics was very hard on my body and I didn’t really realize how much pain I was experiencing until the end of last season (sophomore year). I was having most of my pain in my left ankle, especially when it came to tumbling. I thought this was very odd because my pain originated in the right ankle and soon after I was having left ankle pain. So I decided it was best to get my ankles checked out by an orthopedic specialist over the summer while I had some time off. I was unable to run or tumble without experiencing pain and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my college career in constant pain. The x-rays revealed that I had several bone spurs that formed in the front of both of my ankles due to all of the impact that I’ve encountered over the years. The doctor recommended that I try a month of physical therapy to see if that helped the pain. A month later, I still had the same amount of pain that I had before. When I went to see the doctor a second time, he gave me two options. He told me I could come in once a month to receive cortisone shots for the pain or I could undergo surgery to completely remove the bone spurs. He recommended the surgery and said he would do the left one first since that was where most of my pain was. He told me it would only be a month recovery so I agreed to have the procedure done. The surgery was scheduled for July so I thought that would give plenty of time for my ankle to heal before returning to practice at the end of August. The doctor told me after surgery that he found a lot more bone spurs in my ankle than he originally anticipated and that the recovery may take up to 8 weeks. So about 2 weeks after surgery, I returned to physical therapy to regain strength and stability in my ankle. The therapist told me he wasn’t too concerned about me returning to regular activity within a few weeks since I spent a month prior to surgery working on strength and stability. The beginning of September rolled around and I was still having a lot of pain and was becoming very discouraged because I didn’t want to fall behind the rest of my team in strength, endurance, and skill progressions. Here I am today, 3 months later, and I am still not fully recovered. As an athlete, situations like this can become very frustrating and often times can lead to more problems if not handled correctly. I wanted to share my story to spread awareness for athletes coming back from injury and share some helpful hints and precautions I have taken to conquer my frustrations while keeping myself healthy.
Tip #1- Listen to your doctors!
As much as it may hurt you emotionally to be sitting out on your everyday activities or even practice, you are only expediting the healing process. The doctors know what they are talking about and when they say not to do something, it is for your own well-being. Don’t try and push the limits too soon. Don’t neglect the healing process either. If they tell you to ice or heat, do it! If they tell you to do at-home exercises, do them! You are only helping yourself and could potentially speed up the healing process doing so. Don’t forget to also get plenty of rest! Rehab is just as important as rest, and who doesn’t like taking those mid-day naps anyways?
Tip #2- Make yourself an asset in other ways
Especially in a situation like mine, it isn’t always easy watching your teammates practice and do everything you can’t do because of your injury. This doesn’t mean you can’t do other things during practice to stay active and in-shape. Modify exercises and skills when necessary so you can still participate and continue to progress. Acrobatics and tumbling isn’t just about tumbling. There are so many other components and ways to be involved. My injury has made me a stronger and more experienced base despite not being able to tumble the past couple of months.
Tip #3- Seek support and comfort from others
Injury can really put a damper on your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are feeling down and stressed, talk to someone! Holding in your feelings will only make recovery worse. My friends, family, coaches, and 34 teammates have all been very supportive of me and are always there for me when I need them most.
Tip #4- Keep a positive attitude
I know how hard it can be to stay positive when things don’t exactly work out in your favor. The recovery process has taken way longer than I expected, but I know that once I am healthy again I will be stronger and better than ever. Always focus on what you have to look forward to rather than what has already happened. You are in control of your future!
Dealing with injury has changed my life for the better. It has made me both mentally and physically stronger. Athletes aren’t the only ones who deal with situations similar to mine. Simply falling down the stairs can put you in a really bad situation. I’ve been through it all and honestly I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love what I do and I am excited to see what this upcoming season has in store for me!