"Don't go to the doctor!" But the shoulder pain has become unbearable. "Just don't go to the doctor!" my skating coach insisted again. I always know he has my best interests in mind.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because he will just tell you to stop skating."
"Well what if he's right? I have to feel better. It's just too much now."
"He's not right. Pain is just part of life now. You are older, you will have pain. You can still skate."
Whoa, he played the age card. No fair. Still, I know I have endured numerous minor aches and pains regularly for years, figuring they will likely be with me for the remainder of my "older" adult life. But this pain has become unbearable. It wakes me in the middle of the night, begging for attention. I have invented a hundred "workarounds" to help me dress, open the car door, put my hair up, even hug my kids without pain.
I decided to ignore my coach's pleas, and made an appointment with renowned shoulder expert, Dr. B. After a series of x-rays and an office visit filled with excruciating movement study ("do you have pain when I do this?"), my diagnosis was shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tendonitis. Basically a ton of inflammation and parts rubbing rudely against other parts that have no business being rubbed. His prescription for now is anti-inflammatories and some physical therapy. Day 2 and so far not much has changed, pain-wise. I will start the physical therapy on Monday, which will be Day 6, so hopefully the meds will enable me to do some exercises with much less pain.
OK so that is the back story. Now for the lesson. It's a lesson for me. It's my job, my passion, to help injured athletes successfully navigate the sport injury rehabilitation process and come out confident and ready to return to play. All the knowledge in the world does not compare to knowledge plus experience. I am ready to experience, ready to practice what I so fervently preach. Thought I would share with you as I go.
It's not going to be easy, as you can see from my coach's reaction. In the past, I have had sports injuries. Of course I have. Any athlete can point to any number of dings, sprains or breaks they have had. When training for the Marine Corps Marathon one year, my spirit was willing, but my achilles was weak. Had I continued to train it would surely have ruptured. I endured rehab and came back, though I did miss the marathon. Poor timing. So I have past experience to tell me that I will get through this, I will return. At that time, however, I did not yet know about the mental tools I could have used to help me. I struggled instead of taking control and thus did not fully regain confidence in my ability to run long distance.
Another difference between then and now was that I was an individual, training on my own and not with a coach or team. I did not need to please anyone with my progress but myself. There was no timetable beyond my control for my return. Now, I have a coach. And the pressure he exerts is far more than I imagined it would be. It's not like I am training for the Olympics, but I must say I have made significant progress in my skating this year, and who knows what the future holds. To my coach, though, Olympian or not, train through the pain is the mantra.
Granted, Dr. B did not specifically say "don't skate." He did say quite obviously, "If something you're doing when you skate causes pain, it might be a good idea not to do it for a few weeks to let the medication and therapy do their job."
Like many of my clients who hear these words or face the cessation, albeit temporary, of a loved activity so integrated with life, I immediately began to figure a workaround. I can still skate, sure, but I just won't use that arm. Sure, that will affect my balance, my ability to use my shoulders to guide my turns and edges. But is that so bad?
Practice what I preach. I need to do this right, if for no other reason than to prove to my clients I get it. And that the tools we use during their rehab do indeed work. So here I go.
Even though my injury was not due to a trauma but was gradual in onset, there still came the moment when I knew enough was enough. Yet I was still unprepared to consider taking a break from skating. I did not understand exactly what was happening to my shoulder. There was a feeling that my shoulder was betraying me. As athletes we are very in tune with our bodies. We know how they move, know how to direct them to perform. We know what feels right and what feels wrong. We have the sense that we are in control of our bodies. So when an injury occurs, we may feel we are losing control over our bodies. So first things first, I set out to understand from Dr. B what exactly was happening without me. He is an amazing doctor, very patient and knowledgeable. He showed me a model of a shoulder, demonstrated over and over what was going on in my shoulder, and what needs to happen in order for the pain to go away. I plan to take this information into the next phase, when imagery will really come in handy.
Tomorrow's Boston Marathon, the 118th, will make news for more than being the elite, time-honored event that it is for marathoners. This year's race will be a testament to individual fortitude and the collective strength of a nation.
Over 5,500 runners (5,633, to be exact) who were unable, by circumstances beyond their control or worst imagination, to finish, were invited to return this year to race again. Those are the runners who are digging just a little deeper, questioning just a little more. The joy of running, the elation of competition, the thrill of pushing your body beyond its comfort zone and coming out on the other side in an altered state of consciousness or "flow," these are all now being compared to the grim reality that even intense preparation cannot ensure any particular outcome. "Is it worth it? Can I even finish this time? What if...?"
No, we cannot control the insanity of others who may seek to disrupt the harmony of our lives. But dwelling on what cannot be controlled is only detrimental to ultimate performance.
There are sights, sounds, feelings that cannot be unseen, unheard, forgotten. One should be mindful of these, allowing them to be, but not letting them interfere. Be aware that in this moment the thoughts are just that--thoughts constructed, reconstructed, replayed in the mind. They can appear easily but by the same token, can be dismissed as well. Trying to pretend they are not there in the first place is futile. But accepting their presence and willfully deciding to let them pass, replacing the thoughts for the moment with ones that are more positive, energizing, focused on the task at hand can help one renew their commitment to their ultimate goal.
To reach that goal, these runners will be faced with the same mental and physical challenges as any other runner in any other race. Until that moment. There will come a moment in this race when an awareness of what was and what is will merge. At that moment, the true measure of the runners will be seen. My guess is that each one has already played through that moment in their minds, and decided how best to handle it when it comes. After all, these are athletes who consistently push themselves beyond where their minds want their bodies to go. Run 26.2 miles, when nothing is chasing you? Crazy, right? These runners have learned to push through physical and mental challenges to reach their goals.
This will be no different, yet very different. No one would blame these runners if they couldn't push this time. But I don't think it will come to that for any of them. The inner strength they possess, the cheering crowds, the collective shoulders upon which they will be carried to the finish line--I predict this performance for each to be the greatest challenge, but more importantly, the personal best performance of their athletic lives.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.