What injury can do to an athlete’s psyche & how to overcome those obstacles

What injury can do to an athlete’s psyche & how to overcome those obstacles

*** 8 coping mechanisms & tips below ***

According to Merriam Webster the definition of psyche is the soul, mind, or personality of a person or group. That being said, like-minded people often have like-minded psyches. I am, and always have been an ATHLETE.

Not just an athlete because I’ve played sports, but mentally an athlete; a competitive, self-motivated, driven, and dedicated athlete.

As a child, I actually never played soccer or tee-ball. I was never on a town team of any sport. I didn’t take up karate or any other activity for a brief season. I was simply a gymnast. For as long as I can remember, my life was gymnastics. It defined me. I was known at school by my teachers/friends as a competitive gymnast. The majority of my closest friends were teammates, not school friends. There were days I missed school for national/international traveling and competitions. Every project and homework assignment I did was focused around gymnastics. We had an arrangement with my Hebrew school, they would allow me to leave 30-minutes early twice a week so that I could make it to gymnastics practice 30-minutes late (it was a compromise we all had to make.) My entire childhood and teenage life was dedicated to 35+ hours in the gym; building my strength, perfecting my technique, polishing my performances, learning new skills, and avoiding injury.

It’s no surprise that in my long-term relationship with gymnastics I would eventually stumble over a few injuries. The normal stuff; sprains, physical therapy sessions, and a few broken bones. I was one of the lucky ones; I never needed surgery. However, I did have a big “career ending” injury right before starting college. I was finishing up my bar routine in a competition with some giants into a toe front dismount. For those who don’t know gymnastics lingo, I was front flipping off the high bar (about 9 ft off the ground) while attempting to stick the landing. To say I stuck the landing is an understatement, I literally stuck straight into the ground with locked knees, my feet didn’t move, and a shock wave went directly up to my neck. My poor mother had to watch me be taken away for medical treatment from the bleachers. Test results came back with 2 lumbar vertebrae fractures. Not what I wanted to hear! At the time, I had come to terms with my career ending and getting to focus on experiencing college without the added pressure of being on the gymnastics team. Although, I really could NOT prepare for how much I would miss it! I was no longer a gymnast.

It didn’t take long before I realized that I needed my fix. I needed the gym. I needed to push myself, to get uncomfortable, to find that part of me I left behind, the piece of my identity that I knew best. So, I got certified to be a personal trainer and teach group fitness classes. I filled my free time with working at the gym and learning how to lift weights. I still flipped and played around for fun because I always promised myself that I would never “lose a back handspring”.

Fast forward five years after college and I had a freak accident in the gym, tearing two ligaments in my right ankle, landing me in surgery. Go figure, years of flipping and I was fine, but running on the treadmill did me in!

It was a brutal year-long recovery that totally messed with my head. The mental recovery was harder than the physical aspect. I was an athlete; I couldn’t sit on the couch. What if I got fat? How would I avoid gaining weight? What if I couldn’t regain my strength? What would happen to my gains? How would I work? I was a Physial Education teacher. How could I teach in a wheelchair? I couldn’t ask people for help. How could I possible relay on others to drive me, cook for me, and take care of me? Who was I?

Athletes use sport as: a sense of identity, a constructive way to cope with stress, and a major self-esteem booster. So, when you take away their sport an athlete might feel: lonely, isolated, lost, depressed, frustrated, unhappy with themselves, angry, etc.

I can tell you first hand that at age 26 I went through all those emotions. I climbed an uphill battle; I learned lessons about my body and myself. I overcame my struggles and broke through stronger. The recovery actually created a new bucket list challenge. I decided that I wanted to flip again, perform, dance, show my flexibility/strength, and continue weight lifting and sculpting the body of my dreams! I was going to enter my first fitness competition.

So, after years of toying with the idea I finally joined the most incredible team of women. I became a Savage girl! Joining Cathy Savage Fitness allowed me train naturally, focus on living a health lifestyle, practice posing, and the best part….I found my tribe of adult athletes again!

I sit here today typing this blog after competing two competitions. I would love to say that I will be heading to Vegas with all my teammates in two weeks for another one, but a freak accident has me on the couch yet again. Here I am, 31 years old and finally starting my fitness competition journey. I’ve been training my tush off for this season, but a relaxing walk by the beach resulted in two detached ligaments in my left ankle. Yup, the same as five years ago, just the other ankle.

When the doctor read my MRI results I immediately got that pit in my stomach. That heavy sinking feeling, weight on my shoulders pressing down, “OMG, I’m nobody” feeling again. Just like last time. However, I made the conscience decision to handle it differently!

Trust me, I’ve had a pitty party or two, but I know how important having the right mindset is. I’m older, wiser, and stronger mentally.

This time around, I’ve found some key coping mechanisms to get me where I need to be. Here are my tips!

• It’s okay to be sad: Yeah, yeah it stinks and I feel a sense of identity loss again, I’ve worked so hard, why me, blah blah blah. The truth of the matter is that feeling is all a part of healing and it’s okay to be sad.
• It is what it is: Okay, pity party is over, everyone left, the house is all cleaned up, now deal with it. Harsh, I know; but the fact of the matter is, this is reality and this is really your life at the moment. Keep living.
• Stay positive: This can be hard, but don’t forget, you love hard, you’re an athlete. Your mindset is everything! If you’re negative, it will slow your recovery down. Growth and gains start from the inside. You get what you focus on.
• Set new goals: So, competing this fall is out of the question and squatting 170 lbs. when I get back to the gym isn’t realistic. Start small. Right now I need to focus on bearing weight with my crutches enough so that I can start walking without them. After that, I’ll need to work on losing the boot. So many tiny goals to focus on. Get busy working on them!
• Do the work: I hated when my coaches used to say, “if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself”, but they’re right. Listen to your doctors, don’t cut corners at physical therapy, work hard at rehab, and visualize what you want. Don’t just go through the motions. Remember, you’re an athlete. You would never half-ass your workouts before the injury, why do that now?
• Think outside the box: You may not be competing or training at the moment, but how can you still be involved? How can you help others? For me, I’ve been blogging about my entire surgery/recovery experience. It’s helping me cope and deal with the process. I’m still coaching gymnastics and training clients. I have set myself up to be a role model and to share my positive attitude with others. My life isn’t over because I’m laid up, it’s just different.
• Find support: I’m fortunate to be on a team of amazing, loving, and supportive woman/coaches. They inspire me daily and it’s awesome to cheer for them on the sidelines! My family and friends have been more than supportive. They listen to me whine, cook me food, come hang out with me, make me laugh, and they’re just there for me when I need. Don’t isolate yourself.
• Be patient: If you’re injury is temporary, then just know that it will heal. It may take time, but you can’t rush the process. Often with injuries, if you rush you end up with a set back, taking a longer time then it would have if you waited. Go slow, listen to your body, and come back with strength!

Any injury, temporary or permanent, is always painful, frustrating, and a disruption to your life. Just like you sport doesn’t actually define you, neither does your injury! Remember to focus on what you have. Be grateful for the support, doctors, and health you DO have. Your mindset is everything and fortunately, YOU get to control that! I know, it’s easier said then done… I’m going through it right now, but stay in control and focus on recovery. It will come!

XOXO, Jess

#roadtorecovery #mindsetiseverything