An athlete’s health is his or her lifeline. Every bone, organ and muscle must be working together in perfect harmony to allow athletes to perform the best of their ability. There are measures athletes can take to prevent injuries and to stay in mental and physical shape, even while riding the bench, said Pam Gibbons, director of athletic training and sports medicine.
“There were times I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to run or play, but that was because I became short-sighted and was impatient,” said senior football player Andrew Walker, who sustained a season-ending injury last year.
Walker tore his lisfranc ligament and dislocated the first tarsometatarsal ligament in his left foot during the first practice of his sophomore year.
“At first, I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t get off the bed for three weeks, but as soon as I was able to do anything, I was back in the weight room doing the weight program our team has for upper body,” Walker said. “For my lower body, I was busy doing physical therapy with Pam Gibbons every single day.”
Gibbons said that during the fall season, the athletic trainer’s office is filled with student athletes trying to recover from ankle, shoulder and knee injuries.
“It runs across the board,” Gibbons said. “If we have someone who gets injured, not only are we worried about doing specific rehabilitation for that injury, but also, we’ve got to think long-term about when they are going to return to play. And if we can maintain their fitness level, during that injury recovery, then their return to play happens faster.”
Sophomore women’s soccer player Jordyn Bradbury tore her ACL last season, and as a result, she sat out for 10 months, and just sustained a concussion last week from repeated headers to an over-inflated ball, she said.
To stay healthy while injured, Bradbury said she tries to do as much physical therapy as she’s allowed. Depending on the severity of the injury, certain exercises may be restricted.
“It’s important to keep in shape to speed up the recovery process and make the transition from being out, to being able to play as smooth as possible,” said Bradbury. “It is critical to make sure you stay as fit as possible in order to benefit your body and your team when you come back.”
There can be a sense of guilt associated with injuries for dedicated athletes, Gibbons said, which make it harder for them to sit out.
“It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced physically, but it really is a mental battle,” Walker said. “It’s always your attitude that determines what you do. You either come in with a positive attitude knowing you’re going to get better every day, or you have a negative attitude and lose all motivation.”
Walker relied on his friends and family to motivate him through the long recovery process.
“I didn’t always have a positive attitude, and it was very difficult for me to keep my head up, but my best friends and family always kept me up,” he said. “We all love the sport and always keep each other in check to make sure we can play together, my teammates would always pick me up from my house and drive me to school, help me with my homework, help me lift, help me with whatever I was dealing with.”
Gibbons said the recovery time needed for athletes to safely return to competition is not always quick, and it can vary. Gibbons said that to determine whether a player is ready to play again, athletic trainers will assess whether they are pain-free, have full range of motion and strength and if they are functional.
“It depends on the injury, it depends on the player, it depends on the sport, it depends on the position,” Gibbons said. “We’re always thinking about how we can best reduce the chance of another injury.”
Fully recovering from an injury doesn’t stop when the athletic trainer gives a player the OK. In some cases, the player must regain confidence and retrain themselves on things that were once second nature.
“I have to have orthotics in my shoes and cleats and get special tape on my arch, since now I basically have a flat foot,” Walker said. “But it doesn’t stop me and it’s not bad enough to stop anything. (Coming back) was amazing, like I found something that I had lost for a long time.”
Bradbury said she had to put in extra time and work to recover her fitness and skills that she had lost during her time out from the ACL tear. Once she returned, Bradbury said she felt a mix of emotions.
“You are super excited to be back pursuing your passion and playing the sport you love, however, it can be frustrating because you have to work extra hard and still be careful about your precious injury,” Bradbury said. “It’s definitely a lot of hard work, determination, persistence and resilience.”