Injuries suck. Any way you look at an injury sustained by an athlete (or anyone else), there is a big disadvantage and often a tough road back to full health. Returning from injury can be very difficult for athletes, but the real hurdle lies not in the physical pain itself, but rallying the mentality of a wounded competitor.
I recently wrote about the power that an athlete’s mind can have on his or her performance, and injuries directly relate to that notion. A sidelining injury has the power to break down an athlete from the inside out, but also to provide an opportunity to return to mastery.
I fractured my L-4 vertebrae freshman year. It sidelined me from baseball, rid my body of any shred of physical fitness I had attained, and shot down my confidence to an all-time low. I went through a tough year, and was in a cycle that could only be described as vicious. For athletes who have grown up with their fitness and athletic performance being their main indicator of success or failure, having a broken body part can take them out of that system. It is a rattling experience.
Athletes are creatures of habit. They wake up, train, eat, and then train some more. They don’t feel dragged to the gym like non-athletes do when they quest to get in shape. Workouts are part of what they do, and athletes build their schedule around them. When they are taken out of this rhythm, any sense of structure and improvement that they normally have is gone, and detrimental habits can form. This is where both the breaking point and a turnaround opportunity exist for a maligned athlete. They can either continue to bask in negativity with a lost sight of their purpose, or they can fixate on small and gradual steps back to greatness. The lightest most insignificant-seeming rehabilitation exercises are where it starts.
I made the daily trek to the UCLA physical therapy center the summer I rehabilitated my injury. I would painfully crawl out of bed early every morning, thinking the easy stretches and light movements wouldn’t aid my recovery. I didn’t care; I wanted to get better, so I blocked the rest out.
I slowly started to recapture the feeling of physical strength, and it kept me pushing, and the tunnel vision locked onto my resurgence is what healed me. Seeing how the best athletes in the world are able to do just this – to overcome the worst injuries and recapture their once held dominance is truly incredible.
Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was counted out by nearly everybody after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) just 10 months ago. Now back on the field, with every single run he breaks off, he undoubtedly makes the statement that a focused competitor can come back from devastation.
This weekend, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre returned from a year-and-a-half long layoff from a torn ACL of his own. With the world watching, speculating and counting St. Pierre out, he won a unanimous decision victory over Carlos Condit in an all out war. St. Pierre conquered adversity and regained his title as champion.
A man who overcame a potentially career ending injury, St. Pierre in the process defeated all existing doubt.
“I left everything out there, and I had fun,” St. Pierre said. “I had a blast.”
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