CrossFit Talk: Injury and Recovery

With the Winter Olympics 2014 and CrossFit Open coming up, I’d like to talk about something that almost all athletes have faced at some point of their athletic journey: injuries. Now of course, I am by no means a professional competitor or even a sports specialist, but I’m writing as a fellow sportswoman who, just like anyone who maintains an active lifestyle whether Crossfitter or not, always faces the risk of injury. In fact, I’m nursing one right now – a patellar abrasion – in my left knee, also the one that has a completely torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), just two weeks before my supposed first CF competition. Bummer.

A little bit of a background about my sob story (it’s really not tear-worthy, but you can fake a heartfelt aww for me if you’d like):

Young and wild, super active, I don’t really know quite how I survived high school. I was always doing something with rackets or skates or balls (stray not, you dirty sneak) – basketball, tennis, ice skating, track & field. One winter break, we went snowboarding in the ironically named Sunshine Valley in Canada, and I wasn’t all that great with my feet strapped down, so I crashed. Badly. I landed straight on my knees and probably gave them such a shock that all my lovely jubblies (a.k.a cartilage and what not) were obliterated. Fast forward 5 months on the second last day of the semester in a friendly game of King of the Court, I tore my ACL. It was a mess, as was I, reduced to a crumpled pile of snot and tears while all of my friends stared down at me. I was 14 and ferociously stubborn. As soon as I could walk again, I tried to run and my knee would obviously give way, putting me back on crutches five times in that year. Ah, the juvenile and foolish.

I was really bitter for a long time. A looooong time. A torn ACL is a very common injury, especially in young females who are more flexible and prone to overextension. But it still sucked. They say humans are made up of 70% water? Yeah well, I was down to 20% after all that crying. I kept asking, “Why me? Why me?”, but you know what, accidents happen. Injuries happen. After a year of self-pity, I finally stopped listening to angst-y girl music and started rehabilitating, hitting the gym every day to build my quads and VMOs to at least let me walk up the stairs without feeling like my legs were toothpicks. 

8 years later, I still think about that day all the time. The struggle was mostly mental, trying to fight the fear and anger. It was hard to gain perspective of the situation when I kept seeking for answers I would never find. Of course, comparatively, my case is not as severe as that of others who have lost limbs or even died. But our battles are all personal and entirely real, so we should never devalue the demons we face. However, rather than letting it stay a melodramatic woeful tale (or maybe it did), I saw it as an opportunity to learn to listen to my body and actually, develop an interest in sports rehab. I shifted my focus from all those other sports to new passions like CF, teaching and cooking. In my 4 years of doing Crossfit, I had always stayed far away from box jumps because I thought the very force of the landing would shatter me. Like an actual smashed window. Exactly one year ago today, I did my first one and came up with the highest women’s height at the gym.

I still test my limits in every WOD, both physically and mentally, and some days it’s harder to break through them than it is to back down. People always ask if my knee bothers me, and I always say yes – although I can tolerate the pain, I can’t handle the hurt. It’s disappointing to train hard and believe that you’re working towards getting stronger when your body still manages to fail you. But injuries are a good sign that you’re not giving yourself as much TLC as you deserve. Rehabilitation is an opportunity to work on your weaknesses and make them stronger. Look at Jenny Labaw! She did last year’s Open with her foot in a cast and still kicked ass. True strength, folks. It’s enticing to want to be the RX beast, but isn’t it better to keep your body from being broken? Mobilize, stretch, warm up, cool down, eat right, sleep well. Work hard, rest hard. Most importantly, don’t forget that being an athlete is just as much a mind game as it is a physical one. Feed your spirit well and stay strong at heart. Sometimes, you need a little bit of darkness to appreciate the light.

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