Why injuries develop mental strength and optimism
“It’s a bump in the road, Mitch” is what my coach said to take my mind off the fact that my femur had just separated in half above my right knee and was now held together by a titanium rod and three screws. From my hospital bed that ‘bump’ was more like a mountain.
Tears streamed down the side of my face, although I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t feel anything, for that matter. I was completely numb from not only the IV but from the mental shock of what just happened.
“Had my competitive running career just come to an end? Would I even be able to walk again, never mind run?”
Pessimistic thoughts rushed through my mind, assuming I would never be able to do the activity that I loved most ever again.
I still remember the sequence of events so vividly that day. Time stood still while I was on the line for the open 1000m and I remember trying so hard to neglect the pain, to contain myself for the respect of my team and my coaches. The gun went off and I sprung forward for half a second; all of a sudden I was lying on the floor of the indoor track with my knee by my hand and the rest of my body contorted in the other direction.
“I was so naïve in not listening to my body, thinking that mental toughness could overcome what my body was clearly telling me.”
I was hit hard by reality that day, knowing I needed to let go of my pride and come to terms with the fact that overtraining and competing were taking full control of my physical and mental well-being. As devastating as the injury was to my mentality, this crucial moment was the wake-up call I needed to re-evaluate my life.
While I was on bed rest for a month, I had a lot of time to think. It was tough, but also a turning point in my life.
“I realized that optimism is crucial when facing obstacles. In some cases, it’s the only way to keep your sanity in times of weakness or hardship.”
No matter how challenging recovery would be, I decided for myself that I would compete again. I wanted to prove to myself that dedication and positive spirit could make my dream of competing a reality again.
Full recovery took about a year and a half and it was the most trying time I have ever endured.
“My mental toughness was tested on a plethora of levels, but the downtime was a blessing in disguise – it was the opportunity I needed to focus on things other than running.”
When I was cleared to compete again during my senior year I was put in non-scoring 800m races to ease back into competition.
I went on to compete at Syracuse University and ran for coaches who believed in me despite the injury that plagued my past. Of course, the struggle wasn’t over just yet. I battled finicky injuries here and there, tests of my patience and sanity, but by the end of my collegiate career I was able to get my 800m time two seconds away from my original personal best.
I went into school a declared fashion design major, a concentration my family saw as a risk but I saw as another challenge to pursue.
“Similar to the outcome of my injury, this challenge brought out the best in me and I discovered the path that would allow me to merge my two passions – running and design.”
I now work as a running apparel designer at Reebok!
Though the injury still impacts my body today and I need to always be cautious of my training, my femoral fracture was the intervention I needed at that point in my life – it even urged me to take risks in my career.
“We all face bumps in the road of life, but they are testaments to our internal strength and allow us to rise above, to appreciate the sweet success of overcoming obstacles.”