by Amy Moody, President
As endurance athletes it’s ingrained in our inner psyche to push ourselves towards some future goal that we cannot accomplish today. Thus, when injury strikes we don’t hesitate to come up with a plan and begin the process of making ourselves better. The process might pale in comparison to our usual methods of bettering ourselves, and be a lot less fun, but we know we must continue because it will be worth it to get back to all those things we love.
However, there’s a dirty little secret no one likes to talk about or even acknowledge: not all bodies make it back. Not all bodies come back stronger than they were before. Not all bodies make it back to all of those favorite activities. Not all bodies make any progress at all. And worst of all, too often there is no way to know which category your body will fall into. Of course, these aren’t the stories you tend to hear about. Instead, they are buried behind a near impenetrable wall of scientific jargon in various publications of clinical studies with titles that rarely give any clues about what information may lie inside. Some of these stories made it into the light at the Olympics, hidden within larger stories of overcoming adversity and success. The bronze medalist diver who was a gymnast before a career ending sprained ankle. Can you imagine losing your favorite thing over an injury as innocuous as a sprained ankle?
I think the medical community does us a disservice by not acknowledging these stories, and instead constantly encouraging hope. Which I understand, because hope is certainly a required element as you enter week 10 of a low resistance repeat until you reach a number you can’t count to elastic band regimen. But hope is so often in competition with acceptance.
“50% of individuals experiencing pain 1 year after the onset of injury made no further improvement.” Neither this statement nor the half dozen other articles reporting some percentage of complete non-responders among patients with my knee injury have ever been acknowledged by a physical therapist or doctor.
So you continue on with the elastic band regimen ad nauseum because as athletes we have trained ourselves to continue until it is absolutely impossible to go on, until somebody else says stop. But at what cost? The endless hours of PT were a joy sponge and took away from the time I could have been spending outdoors doing the things I was still able to do. In what other aspect of my life would I continue with a process that was so miserable and came at such a high cost under the assumption it would pay off? (Pregnancy as it turns out, but that’s a story for another day).
Eventually, I circled a day on the calendar. I will keep giving it my best shot until this day, and then no more. No more doctors. No more elastic bands. No more comeback.
The day came and as expected, relief. I could take the dog for a walk in the woods without feeling guilty that it would mean no time for elasto-hell. But also, unexpected challenges. After so long of calling it an injury, who gets to decide when it’s no longer an injury and what to call it now? How do you put a stop to the well-intentioned encouragement, optimism, and inquiries about progress now that none of it is applicable?
I leave open the possibility that my knee will improve and a day will come when I might be able to bike to Walden or go for a run in the woods. But I’ll never make it back because my body has called it time-- maybe not in a way that can show anyone else the training and competing are over for good--but I know my body has told me it's over. I hope you will all join me, and those like me whose bodies have hit roadblocks before we were hoping, in celebrating my retirement from triathlon.