Each person’s struggles are different. It’s how we respond to them that define who we are. I hope this post helps anyone struggling with chronic sports injuries to never give up.
If you know me, then you know I’ve struggled with chronic sports injuries for well over 10 years. Maybe 15.
I stopped counting.
It’s not very productive. I’d rather look ahead at what might be.
If you really know me, you know that I’ve been under constant repair since my 2004 half-ironman distance race at Wildflower. Most of those years I spent countless hours at physical therapy, being poked with needles, and having my muscle scar tissue scrubbed with pre-historic looking tools. Yeah, some of the issue is simply genetics. I get that. But the pharmacist side of me strongly suspects the tendon issues are a side effect of a particular antibiotic I had to take years ago.
It really doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t change anything to know the cause.
I am a bit too stubborn (or stupid), to give up, though. So I kept signing up for races, hoping it would work out. I’d train, break, go back for treatment, miss the race, start again.
It has been a viscous cycle.
Why didn’t I stop? Give up?
1) It’s not in my nature; and
2) I’m pretty good at lying to myself. Like I’d say, “Next time, I got this,” and honestly believe myself. Over and over, for years.
Nautica Malibu Tri 2016
That’s not totally fair, I guess. I did manage a few 5K runs, on Olympic triathlon, and last year, I held down the bike leg of a family team triathlon in Malibu. It was great, actually. The fog had rolled onto the beach the morning of the race. We couldn’t see very far in front of us.
My daughter was doing the swim portion at Zuma Beach. I didn’t tell her how thankful I was that it was her, not me. First of all, I have a fear of shark. Second? I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me. I have no clue how she sited the buoys out there, but she came storming in to transition and sent me off on the hilly bike ride, where I spent most of the time wiping off my glasses from the fog build up, and trying to see more than 15 feet ahead of me, wondering if the speed I was going was going to land me in a crash. I tagged off to Russ who sped out onto the run course. After he left transition, I spent a good 15 minutes hacking up a lung from bronchospasm from the bronchitis I’d had the weeks before.
But, yeah, it was all pretty awesome!
Don’t Tell Me No!
So, you ask, why aren’t I smart enough to get the hint? To stop before you break again?
Basically, I don’t do well with being told, “no.” Not from my body. Not from other people. In fact, my obsession to finish the 2004 Wildflower despite injuries became a personal mandate, because someone laughed at the idea that I could take on a race of that magnitude. So, when I found a therapist that said I could train though the injuries and do the race, of course, I listened.
Well, first, I finished the race.
It wasn’t stellar. But the point is I did it. A 1.2 mile swim, then a 54 mile mountainous bike ride, followed by a half-marathon. I’ve never actually been that proud of myself.
Secondly, thanks to training through the injury, I developed chronic hip tendonitis that took years after the race to heal. Also- swore off chiropractics and ART right after then and there.
When People Can’t Fix You-
The first year after the race, I spent countless hours failing at physical therapy. Anyone that’s gone to PT knows it takes hours from your life every week. And after months, I was still doing very poorly. The injury progressed and there was some medical misdiagnoses to the point where walking was so painful that I considered getting a wheelchair to get around.
One surgeon offered to remove my tailbone –– I honestly don’t think he knew what was wrong with me, but he wanted to do something about it.
That scared me.
One physician charged me $5000 to stick needles in my back under the premise of putting in some chemical in there to make me feel better. He ended up poking into another disk in my spine that started leaking during the procedure–– a disk he wasn’t even supposed to mess with –– then tried to tell everyone it was already leaking. (I know- I was awake the whole procedure, which hurt like hell, but I did it because I really believed he knew how to stop the pain. Or maybe I just hoped.) I left the procedure worse off. At the follow-up visit when I questioned him about the procedure, he told me off- said he “knows patients like me”, whatever that meant, and he refused to take any further care of me.
I left crying. $5000 poorer. In pain. Essentially on my way to depression.
Who was I going to complaint to? A surgeon’s word against mine?
I didn’t care anymore. Kissed off the worthless PT, the verbally derogatory providers (even my own doctor, who told me several times that I should act my age).
I had completely given up.
Not All Physical Therapists are Alike (Who knew?)-
When Russ came home from a Phoenix Triathlon Club meeting excited about a very different kind of PT that had presented there, I basically told him I wasn’t interested. I wanted nothing to do with it. To Russ’ credit, and knowing me, he gently brought up the issue several times, eventually (and this is his sales side) convincing me to go get one evaluation. Just one. If I didn’t like the guy, I could walk away and Russ wouldn’t mention him again.
Also, I may have gone to get him to just stop talking about this guy. To stop having my hope toyed with.
He turned out to be the smartest PT I had ever met. He had no cookie cutter approach- he was real. He took almost two hours trying to piece together my story, what happened, how to fix me. If I’m honest here, I purposefully witheld a lot of information. I didn’t trust him. I figured if he was that smart, let him piece this thing together himself. Prove himself. I’m pretty sure I came off with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, grumpy. Probably a bit of a jerk. Pretty sure I started the consult with a something like,
“Look, I don’t want to be here. I’m sick of therapy. Russ won’t shut up about you. What’ve you got?”
When Matt described to me his what he thought was going on, when he had figured out the stuff I held back, when he put my puzzle together, slowly, thoughtfully in front of me, I’m pretty sure I teared up. It was like someone painting your private inner hurts on a big billboard. Raw and naked.
I decided to give him one try.
I had decided before my first treatment, that if he started the same old excerceises and worthless electronic stimulation like other PT places that I would ask for my money back and walk out the door.
Well, the first visit wasn’t like that at all. I almost wished it had been by the end.
Dry Needling and Astym, Oh Boy!
That first visit was a bear. His “This might hurt a bit,” actually turned into the best words I have ever heard. He pulled out some weird tool, scraped the hell out of my hips and a few other areas (it probably wasn’t that much, but it felt like it), and then sent me off to what I thought were stupid piddly little exercises. Every one in awhile, he’d come by, tell me “that looks too easy” and switch things up. He’d give an “ohhh, excellent” when he saw the growing raspberry on the skin where he had scrubbed, saying “you’re getting some good circulation there.” He looked quite pleased.
I asked for ice before I left.
“Nope. No ice, no Advil for at least four hours. Let that tissue kick in its own healing.”
Seriously? I hobbled to the car, gingerly sat, went home, too exhausted to do anything but take nap while my body tried to heal.
Despite the sore tissue, that night I was walking easier at home, sleeping easier on my hips ( yeah, now they were bruised, and I was sleeping better than before). I walked better at work the next day.
OK. You get one more try.
Working with Chronic Damage
By the time I found Matt, my injuries were so chronic that he had an uphill battle to fight, between the scar tissue, my muscle adaptation to my injured state, and my messed up psychology over the whole thing. He spent more than half a year getting me to the point where I could even get back on a bicycle or walk down the hallway with minimal pain. From tissue scrubbing to break up the scars deep down and let the muscles flow better to sticking needles into their to speed up the healing- we steadily made progress.
I stopped dreaming about getting a wheel chair. Stopped circling parking lots hoping to find a close up space. Stopped dreading walking into the store, staring down each isle, assessing how badly I needed whatever item was on the list. From his scrubbing my tissue to sticking needles into the damaged tissue and connecting them to electronics to help the edema flow out, I kept getting better.
Since that time, the chronic nature of my injuries by then kept them to periodically return if I was not really diligent about upkeep. I would break again, and go back for a “spa day” or several to get fixed up again. Over time, I learned how to self manage my tissue, to know ahead of time when to go into Matt before things got bad, to sense when something was not right.
All that time, I keep seeing myself as a triathlete. Remembered what it felt like to cross a finish line, and sometimes even get a medal. I will always define myself by who I was in those early days.
I will always want to do another race.
Clearly, I have a broken sense of reality.
Also, I have become superstitious. I’m pretty sure that my body breaks down when it knows I’ve signed up for a race, and then it tries to sabotage my efforts. I’ve become so sure of this, in fact, when I signed up with my family to do the Malibu team triathlon, I spent a lot of time trying to forget that I had signed up. I talked about going on bike rides, not “training.” I figured if I didn’t think about it, didn’t talk about it, maybe my body wouldn’t know to break. I didn’t have any tendonitis issues throughout training- helping reinforce my crazy theory. The way it was, I got to the race after 3 weeks of bronchitis, antibiotics, and a couple of rounds steroids.
On a positive note, it was my fastest bike ride, including hills, ever.
Did I say ever?
Yeah. I meant it.
Did you say Ironman Arizona? What the….
The superstition remains alive and well. In fact, in November 2016, when I signed up for the 2017 Ironman Arizona race, I barely uttered a word about it to anyone. My wonderfully supportive husband, Russ, and my children, Tina and Travis, knew. They knew I had spent the entire day watching and cheering at the 2016 Ironman Arizona race, contemplating my desire to do the race. With each athlete that passed I asked myself, could I do that? Could I actually even finish this monstrosity of a race? Will my body hold out? For a year of training? For the magnitude of the training?
Despite all my doubts, my family firmly encouraged me to register for the race.
Even after I registered, I didn’t tell anyone outside of my kids and Russ. I was too scared. Would I break? Would I have to face telling people later that I had to withdraw because I was injured. Again? I don’t want to be that person- that lives from illness to illness. That always has some complaint.
And now, I had over $700 in non-refundable registration fees to lose, as well.
The Best Family in the Whole World-
I kept my silence, until a few weeks after registration. Tina had told a few people, because she was so excited for me. Proud of me. And then my kids said something that kept me awake a lot one night (and I paraphrase here): “Mom, all those people who know your are racing can be there to support you all year. Through all the ups and downs. And if you break. You won’t be alone.”
My son, who has drawn strength from my stubbornness added something like, “Mom, what if there are people that won’t try to do a race for the same reasons. People who have given up. Maybe, if they know someone who has had to struggle through this, and still gotten out there to race, maybe they will try. Maybe they will keep going. You can do this.”
My daughter, who is quietly resolute, without a doubt told me that she knew I could do it. And she would always give me a “You’ve got this, Mom.” She also separately echoes the same philosophy her brother mentioned before.
Anyone Else Out There Broken, Looking For Hope?
What if others can see some hope through my fight? In fact, they both checked in with me, over and over this year, to see how I was doing training. Told me that if anyone could do it with these physical issues, it was me.
So, now, of course I had to share it with some people.
At first, I told two close people at work. It was so hard. I waited for a couple of days to break. For my body to hold true to the pattern. Every single ache or sore joint made me rethink my decision.
And even though I was managing my little body complaints, no real break yet, Russ urged me to start PT anyway, to keep ahead of the issues that we both new were teetering under the surface. My weekly practice is to sit at home and scrub down the body parts that are threatening to break, just to keep myself from going to PT.
That’s okay, though. Learning to self manage is a big part of gaining independence, freedom.
But he was right. Getting ahead of the curve would be smart.
And then finally, on a wonderful sunny bike ride with my daughter, just before she went back to Pepperdine to finish the last few months of college, she suggested I should make some sort of a journal this year. A training diary or sorts. A way to remember the highs, and the lows. The training. The battles. So that when it is all said and done, no matter how it turns out, I can go back and remember what the adventure really was, what shaped the year, and what shaped me.
It is with that heart I share this journal.
Why Post This?
There are athletes that struggle against much greater physical and mental issues that make my problems seem small, winey. I think of so many I have watched with awe and admiration. Athletes from all walks of struggle from cerebral palsy to ALS to blindness, paraplegics, and amputees. I will never be as tough, never as strong hearted as them.
But these are my personal struggles, for what they are. I’m not arrogant enough to think others will cling to my journey. But I hope that I will look back, in the end, and know I fought a good fight and had some fun along the way. I want to remember the good times- it is too easy otherwise to only remember the hard times.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender:
And if there is anyone who finds strength in knowing that we all struggle, if there are those that have repeatedly battled their bodies trying to get to the starting line, and need to get ideas about where to garner strength and know that we don’t have to give up, I will be glad.
All I can ever say is, “ Never give up, never surrender.” (queue my kids: eye rolls)