Updated: Feb 18
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings…” – Lao Tzu
It was as if I got broken up with by my sport and body. It started with denial, refusing to believe that I was actually injured and would probably miss majority of my season, lose my starting position, and potentially never play indoor again. Then I became clingy, ignoring all signs of disagreement or lack of competence from my body, forcing it to do what my mind wanted. I tried over and over again to be the player I was, but my body continued to turn me down. Then came anger; my body, my team, my coach, my game, had betrayed me. “But I deserve to be out there!”, “Do they even remember what I’ve done the past three years?”, “I’m trying so hard why can I not hit like before!”, “I’m doing all my treatment why do I still hurt and she doesn’t”. Then came sadness, I was hurt, physically but mostly mentally. Why did this have to happen to me I asked myself over and over again.
After finishing my indoor volleyball season my junior year at Colorado State University I was left with a lot of shoulder pain. After giving it two months to rest and rehab and seeing no changes my doctor recommended surgery. I had a bone spur on my acromion process that was irritating my rotator cuff. So I was told a simple scope surgery and 12 weeks of rehab would bring me back to playing... What I wasn't told was I will continue to have pain for the next two years and will be doing rehab exercises and treatments until then and probably for the rest of my career. When I started to transition back into playing after a full spring of rehab, I was still experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort. I did not feel strong enough to handle the load and demands full volleyball games require. However, the internal desire to play again and the external pressures from coaches and teammates led to me pushing through this pain.
The result? I sat out for 70% of practices, and 75% of games throughout my senior season. Prior to this season I was the starting middle blocker for my team so you can imagine my and my teams disappointment. In the beginning of September 2017 after trying to push through pain in practices and games I made the decision that I would not play or practice unless my body felt capable. The physical and emotional toll being in pain had on me wasn't worth it anymore and it was time for me to stand up for myself. This was one of the hardest decisions I've made for my career, not to mention one of the hardest conversations I had to have with my coach and it seemed that noone could fully understand or support my decision.
Doubt crept in that I would never be strong and healthy enough to play at the same level I did once before. I imagined myself never playing without pain ever again. I pictured what I would do if I had to give up volleyball. I was stuck in a cycle of doubt and pity for myself. I felt alone and wanted so badly for someone to reach out and tell me all my doubts were false and I would be ok. Most importantly I wanted someone to reassure me that I was doing the right thing by sitting out instead of pushing through the pain like so many athletes think you should do.
That’s when I realized that I didn’t need anyone to tell me that I was doing the right thing as only I can know what is right for me. No one could fully understands my pain, my thoughts, my feelings, my struggles, and most importantly what’s right for me. Coming to this realization separated me from all my worries and doubts. I could finally look at my injury in the eye and accept it. I could work around it while staying positive and happy, I could accept the days when it hurt more than others as simple pain rather than a sign of failure, and I could make myself stronger with my injury still present. This injury that was the headliner of my life for the last 6 months was now a backstory. Instead of using it as a reason not to do something or to feel something I did what I wanted. I was the person and athlete I wanted to be this whole time even though I wasn’t playing.
As painful as it was to watch my indoor career come to a close, watch my teammates practice and win without me and to never know what could have been in my senior year, a new beginning arose. A beginning where my mind and body were no longer at war, where I felt comfortable in my choices, and where I could believe in my future and health. Of course I wish this injury never had to happen but without it I never would have learned the importance of letting go of the should haves and could haves and to simply live in what is happening now. It is so easy for athletes to get lost in what they should do, what their coaches want them to do, or what they feel like they have to do, and they forget to listen to their bodies needs and cries. Ignoring your body only creates tension between the mind and body and it is critical athletes are able to listen and respect their bodies needs.