The Mental Side of Injury: Staying Positive When You’re “Down and Out”

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By:Tristen Rogers, Tri-California Ambassador

It happens. Injuries can sneak up on us, even when we think we are taking every precaution to avoid them. Luckily, most injuries require that we take some time off to heal, which can range from a week to a month or so, which to the A-type athlete may seem like an eternity, but if adhered to, can mean you’re back in the game before the season winds down to a close. But what do you do when the injury takes you out of the game completely, and uncertain to make a full recovery? The mental side of this unfortunate situation is where I happen to be at right now, and have found some very positive avenues to help maintain my sanity as I work through the healing process and try for a comeback.

How It Happened. Last August, (the 25th to be exact, think that date is now burned in my brain for life), I took my bike with me to work for one of my last longer rides before tapering for Ironman Wisconsin. It was a great ride, one that I have been on before, and now seemed to be easier as I powered up hills that a couple of months earlier found to be really challenging. It was a helping me gain the confidence that “yes, I’m ready for Ironman”, which was to be my first and a dream I have had since starting triathlon a mere 4 years earlier. About 5 miles away from completing my ride, I was struck from behind by a car, and left in the ditch as the car took off. I suffered a triple fracture in my left leg, which after surgery has left me with a metal rod and 14 screws in my ankle to try and piece me back together. 

Bike

My bike after the crash. 
 

The Power of the Positivity. After I realized the impact of the accident, I will say that I am fortunate to be alive and that I did not suffer any brain, spinal or other injuries and I will be FOREVER thankful for that. However, I am still dealing with the mental side of not being able to participate in the sport that I love, and not being able to train has really changed my mental status, almost to the point of depression, and I knew I had to do something to snap out of it.

I didn’t realize how much the sport of triathlon had become an all-consuming aspect of my life. I surrounded myself with friends who were also in the sport, trained or did something active during every moment of my free-time, and when not training, was at least talking about it, reading about it, or volunteering at a race and surrounded myself with it. After the accident, I found it hard to be around people who were talking about their training, having great seasons and talking about their PR’s, and sitting at home on beautiful weather weekends when I’d rather be outside with them doing something active. Plus, I also didn’t like the way my body was changing, I was becoming soft and couldn’t eat like I was used to, and really hated that everyone around me still could. It was making me cranky and changing my personality and I knew that if I remained in this “funk” I’d be in big trouble. So here are some things I have done to help myself get out of the “pity-party” and back in the game mentally and start to be more positive about where I’m currently at.

1. Change up the workouts: Just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you can’t do ANYTHING. While I was still in a cast and on crutches, I would make my way around the weight room and lift upper body, focusing on the muscle groups I would need for swimming. I could also do some core stuff, so I would also incorporate these exercises. Once the cast came off, I immediately got into the pool and started water jogging, and would swim with a pull buoy until I was cleared to try and kick with my ankle.

2. Volunteer at the Races: Being a part of a racing team, part of the expectation is that we give back to the community, and once I was able to walk in a boot, I started volunteering at running and triathlon events, mainly ones that I knew my race teammates would be participating in so that I could also cheer them on and take team pictures. It helped me feel like I was still part of the team even though I wasn’t competing with them. Volunteering also helps to make you realize why you got into these sports in the first place, and helps with the “itch” to do whatever it takes to get back out there and participate!

3. Become a mentor or coach: With all the new “free time” from not being able to go on my 2-4 hour rides/runs/brick workouts, I decided to pursue the other facets of triathlon. I have hooked up with one of our local triathlon groups and am mentoring to become a Triathlon coach. I am helping women pursue the world of triathlon and have led swimming clinics, track and bike workouts. It has been really rewarding, and I will be taking my Level 1 USAT certification in October with the hopes of taking on clients and being able to train one-on-one with these athletes.

Run

Of course I’m still working on my own comeback. I have been cleared to bike and have started running, and just completed one full mile, woo-hoo! It’s been a slow process, but I have a new outlook on my injury and have taken the love that I found for the sport and have used it to help others, which has also inspired me to get back out there and just be active, because that’s why I started doing this in the first place. I may never be super competitive again, but knowing that I am out there and being healthy, and at the same time helping others has changed my once “negative Nancy” outlook on my competitive future into a positive healthy perspective.

I write this in hopes of helping any of you who may feel disconnected from the sport due to injury, and who also might be suffering from “sideline depression” from not being able to participate. Hopefully some of these ideas will help you stay connected to what you love and find the avenues to keep you mentally healthy and get you back out there sooner than you think!

4 responses to “The Mental Side of Injury: Staying Positive When You’re “Down and Out””

  1. Omid Fotuhi Says:
    Thanks for this post. I am in a very similar situation, having just crashed in a race in May. I suffered four broken ribs, and a shattered collar bone, which has left me sitting (mostly sleeping) on the sidelines for up to three months. I am experiencing many of the same emotional and physical developments that you described, and have been looking for ways to get back out there and get moving again. I will soon be cleared to go the gym to do some lower body workouts. But I also like your suggestion of volunteering at races, as well as acting as a mentor to those who want to start getting into the sport. Where do you get your certification from?

    Thanks again for the positive note. I wish you a speedy and full recovery.
  2. Ginny Says:
    I know how you feel.
    7 years ago, while training for a race in Australia, a car hit me from behind. I broke my back, leg, collar bone, fractured the sternum and lost so much skin, the ER doctor stapled me back together. The car ripped open both calves. I was so thankful to be alive and to have legs.
    I had to recover 6 months before the doctors could do surgery on my back. I wore a back brace for 9 months and 17 days and was off work a year.The woman had next to no insurance, so she ruined me physically and financially.
    I was told I wold never run or race again. I was in a wheel chair, walker and used a cane. I learned to walk again and to bike. I have a metal cage in my back plus I had rods and screws. The rods and screws had to be removed when they started poking out.
    My bike has improved so I can race, It is painful to use the aero bars and running is painful, but I continue to race. I had to re-invent myself.Now I race to finish, not to come in first.
  3. Lori Says:
    Sorry to hear about your injury and how it has affected you. I am in a similar situation, though mine was not caused by a car. I appreciate hearing about what you are doing to stay positive.
    I have been out of action for 17 months with no assurance that I will ever run or ride again. In the depth of the pain and disability, I thought I was going to lose my mind. Now that I can walk and use the gym, I feel more like a human being again. But I miss running so much there are no words to express it. It takes a lot of effort to try to remain positive every day.
    Hearing that there are others in a similar situation reminds me that I am not alone. It gives me more strength to carry on, and hope that one day I might be well again.
    Thank you (and the others who left comments ) for your posts.
  4. Rosa Michelle Says:
    Sorry to hear about all this. Very few people to pull themselves together again after an injury with such high spirits. Being optimistic in that time frame is really important towards a rapid and fruitful recovery.

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