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.
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.
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!