Nothing goes according to plan. Especially when you don’t get the time to form a plan.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed some tightness in my right hip. Nothing major, just a little stiffness after my weekly long run. Five days later, I noticed the pain again during a run. This time, it persisted. My right glute completely stopped firing. I stopped, stretched, and tried to run again; only it resembled more of a hobble. An extremely painful hobble. In a matter of seconds the pain had jumped from a two to an eleven (out of ten). I resorted to limping home. In my eight years of running I have ended three training runs in tears and a handful earlier than planned, but I have never had to walk home. I pulled out my phone and did what I always do when I don’t know what to do and feel tears welling in my eyes. I called my mom.
I’m not sure what I expected her to do, being two hours away, but it was better than limping home completely alone. That afternoon I went to the people who have helped me through every injury, blight and mishap of the last eight years: St. Vincent Sports Performance.
Now, one MRI and multiple puzzling looks later, I know the diagnosis: A stress fracture of the femoral neck.
With every injury, I tell myself that I will come back stronger and faster; however, I rarely have the opportunity to find out if this hope is true, because I always get injured again, too soon to tap into my potential.
My first stress fracture came six years ago, the week before I started my freshman year of high school. I had just kept up with the top varsity group during a tempo run; it was a breakthrough workout. I had trained hard all summer and was finally seeing the results. After practice we ran some strides, and my lower right leg seized up. I went from bullet proof to limping in a matter of minutes. The school’s athletic trainer recommended I see a doctor. The next day I was diagnosed with my first tibial stress fracture and sentenced to six weeks in the boot.
I cross-trained like my life depended on it. I could come back. I could still race Sectionals. There was still time. Six weeks passed, and my healing was stagnant. Eight weeks passed, and I was still in the boot. Ten weeks passed, and I got to jog one lap around the track.
At Sectionals, I remember seeing my dry, chapped hand in the pile as we held our race start huddle. I remember collecting my teammates’ sweatshirts and carrying them back to the team tent. I remember hearing the gun go off. I remember bending over to readjust the straps on my boot.
I have endured seven additional stress injuries since freshman year. Each injury was a test: a test of my emotional, mental and physical resilience. And I failed many times. I’ve repeatedly fallen back into the rut I had fought so hard to escape. I was stubborn. I was anxious. I was in a dark place, and I saw no way out.
With each stress fracture came a feeling of losing control, over my body, over my future, over my outlook on life. Each time I came to love myself less and loathe myself more. Why does this keep happening to me? Why can’t I run like the other girls? Why are these doctors accusing me of these things? I was in a state of utter devastation. I had placed my entire identity on running, and I lost it, every year, every season. I searched for a sanctuary, for a place to feel safe. But it’s hard to find solitude when the thing you’re running from is yourself.
Looking back, I now understand why I never completely healed, physically or mentally. I can easily see the mistakes I made with each recurring injury, prompting the next one. I refused to stop training, fearful of the lost fitness from even a day’s worth of rest. I became obsessive and controlling over my food intake, irrationally fearing the effects of not running. I placed immense pressure on myself to control something I have no power over.
I lost control.
I sobbed in the corner of the trainer’s room. I blamed everything on myself. I channeled all of my love into my desire to return to my lost sport and all of my hatred into my broken body. Self-loathing became my sport. But, eventually so did healing.
With each stress fracture came a little more wisdom and a little more experience to tuck away for later use. Questions started to be answered. Adversity turned into opportunity. I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and discovered my body was not properly absorbing nutrients due to gluten-intolerance. I learned to fuel properly and build bone density. I joined the high school swim team. I completed my first athletic season injury-free. I fostered a newfound love for cycling. My yoga mat became a safe haven I continue to turn to today. I shifted my identity from athlete to student and turned to my studies for solitude. I developed psychological techniques to hone and sharpen my mental toughness. I learned to control the controllables.
And now, six years after my first stress fracture, my body is testing me. My body is forcing me to tap into these lessons, or face the consequences. My mind is toeing the edge of that rocky cliff I have fallen over so many times, drowning me in overwhelming doubt. It’s one thing to shake off others’ doubts and to know that no matter how many people question you and your abilities, you can always turn back to yourself. You know that this dream is legitimate and real. You know that stirring feeling you get deep in your gut is not the result of indigestion, but your untapped potential, stirring, waiting to be awakened.
But – it’s a little hard to believe in yourself when you’re the one halting the dream. When your body is the one preventing you from moving forward. When your brittle bones are filling your heart and mind with uncertainty. Knowing that your body is causing this gnawing disappointment and aching grief – that makes this whole believe-in-yourself thing a little harder.
Today, I am fighting the urge to degrade my worth with each swing of my crutches. I am battling the demons within my head telling me to start restricting my food intake. I am shutting out the uncertainty and doubts telling me that everyone else is training. That everyone else is healthier, faster, stronger. That I already had so much work to do. That I’ve lost any chance to ever catch them. I am fighting to keep that stirring, hungry potential deep down inside of me alive.
I have gone years thinking no one believed in me. That I was navigating this rocky journey alone. Low and behold, there was just one person who didn’t believe in me all along. And that person was me.
As I set forth on this recovery, I will be healing more than a broken bone. I will be mending the emotional scars from years of doubt, broken promises and untapped potential. I will be replacing self-doubt with determination. Fear of failure with patience and diligence. Self-loathing and guilt with love and gratitude. I am setting out to learn to love and believe in myself. I have the experience; I have the knowledge; I have learned the lessons, now it’s time to apply them. And, as long as we’re being completely honest, pop obscene amounts of calcium supplements.
I will be sharing insights, blunders and epiphanies throughout my recovery process on this blog and via Twitter and Instagram. 2014 was a rough year to say the least. Follow me along as I use this injury as an opportunity to prepare for a stronger, faster and healthier 2015 from the ground up.