Being injured isn’t easy. Ask any player, in any sport, who has dealt with an injury and they will probably all respond the same: It is one of the hardest challenges you can face as an athlete. Through this article, I can’t speak for every athlete that was ever injured, but I can speak for myself.
Heading into college I had never dealt with a major injury. I had broken a few bones but never suffered from a major injury. Then came the winter offseason of my freshman year. I was at USA Junior National Team tryouts when I felt like every muscle in my upper back had just cramped. Luckily, the USA National Team athletic trainer, Michele Latimer, was also a Senior Athletic Trainer at the University of South Florida, where I was attending. When we got back to campus, she was able to work on it and loosen it up but I started noticing a weird sensation in my right (throwing) hand. I would go throughout my day and my arm and fingers would tingle, like the pins and needles you feel when you notice a limb was “asleep.” Then, I would be practicing and I would struggle with knowing when the ball was in my hand – I couldn’t feel anything. Midway through my freshman season, I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). I played through this nagging injury for two years. By the fall of my junior year, my condition had deteriorated so much that I was struggling to even hold a pencil. Finally, my coaches, sports medicine staff, and I decided to have the issue surgically corrected. I took the entire fall season to rehabilitate the injury in order to be back in time for the spring season. I worked extremely hard to get back and pushed myself to limits I didn’t think I could go. In the end, it paid off and I was playing opening night. A few weeks into season, we were playing Ole Miss – a team with a ton of slappers. I came across the field on a high chop over the mound and threw the ball from an off balance position. Instantly I felt a pop; in all honesty, I thought I got shot. I sat out the next game because we had another game with Ole Miss later in the day, and my arm was struggling. During my first at-bat of the game, I swung the bat and thought my shoulder went with the ball. It was agony. After the MRI, it was concluded that I had obliterated my labrum. I decided to finish the season, designated to a pinch-hitting role and have surgery at the conclusion of the season.
It was extremely difficult dealing with an injury for the first time but the second time? It was the lowest I ever felt in my career. I had six months to recover in order to be ready for the start of my senior season. It was a challenge that pushed me even further, but luckily I had a group of teammates also recovering from a major injury that made us all go the distance. Shoutout to my Crip Crew!!!
It’s a Process
There are so many layers that go into dealing with an injury. From the physical pain to the mental struggle, recovery is a long process. The physical limitations depend on the injury but they change how you go about your everyday life. Fun fact – I had to learn how to do everything with my left hand, including putting my hair up. The simplest of tasks became extremely difficult. For lower body injuries, you need to learn how to WALK properly again. Imagine the mental struggle an elite level athlete has with learning how to walk again. Further struggle then comes being around your team. In the beginning, you have to watch them give their everything in practice and weight sessions while you stand on the side hoping your athletic trainer allows you to hold a ball! Yes, your teammates know you’re doing everything you can to be back out there with them but there is still a feeling of inadequacy that washes over you. I was lucky enough to have two teammates to go through this process with. We weren’t afraid to discuss how we were feeling with each other or when we were struggling with an exercise. We did our rehab programs together – two of us were shoulder and one an ACL recovery.
I challenge you, as a teammate of someone who is injured, to not let them feel alone. Simply having someone from your team help you with your rehab goes a long way when you are recovering from an injury. As coaches reading this, I challenge you to find something for your injured athlete to do. While I was designated to a hitting role, even my true role was being an everyday shortstop, my coaches gave me the challenge of picking every potential sign from the opposing team. I was able to use my strengths as a player to read situations and help put our defense in the best position possible. Offensively, I was able to pick the pitches in order to give my teammates at the plate the best chance for success. It was hard going from playing every single game to only pinch-hitting but it was more the feeling that I wasn’t doing anything for my team that got to me the most. We all want to play, don’t get me wrong. But feeling inadequate is much worse. My coaches understood that my strength as a softball student would still be useful even with me off the field. It gave me a sense of purpose during this injury that made it just slightly easier.
My challenge to the injured athlete reading this – trust the process. It sucks and it is hard but you are going to be a better PERSON because of it. It teaches you how to deal with adversity and how to adapt to your situation. Find people to help you through it. Talk about what is difficult for you in the process and suggest ideas that will help make it easier. There is strength in saying you are struggling to adapt to your situation. If you don’t say anything, no one will know how to help you. Have a conversation with your coaches and sports medicine staff. The people around you only want the best for you. It is up to you to take control of your recovery process.