I spent my freshman year of college as a Division I athlete. After standing up into a squat bar during one of my team’s lifts, I also spent most of my freshman year of college with a concussion. It took me seven full weeks to recover and I missed just about the entirety of our season, including championships. After going from being a contender for starting varsity to being out for the season, I was crushed and even transferred schools for a brief period. So, after one of the most emotionally taxing periods of my life, here’s what I learned.
Let me begin by saying I’ve had just about every injury in the book and just about all of them stem from the fact that I have the balance of a 2-year-old who just took her first steps. If you’re like me and your family literally refers to you as “a walking medical bill” you can relate. If not here’s what you need to know about those of us who spend more time injured than not.
1. Just like the stages of a breakup, there are emotional stages of an injury.
Pain. That one’s pretty self-explanatory.
Anger. About two days into said injury, you will be so done with whatever you’re supposed to be doing to make it better. Whether it's just lying in the dark staring at the ceiling or walking around in a boot, do it for more than two days and you will be really pissed off about it all the time.
Annoyance. Once you’re done being thoroughly pissed off about everything that happened, why you’re so klutzy and having to ice something every hour, you move on to just being straight up annoyed. Thoughts like, “If I have to crutch up one more stair I’m going to lose it” and “Ah, remember like two days ago when I wasn’t concussed? Those were the days” and finally “I swear when I’m healthy again I’ll take the time to appreciate it more.” You won’t.
Acceptance. After getting over being angry and annoyed all the time (kind of) you begin to realize that even though it sucks, you’re in this injury for the long-haul so you better get over it and try to get better. You’ll probably still be angry and annoyed about it most of the time but you’ve also hit the point where you’ve realized that it happened and you just need to deal with it.
Denial. This stage can be summed up in one phrase. “I’m going to be so careful, I’m never going to hurt myself again.”
Stop lying to yourself.
2. Being an injury-prone athlete will make your life ten million times harder.
First, let me just say, you can still be athletic and have the coordination of a baby giraffe in heels. At a Division I school, if you’re an athlete, chances are your only friends are your teammates with the exception of a few people here and there from your dorm or your classes. Constant practices will give you exactly zero free time and when you are free you will be doing homework or sleeping. And if you don’t have practice? You will literally be so bored you do not know what to do with yourself.
To sustain the lifestyle of an athlete in a sport that requires a minimum of 20 hours a week you get to be pretty good at time management. Having your homework done by 9? Not a problem, especially if you get to go sleep when you’re done. But once you’ve learned to be great at time management and no longer can go to practice you will feel lost. All your work will still be done in time for practice, except now instead you have a chunk of free time, not to mention the fact that you weren’t allowed to join any clubs. At all.
Therefore, being an athlete who’s injured all the time will leave you bored with no idea what to do with yourself. At least if I was in a club I could roll up to meetings with my crutches/boot/whatever injury I’m dealing with. Playing a sport is a different story. You’ll probably spend a lot of time sleeping or watching those weird but popular vines you never had a chance to catch-up on and wondering about what workout your friends are doing at practice.
3. The worst injuries teach us the most about ourselves.
It’s the injuries that last long-term, that take us away from something we love, that teach us the most. Not being around a team that I had centered my first semester of freshman year around was a little bit of a shock to my system. I only had a few friends outside of my team, so I still ate dinner with the team and saw everything I was missing out on. I went to championships as a spare and bawled my eyes out the night before, after a team meeting where we talked about how hard everyone had worked to get to where they were. I had put in the same effort up until I got injured and seeing my teammates have the best race of their season just made trying to be supportive and smiling and helpful that much harder when I knew I wanted to be out there just as bad as every single one of them and that there was nothing I could contribute to them as far as physical power.
It was this experience that I think I learned the most about character. Being a person of upstanding character isn’t just about being humble in success and encouraging others. It’s about how you can carry yourself when you yourself have run into the worst of times. Setting up a tent for my teammates, carrying their shoes, getting them water, cheering them on, and trying to be happier than anyone else to be there, even if I wasn’t even competing, to me that’s true character. And while I couldn’t compete or practice, I no doubt attended every single one I was allowed to and supported my teammates in every single way that I could, just as they did for me. Being on a team and no being able to compete made me realize that it’s not about having other people recognize your ability, it’s about you recognizing theirs and showing them that. A true test of character is how you carry yourself through and injury and how you continue to support your teammates when the easiest thing to do could be to hole-up in your room, not speak to anyone, and feel sorry for yourself. Your most important resources are also the people you will be the most jealous of: your teammates. It is your choice how you carry yourself when you’re injured, just remember that it will come back as a reflection of who you are when you are well.
4. You will learn who your real friends are.
Being friends with your teammates is no difficult task when you spend almost every waking moment together. Meals, practices, sometimes classes and most likely living spaces, are all done with your team so naturally most of you are going to be friends. But when you stop coming to practices for a week or so and start reaching out to people to hang out with in their free time, you begin to learn who your real friends are. Real friends will make an effort to be there for you, even if you can’t always be with the team. While you’re busy asking them how the day's workout went and what weird gossip you missed at practice, they’re busy asking you how you’re feeling and if you want to go watch a movie with them later. You’ll begin to notice that you may lose touch with some teammates who you thought were close friends. These people are no longer worth your time. You may notice that those friends from your classes or dorm become a more important part of your life. The people that reach out to you when you no longer have a team or a group to be a part of are the people worth keeping in your life and they’re the ones that you can know will be in it for the long-haul. Even though being concussed sucked, I wouldn’t take the experience back if I could. Altogether I think it made me a better person and I met my very best friend who was there for me when it felt like not a lot of other people were.