When was the last time you really took a good, hard fall on your face? For me it was last week. I was with my teammates in the gym working out. As part of our warm up, we have to do some one legged hops over hurdles a little less than a foot off the ground. To any seasoned athlete, this task sounds simple enough and yet I stood before the first hurdle unable to move. I stepped aside to let some of my teammates go ahead of me. My mind was elsewhere, remembering a different time I fell on my face. About three years prior, I had taken a nasty fall straight on my face when I was playing lacrosse. No one had touched me nor had I tripped on anything. I was just playing one moment and suddenly I heard an awful sound, like 1,000 knuckles cracking at once, and then I was face down on the ground. I had torn my ACL as well as my meniscus.
Three years later, my knee was stronger than it had ever been before. Yet mental hurdles still blocked my path–hurdles which prevented me from clearing these literal hurdles now. For three years, I just avoided doing them. It wasn’t just hurdles, I avoided box jumps, slide boards, anything that made me anxious for my ACL (sorry coach). I was terrified of wiping out and injuring my precious knee. I voiced these concerns with my lift coach last week. Basically her response, although warm and supportive, was that I just have to do it. And now, since I told her it was something I struggled with, I definitely did have to do it because she would probably be watching.
My teammates were completely unaware of this phobia towards hurdles that I harbored and in several ways that made the task that much more difficult for me to wrap my head around. With ease, each of my teammates bounded over the hurdles while exhibiting the picture of athleticism. Meanwhile, I stood awkwardly as I gawked at the eight little plastic green hurdles laid out before me. Standing on one leg, I squatted and propelled myself up. Unfortunately, I didn’t also propel myself forward. At least not enough. I came down directly on the hurdle and consequently also on my face. I untangled myself from the hurdle and with both a bruised knee and a bruised sense of pride, I quickly walked past the other seven hurdles.
I remember walking away thinking, “Well that was really freaking embarrassing”. I completed the rest of the circuit in quiet contemplation but soon enough, I came face to face with those little green hurdles again. With new determination, I launched myself over the first hurdle and cleared it. I wasn’t thinking about anything now–not my knee or how embarrassed I felt. I had already fallen on my face, what more damage could I do? I cleared the rest of the hurdles at a glacial pace. But I was smiling from ear to ear by the time I stuck the landing after the final hurdle.
Today, I’m walking around with a softball sized bruise on my knee. I tease myself about it to my teammates by showing the dark purple and brown contusion and saying, “did you see me fall on my face last week?” I tell them the story and we all laugh. But my teammates don’t know that I’m also really proud of that bruise too. It serves as a reminder to myself of that small victory I claimed when I could have stopped at a loss. For this reason, I believe it is quite a good thing to fall on your face sometimes. It reminds you that sometimes what you fear might just happen, but you will be okay as long as you get up and keep going.