I feel unqualified to write about injuries. This is the first semi-substantial physical block to an athletic goal that I've experienced. I remember shin splints in high school, most likely from the transition out of the pool and onto the track every spring, and also a slightly sore achilles 2 or 3 years ago, but that's stuff you can run through. Like a head cold, an overuse injury isn't nearly the same as an impact injury which affects an important joint. Hips, shoulders, knees, these are the essential building blocks of motion. Lose one of those critical pieces to a mechanical and the machine can't perform the way it should.
Perhaps one of the more annoying things about injuries is that they don't necessarily correlate with activity, effort, or intensity. My father tore 3 of 4 ligaments in his shoulder walking home from a social gathering and tripping over an unlit retaining wall. I tore my MCL while absent-mindedly snowboarding in Canada. I almost think an injury sustained during heavy training or racing is more glorious than one acquired outside of your primary sport, but the bottom line is that injuries, like life, just tend to happen. As frustrating as it can be for things to change so dramatically in these moments, there is no undo button, no rewind, no mulligan once the injury is sustained.
Without getting overly eccentric, after having experienced my first real, grown-up, full-blown injury, I do honestly believe that they are opportunities for growth. That sounds really lame of me, like something a shaman or life coach might suggest, and the engineering nerd in me rejects the thought as quickly as I write it. Nevertheless, it is true for me and for many others. When one door closes, another opens, and by the process of defeat, loss, and failure, we learn heavy truths about ourselves that are not nearly as visible during the easy moments of life. More importantly, long lasting change typically requires a triggering event, and injuries can very often be tremendous catalysts for change.
I wasn't around to see my father wreck his shoulder, nor for almost all of his rehab, but I know him well enough and I know he obsessed about it every day. We all cope with injury differently, but most of us think about the broken parts of our bodies far more frequently than the pieces that are working as designed. For me, the difficult part is accepting the limitation instead of fighting it. Resistance provides traction for change, for progress in a different direction. The first realization requires seeing life not as a two dimensional path, but rather as a 3 dimensional balloon which can inflate or deflate. We can grow or we can shrink our perspective, our thoughts, our capacity for love, and our desire for whatever it is that gives us purpose, brings us joy, makes us tick. I am a huge fan of focused and diligent attention to routine, training relentlessly towards a goal and elevating above self imposed limits, but sometimes I need a derailment to fully evaluate my direction, to understand what it is that I desire.
This morning a friend discussed an ankle injury and how it prompted a switch in focus from running to yoga that grew into a passion. And while I feel like my appreciation of yoga has increased through this injury, the point is not that yoga is the answer to injury, but that injury begets opportunity for renewal, particularly renewed focus on something different. Cooking, gardening, socializing, volunteering, whatever it is that typically takes the runner up slot in your priority list, all of sudden becomes the #1 focus and a whole new world of perspective begins to unfold. I've laughed and smiled a lot over the past 3 weeks because without the opportunity to run, I have so much more attention for all of the other joys in life. Watching two friends check in for the induction of their baby girl, leisurely breakfasts, sorting through excess accumulated junk that hasn't been dealt with in years, all of it yields a grand satisfaction because of how little attention had been given to it before.
The best part of an injury is when things start to come together again, i.e. when the injury starts to wither and die. It's a lot like how the teapot seems to take forever to warm up and then you look away and tweeeet, it's ready. That first run where you feel good again, where you feel like it's all going to be OK, can be more uplifting than a giant PR because of the opportunities which open up during and after. My run this morning felt a bit like my revolving crescent lunges have lately, an opening up of possibility that I didn't ever fully expect. One of my father's colleagues mentioned in a wonderfully written note shortly after my injury that one of his most satisfying memories was not his fastest effort at the marathon distance, but a more recent one which he called "nearly perfect" with regards to his effort and the joy of the challenge, despite an hour difference from his fastest result. Progress is not measured entirely in terms of absolute numbers.
I suppose that injury offers us all a chance to evaluate effort. Because when things are going well, it's so easy to slack off the gas, to coast. Even the most motivated athlete will at times fall victim to complacency. Injury takes away the opportunity to hide behind "good enough" and gives us two raw options, progress or regress. We either heal or we give up. Injury simplifies life, just as lying on a yoga mat restricts our perspective to allow us to fully see ourselves and our bodies. Injury prompts us to grow or die.
I have to admit, I'm a little surprised to be beaming through the past 3 weeks. I really should be bummed out or pissed off at myself for the self-sabotage I pulled off, or for not being smart enough to keep myself out of a position where one poor decision would have real consequences. It sounds like total BS, it sounds like I'm faking happiness, but I'm smiling as I type this because what I feel right now is happiness. I am so very happy for my wonderful friends who enrich my life in so many ways, who open my eyes to new possibilities, and who create excitement and intensity out of otherwise mundane experiences. I am downright thrilled to be able to run again this week after 2 weeks of basically nothing. But, most of all, I'm super stoked to have incorporated a consistent yoga practice into my lifestyle. Yoga has helped me grow and that growth keeps my mind and heart open to all sorts of new levels of joy.