An Athlete's Perspective On Injuries

     I’m honestly not sure there are words to describe what being injured as an athlete means. An injury at any age is difficult to deal with. For the younger kids it can feel like you are missing out on the best parts of playing sports, club tournaments, summer sports with friends, and potentially missing out on all the training that can help you hone your skills for the future. As a highschooler, missing out on the recruiting process can be a huge stressor. Getting to play for the last time under the stadium lights of your high school with teammates you have been with for years might be an important thing you don’t want to miss. And being injured as a college student is brutal for many reasons but mainly because you know that this is potentially the end of the road for your athletic career. Some athletes play professionally and being injured then means losing out on money or major games. Once you hit college, specifically when you become an upperclassmen, the ticking clock of your athletic career becomes glaringly obvious. 

     I never thought about the last time I would play lacrosse. It just always seemed like I would play forever. As a senior in high school who graduated during covid I realized quickly that you never know when the last game will be. I was heading to play in college so I knew I still had more time. My freshman season I tore my labrum in both of my hips. We were three games in and my season was done. I had two hip surgeries and a little over a year later I had recurring pain in my hips. After another round of physical therapy that didn’t help and two MRI’s later, I learned that I had re-torn both my labrums. And not only were they re-torn, the bone structure of my pelvis was the potential cause and that it would need to be addressed surgically with the understanding that lacrosse would no longer be a safe option for me after surgery. I learned this during winter break of my junior year. I knew that the spring season would be my last. I was aware of what was coming but it never made it any easier. 

     Playing through a season that I knew was my last came with ramifications that I wouldn’t have anticipated. While it allowed me to be grateful for the time I did have and forced me to be more present with my teammates it brought untold amounts of stress. I wanted to perform to the absolute best of my abilities, I wanted to win every game and succeed in ways that I hadn’t done the year before. There was this intense amount of pressure to do well because it was the end. When you know that this is the last time you ever pick up a stick it’s hard to not fight it tooth and nail. I spent half my season pretending it wasn’t the last one I would play and the next half putting all I had into playing better than I had before. The stress made it hard to focus, made it hard to play in the calm space that I knew was optimal for my performance. It took me the majority of the season to come to the understanding that the season didn’t have to be perfect to be successful. I tried to focus on non-stat related goals to take the pressure off like drop stepping before I threw a feed. I tried to focus on being present with my teammates, and trying to be the best teammate I could be. I realized that underneath all the stress was a ten year old girl who didn’t want to let go of the game that had irrevocably changed her. When I remembered the joy of the game, the ease of it came back to me. 

     When I played that last game I felt pain, a lot of it but I also felt peace. I was hurt because I would never play again.  The peace was from knowing that I had a season that I could be proud of because I was the best version of me that I could have been. I sat on the field after this final game, cleats thrown next to me as I put on my sneakers, hair pulled into an obscenely tight bun that I had worn every game day for the last three years, and I just cried. I cried for all the things I didn’t want to leave behind, I wasn’t ready to walk away but I didn’t have a choice. I cried for what I had lost but also for what I had gained. Teammates that became family and more memories than I even know what to do with. My best friends on the team came to sit down next to me and the four of us took it all in. When I sat there I didn’t think of all the shots I had missed or all the mistakes I had made on the field, I thought of all the good things that I would miss. I took in the lacrosse field for the last time, I knew I would miss it but I knew the game would never really leave me. 

     I would never tell you that getting over an injury is easy. It’s hard and it hurts in ways I couldn’t describe. Your body doesn’t do what it had zero issues doing months ago. The brace pinches, the crutches are uncomfortable, and physical therapy can be the most humbling experience ever. I know it was for me, nothing like having to sit up and down on a box that is taller than most chairs and struggling. The mental aspect is another whole monster that I wasn’t prepared for. Knowing your body can’t do something simply because of your injury is so aggravating. I wanted to run but my body couldn’t, I wanted to jump but my body couldn't. I wanted to do so many things that I used to be able to but my body couldn’t physically do it. When the season hit I dealt with it so much more. I had mental blocks about feeling the same tearing sensation when I would cut in for a pass. I was scared to put it plainly. I was worried about injuring my hips. I was frustrated at being scared and angry that my body wasn’t as strong as it had been before surgery. I felt weaker and panicked that I was declining skill wise because of the year off. 

     I would love to tell you there was some secret I learned that made this go away, made my body get back to season shape and made the fear recede, but I would be lying. It took me all season to find my groove again. There was no magical trick I did, I just took it one day at a time. I tried to stop focusing on the game next week or the injury I didn’t have but could get. I saw my cards in front of me for what they were, a second chance at the sport I love that I was throwing away by focusing on the big picture of an athletic career rather than just looking at a sophomore season. Every game felt like it was the biggest game of my life and I always felt underprepared. When I started to see the cards as a gift it helped me to refocus. I no longer had to think that one season was going to make or break me, I just had to play the game that I had gotten a new chance at. Do what I knew how to do and let the rest fall where it did. I worked to play to the best of my abilities, played in a way I could be proud of and it helped. The other thing that helped was putting my game day focus on something that wasn’t stats related. Playing an offensive position means scoring is your main priority but if you're like me more focus on the stats you do or don’t have is stress inducing. Instead my objective would be something like picking one teammate to hype up (still hype up your other teammates too!), drop stepping before I fed the ball, vocalizing everything I was doing with my teammates to up my communication. It made it so I had a goal that I could achieve every game even if I didn’t score. It took the stress off of feeling like I had to perfect when I was worried about how much my injury had set me back. It made me feel like I was still succeeding regardless of what my stats were turning out like.

     I always felt like lacrosse made me, shaped me into who I am one day at a time. The kind of person I was when I played lacrosse was the kind of person I always wanted to be. I felt more authentic on a field than anywhere else. I had never found another hobby or job that brought the same kind of feelings as lacrosse did. I think people just assume that you get over your playing days. That one day you wake up and you don’t miss the pre-game routines with your teammates, or that you stop feeling like you are supposed to be out there on the field with those people that have become family. But to that I say don’t get over it. I spent the last couple months waiting for the day when I would stop feeling like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Months waiting to get over the feeling of training for the next season, playing wall ball until I didn’t hit a drop for the whole set, eating to fuel my body for hours in the gym, and checking in with my teammates about how much we couldn’t wait to see each other again. I would love to tell you that it goes away but I don’t think it ever really does and I don’t think that it needs to. You feel like this because it mattered to you, your sport was a huge part of your life and to move on the next day might not be possible for you, it certainly isn’t for me. I didn’t wake up one day and forget I wanted to be out there, but I did wake up one day and  decided not to forget it. I could never pretend that the field wasn’t a second home, that I didn’t make my best friends out there, or learn more about myself than I ever thought possible under the lights of a stadium. To forget it or to get over it would be to forget the lessons I learned and the things that lacrosse made me into. I learned the kind of respect I deserve as a person and an athlete. I learned what hard work and discipline meant. I learned how to be selfless, how to put my teammates ahead of myself. I learned how to pay attention to the little things like a teammate's birthday or big tests in classes to ask them about during weights. I learned about the kind of person I wanted to be. Someone who was resilient, determined, kind, reliable, and strong. 

     I would never tell you to get over retiring, medically retiring, or being injured in general. When you leave a sport for any amount of time that you have spent hours and hours in, it's hard. Like I said before, some people might think that you will just move past it, that it can’t have been that important or that it was just a game. I always say that they don’t get it, if you’ve never loved something like that you just don’t know what it feels like to leave it all behind. I was forced out of the game because of an injury but if I could go back tomorrow I would. When I look back on all my years of lacrosse I’m still sad, I miss it more than I could put into words, but now I’m choosing to look at it in a different light. I try not to think of all the things I missed but all the things I gained. I’m trying to see the gifts I have acquired over the last eleven years. It’s hard but man does it make me smile to think of all the times I spent on the field with people I am honored to know and call my family. You might never get to a place where you feel like you have moved on but the best advice I could give is feel what you feel. Give yourself the time to grieve the change in your life that you may or may not have known was coming. Be sad or mad, everyone around me knows I was both. Feel it and give it the space it deserves. This was a big part of your life and to think the next day you are good to go might not be possible and that's okay. Give it the time and when you feel ready start to look for the gifts you still have from it. Things you learned about yourself, teammates that became friends, trips you enjoyed, cool gear, or the feeling of doing something you loved. I’ll never stop feeling like the field is calling to me and that's okay, I don’t really want to. 

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