By Elaine Sheikh, Team OAM Now Triathlete
My time over winter break was spent training hard. I returned to school, excited to continue and prepare for my first “A” race of the year – USAT Collegiate Club Nationals in Clemson, South Carolina at the end of April. I was going to race the draft-legal sprint and the Olympic triathlon. However, only three days into the semester, I noticed a strange pinching sensation in my pelvis. As an athlete, I’m accustomed to shutting out physical discomfort. Disaster struck when I was out on a run and began to experience unbearable pain shooting through my pelvis with every footfall. By the time I hobbled back to my house, I couldn’t even lift my leg high enough to get in the shower.
In a panic, I called my massage therapist, Paul Raynes, from the Conscious Core. I wanted him to tell me it was probably just muscle, but as I described my pain, he expressed concern over a labral tear or a pelvic stress fracture. Both options were terrifying, so my next call was to Orthopedic Associates of Michigan (OAM). I knew that by going there, I could see an orthopedic specialist right away, and I could go in after hours, so I didn’t need to miss any classes. I had already been to OAM for a cartilage tear in my wrist, so I was confident that I would receive excellent care. I was seen immediately and the doctor identified what appeared to be a stress fracture on my radiographs. This diagnosis was later confirmed by MRI, and I was devastated to learn that it would be months before I could run again. Not only were the collegiate nationals out of the picture, but I didn’t even know if I would be able to race at all this season.
Naturally, I became distraught and struggled for months with emotional pain far greater than my physical pain. However, I learned several coping strategies that I think apply to many different circumstances in which your plans are altered by non-preventable circumstances.
1) Stay calm. The more you stress about your situation, the harder it is for your body to heal. If you allow yourself to become over-stressed, you will be unable to eat and sleep properly; both nutrition and rest are vital for healing. Also, adding stress to your body diverts its attention away from the healing process.
2) Confide in people. I was very lucky to be able to talk to my coach Mark Olson, my sports psychologist, and several triathlete friends who really understood what I was going through. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and talk to people about my anxiety really helped me stay emotionally stable.
3) Follow the rules. As hard as it was to take the time off of running, listening to my doctor and my coach allowed me to heal quickly and *hopefully* completely.
4) Don’t let yourself get stagnant. My devastating run was on a Thursday, and I was in too much pain to even walk without feeling nauseous for several days. However, I didn’t let myself wallow long – by Monday I was back in the pool. In the next several months, I swam and cycled harder than I have in my life and stayed in shape throughout injury. Instead of having several wasted months, I focused on becoming a better athlete in the other disciplines.
5) Set new goals. I was really disappointed about not being able to race tris the beginning of the season, but I decided to start competing in aquabike and road races. Having a new race goal kept me excited and motivated to continue training.
6) Stay involved in the sport. Sure, I cried a few times when I opened Strava and saw my friends laying down killer runs while I couldn’t even walk properly, but I still stayed involved in the sport. I continued to follow race results, volunteer at races, and hang out with my triathlete friends. That way, I kept the sport I love fresh and alive in my life.
Remember, the goal is always to return to competition as safely, and quickly, as possible after an injury. In order to do that, having a recovery plan that takes into account the emotional trials as well as the physical ones is crucial. That plan will allow you, and your body, to take the time needed to come back ready to compete strong.