2011 was going to be my year. Fresh off a 2nd place finish at the 2010 Provincial Figure Championships, I had qualified for and set my sights on building new muscle needed for my first National competition that summer. I got down to business. Week after week I made gains until it started to unravel.
In February I felt unusually tired and that my calf muscles were tightening. Maybe it was fluid retention or my muscles were growing, I thought. But on February 26th I had to face a new reality. I was training late that day – a rare workout with two of my girlfriends instead of my trainer. I unzipped my boot in the locker room only to discover my ankle was swollen so badly I couldn’t see it. The heat was radiating and worse, my entire calf up to the knee was about 3 inches bigger than the other leg. I did what I was accustomed to doing – trained but skipped cardio.
Following the gym I went directly to a doctor who initially thought a couple of weeks rest would do the trick. I complained but negotiated the right to train, just no cardio. Two weeks later things went from bad to worse when my doctor confirmed that there was significant soft tissue damage around my right ankle and that I had to stop training legs and stay off cardio. And to top it all off, my iron stores had dropped perilously close to stroke level.
My dream of going to Nationals was now at risk but I soldiered on, not willing to give up or admit the magnitude of the injury to my training team. Internally I was stressed about how the lack of cardio would impact my weight. The sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach wouldn’t disappear as the sharp pain I felt when my foot touched the ground or the constant throbbing grew progressively worse with every movement.
Weeks slipped by and nothing improved. I tried physiotherapy, ART, acupuncture, anti-inflammatories and nothing worked. Every trip to a health care professional raised alarm bells as I saw their puzzled looks. I knew what they weren’t saying – options were dwindling and no one could pinpoint the source of the injury. The pain had now become so bad that I had no choice but to take gut-wrenching pain medication every day and my iron levels were still so low that I had no energy left by 3:00 pm. Life became a miserable existence.
Imagine all the things you take for granted suddenly gone – running across the street, walking up the stairs in your house, standing for an hour, driving or simply going for a walk.
By April my leg was in a walking cast. Weeks had now become months with no cardio and the inability to work on the squat rack, leg press or anything that made me feel strong.
While I continued to train I knew deep down that there was no way I could compete within months. Disheartened I would leave the gym feeling worse than when I entered. I had become so demoralized that there was nothing anyone could do or say to lift my spirits.
One evening in May I reached my breaking point. Halfway through a training session I packed it in and drove to the top of Signal Hill. When I first began my fitness journey I would often run along the Signal Hill trail by the ocean as the sun came up every morning. I still remember the day I could finally complete the whole trail running up the last flight of 101 narrow and winding stairs. But on that night, with tears streaming down my wind blown cheeks I couldn’t even bear the pain of gingerly climbing six steps. I collapsed on that staircase with my head in my hands, sobbing and screaming “Why?” at the top of my lungs.
I couldn’t do it anymore. I sent a note to my coach announcing I was taking a break from the gym. He gave me a week and then declared the pity party was over.
The Turning Point
Thankfully I work with a dream training team. They believed when I didn’t. They refused to let me give up and devised a plan to work around the injury. We renamed my workouts the “upper body annihilation” and searched for ways to make me feel invincible again …chin ups in a walking cast, one legged rowing and battling ropes for cardio. Training became fun again.
Forced to sit on the sidelines for Nationals sucked but I would find a way back to the stage for provincials in November, even if I had to crawl. After countless hours of physiotherapy, two cortisone treatments a week (by ultrasound), tendon scraping until I was black and blue I did strap on those heels and make it back.
Today my leg isn’t fully healed; my running days are over and my closet of fun shoes remains closed. But none of that matters. Even though I didn’t embrace it at the time, you can learn when adversity strikes. It is a true test of how badly you want something, a reminder that mental strength is just as important as physical strength. For me the best discovery was the heart of an athlete.
It is amazing what the human spirit can endure. The next time you face an obstacle just remember – you are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem.
Last year I dared to struggle. This year I dare to win.Next