Rehabilitation equals reformation

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I used to have a victim’s mentality about injures. When I got hurt, I asked, “Why me? Why should I get injured when I work so hard to be healthy?”

But recently, I have realized that no one’s fitness journey is without challenges. I now believe that no athlete has ever walked a path to glory that was free from setbacks.

Every four years – winter and summer – we join together listening to the back stories of incredible athletes who have fought innumerable challenges to make it to the Olympics. We thrill to see them perform and delight in talking about their journeys and successes. But don’t we cheer just a little harder for the Olympians with the biggest stories of comeback? Perhaps it is in overcoming these challenges that the winning spirit is forged. Isn’t it the sand that makes the pearl?

How can I be a victim if being sidelined is something everyone encounters?

Rather than, “Why me?” maybe it is time to ask, “Why not me?” Or even, “Isn’t it about time it is me?”

An injury is a glass ceiling. It tells us where our limits are. If we study the cause of an injury and move forward, we will break through to a new level of performance…and eventually our next ceiling…and then our next advancement.

Recently a runner friend was injured and was told to take several months off her favorite sport. Trying to be of some comfort, I realized that a doctor’s order to rest does not go far enough. Giving an injury a chance to heal is essential, granted, but we need more. We need scrutiny and prescriptives for our rehabilitation and return to our endeavors. We need someone with knowledge to assess what we have been doing, figure out where we have gone wrong and help us make a plan to come back stronger.

After months of rest, muscles will degrade. My friend will have to start back slowly. She will cautiously move through the milestones to earn her way back to where she started. But if her initial injury was owing to a muscle imbalance, a weakness in running form, the wrong shoes, or any number of things that can be corrected that are not being corrected by simply resting, she will likely be headed for another injury and another sideline.

Just as we keep encountering the same life lessons until we learn them, I believe that we encounter the same injuries until they change us or break us. If we do not ask, petition, insist on learning what has caused an injury and seek a remedy for the cause, we are just setting ourselves up for future pain and disappointment.

As prolotherapy slowly strengthens my frayed elbow tendons, my physical therapy has progressed from wrist raises to swimming a cautious backstroke. With each stroke, I learn something. I listen to my body in ways I never did when it performed perfectly. I have discovered – and am fixing – three possibly injury-provoking stroke flaws I never noticed before.

But rehabilitation is more than physical change. Rehabilitation isn’t just repair, it is reformation… a reforming of our behaviors and attitudes that makes us stronger. It is a chance to take a look at what we could be doing better…and doing it. It is about transforming ourselves internally and externally into better functioning human machines.

Most days the knowledge that I am repairing the cause of my injury rather than just the symptoms is enough to make me feel like a champion, though the effort makes my look more like Esther Williams than Michael Phelps.

But some days, the victim tries to creep back in. Some days the ego must be talked off the ledge when the flow doesn’t come, the pain sets in, or I am lapped by a nine-year-old while her coach-dad chastises her for “dogging it.”

On a day when things weren’t going well in the pool, a swimming buddy showed up. She noticed my lack of shine, and asked what was up. I told her that it was tough coming back.

She winked knowingly and pronounced, “Coming back is fun!” Then she repeated it, making clear she would not stop until I joined it.

“Coming back is fun,” I answered while rolling my eyes.

Undaunted, she looked at me and pointedly repeated, “Coming back is fun.”

I thought about her story. About the work and struggle she has gone through over 85 years of keeping fit. She had seen it all and was still fighting the fight. Who was I to complain?

“Coming back is fun,” I stated with a bit more conviction.

She looked at me steadily. I started to think of how I had recently noticed my bicep come to attention for the first time in more than a year. How my quads were slowly growing from all the prescribed wall squats. How these discoveries were as thrilling the second time around as they were the first time I began to get strong.

I smiled, really grasping what she was telling me. She smiled back and then we both started to emphatically chant, “Coming back is fun!”

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