The personality issues associated with an injury can be quite depressing. “It’s a stress fracture, I don’t want you to run for 6 weeks,” said b the doc but interpreted as the death sentence by the athlete. Often times, when hearing this, the athlete’s initial reaction is a flood of tears! Or patent denial. The athlete informs the care giver that he/she is terribly close to qualifying for Boston and has the perfect race scheduled shortly. They can’t possibly put their sport on hold.
When injured and told to decrease or eliminate that activity which gives them joy and a sense of purpose, the triathlete sees a piece of themselves being taken away. Some even believe that the restriction will last forever, like an image in facing mirrors at the barber shop, and they are losing personal control. It can be complicated dealing with the emotional ups and downs that accompany athletic trauma. Friendships through the sport are temporarily put on hold and the daily enjoyment/refreshment of the work out is lost. One’s sense of achievement or identity is removed and it can be a bitter pill to swallow. In many cases, understanding the emotional impact is as crucial as understanding the physical nature of the problem. When the damaged body part requires a prolonged rehab and recovery, at least a light at the end of the tunnel can be seen. But occasionally, when surgery is required or a season ending problem is diagnosed, down right depression can be the result.
If an athlete is part of triathlon long enough, it’s virtually guaranteed that something will be injured at one time or another. Some, unfortunately, many times as they bring previous medical and physical baggage with them with their desire to achieve. So, if some type of pre-injury preparedness is undertaken the emotional blow can be lessened. An effort is made to fill the daily time block allotted for training in some fulfilling way as this will soften the blow. LifeSport coach Lance Watson compares this grief reaction to that of researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who defines five stages of loss from her pioneering work with the terminally ill. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as seen in her classic text On Death and Dying. If you think about this for a minute you’ll see that it’s quite applicable in this instance. Indeed the injured party has lost the ability to race and train, possibly through no fault of their own. Watson tells us to “reframe the injury.” View it as an opportunity to work on our triathlon limiters in other areas. He states, “Do as much as you can to solve the problem each day even if it’s only stretching and icing.” Do your part so to speak. We’re told to “stay involved with what you love.” Can you help out at local races, assist in set up, body marking, be a volunteer? It can also be a time to take care of things you’ve put off like chronic bike discrepancies and maintenance, repairing your rain gear or reading up on nutritional or recovery advances. Finally, “look for the silver lining.” If you’ve been diagnosed with an issue that prevents you from running, perhaps you can make a short term “single sport block” as taught by Chicago based tri coach Ryan Riell.
View this as an opportunity to ramp up a very select part of your training to accomplish something that’s been holding you back in the past. This will also force you to take ownership of the injury and increase your knowledge base as to the source of this type of damage. It follows that it becomes your responsibility to ensure that the potential for recurrence is minimized. In most all cases, the issue will be resolved and you’ll be back on the street in racing form. And, you’ll also be a wiser triathlete.