I got into a car wreck in January that sent my Volkswagen to Beetle heaven. Up until that point, I had been training incredibly hard — I was hitting PRs on lifts and workouts, and my mental game was getting stronger every day. The goal was to make it to my third Regionals and re-qualify for USA Wrestling Nationals. The second I got into the accident, I was scanning myself for injuries. I decided I was totally fine. I had some scrapes and burns but no broken bones. I told myself I’d give myself an extra day of rest, and then I’d get back on the program.
I eased into workouts, got massages and got cracked by chiropractors, but two weeks later, I started to panic. I was not better; in fact, I was worse. I had to make a decision. The Open was only two weeks away. Could I just push through this? Once I focused only on my recovery, I realized that the Open was simply not in the cards this year and that I needed to go to the doctor to figure out what was going on. It turned out to be two partial tears in my rotator cuff and some pretty severe neck damage. I would have done terrible things to my body had I kept going.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Do not put a timeline on your recovery. Recover, and then focus on your goals when you are better. Do not say, “I need to be better by this date.” Your body doesn’t know what that date is, nor does it care. Put all your energy into taking care of yourself and being patient, and when you’re ready, THEN decide what your next logical goals are.
2. Soak up the beginner experience. It has been two months and I still can’t lift more than a PVC pipe above my head. I can front squat about 25 percent of my max, and a five-minute jog burns my lungs. I am the utmost beginner at this point, and I’m totally at peace with it.
As a coach and an athlete, sometimes we forget what it feels like to struggle with fundamentals. What muscles are required to fully rotate into a front rack? What is contributing to your internally rotated shoulders? What is altered in the spine when your traps seize up? These are questions I haven’t had to re-examine in a very long time. I am rediscovering what it means to be a beginner, and this is quite possibly the best coaching tool I will ever receive.
3. There are plenty of other things to work on. When someone loses or is without a sense, it is proven that other senses can become more capable. For example, a person without vision may have a stronger sense of smell or hearing. Being injured has allowed me to see the gym as more than a place to exercise. I can see the rest of the experience clearer. I love the gym more now than I ever did. This place is filled with the most amazing people, and there is nowhere I’d rather be, injured or not.
There is a mental game to work on. There is nutrition. There is my coaching ability. I still have to run a gym. These things matter just as much as athletic performance, if not more. Do not be afraid to put performance on the back burner, even if you are not injured. Sometimes you must prioritize the strength and balance of your life over your workout. Growth can happen with or without thrusters — it’s just a matter of whether or not you choose to grow.