Injury and Reinjury

Hey everyone, hope life is treating you well 🙂 In my case, life is currently hurling a lemon in my direction… Allow me to elaborate.

I’ve been having knee problems for over two years now. It started when I was training like crazy in rhythmic gymnastics. My ten years in gymnastics wore away at my knees, causing lots of inflammation in the tendons around my kneecap- i.e. Patellar Tendinitis, colloquially known as “Jumper’s Knee”. When I first started experiencing sharp pains, I kept it to myself, simply because I didn’t think it was anything too serious. After all, it’s normal for competitive athletes to experience some physical discomfort, considering the physical strain they put on their bodies. However, it soon became apparent that the pain I felt in my knees was not soreness– it was much more painful and did not go away. I finally told my parents about the knee pain after the 2012 competition season. They took me to several doctors, who all told me the same thing: I had Patellar Tendinitis in both knees, and the only solution was lots of rest and physical therapy, and don’t do anything that aggravates my knees. That is, quit gymnastics.

Had my parents not forced me to quit, I would have happily continued to grit my teeth through the pain and continue gymnastics– in retrospect, a foolish mindset, but also one that illustrates how much I loved my sport.

The injury took a greater emotional/psychological than physical toll on me. My whole life up until that point, I had devoted myself to gymnastics, sacrificing a carefree childhood, a social life outside the gym, family time, and intellectual pursuits, among other things. My life was literally school and gymnastics, every single day. But I didn’t mind, because I loved my sport. I loved it. I will say it again: Gymnastics was truly my first love. My love and passion for the sport drove me to push myself beyond my physical limits and willingly make sacrifices for the sake of reaching success in my sport. Every waking moment during those ten years, I dreamed of performing in the world’s biggest stage- the Olympic Games. All my hopes and aspirations were based on gymnastics. That being said, I lacked the proper balance in life so integral to stability- all the different facets of my life aside from academics revolved around gymnastics. It was a two-legged table threatening to come crashing down. I had put all my eggs in one basket, and if the basket fell… It was a dangerous game to play. So beautifully dangerous…

When I quit, my world crumbled around me. Cliche or melodramatic as this may sound, it’s how I felt at the time. Gymnastics, the sport I devoted my life to, gave me a sense of identity. All my life I identified as a gymnast. And I grew to believe that everyone around me– family, peers, teachers– also identified me as “the gymnast.” Without gymnastics, I felt worthless. I didn’t know who I was or what I excelled at other than gymnastics. My self-esteem dropped to zero. I realized that I didn’t know any pride or confidence outside my sport or my life as an athlete. I felt completely lost. For two years I struggled to come to terms with the injury, to accept it, accept the fact that one chapter of my life had ended. And God I missed it. I cried every single day for several months at the mere thought of gymnastics. Seeing anything that reminded me of the past life I lived was enough to bring the tears flowing. For the longest time I was angry at the universe, at fate, for “making” this happen to me. I channeled this grief and anger in different directions– at my family, at my peers in school, at my studies. I would fight on a daily basis with my mom, dad, and brothers about their lack of understanding about how I felt. My family failed to acknowledge the deep grief I felt. To them, the injury was great because I could now focus on school and grades. At the time, though, I felt zero feelings of happiness or gratitude towards the injury. I was just depressed and hurt and angry. It’s hard to see the glass half full when you are grieving. At school, I isolated myself from my peers. My “friends” failed to understand, hard as they tried. Now I realize that it is hard for people who haven’t been through what I went through to understand what dedicated athletes face when uprooted prematurely from their sports. In many ways, though, losing a sport is similar to the death of a loved one. You grieve the loss of this person, accept and adapt to a new life without this person in it, and eventually the deep wound in your heart closes up, until one day, the death of the person is merely a scar that may open up from time to time.

So for two years I grieved, I accepted, I adapted. I rebuilt my identity from scratch by trying new things, things I never imagined myself doing: diving, synchronized swimming, public speaking, ballroom dance. And it is this last item on the list– ballroom dance– that helped me find my fire again. I never imagined I would discover anything other than gymnastics that I’d love as much. But ballroom dance… it took my heart from day one.

Having learned from my previous experience with gymnastics, though, I knew better than to devote my entire life to ballroom, as much as I wanted to. This time around, I need to keep my life in balance, so if I were to get reinjured, I won’t fall to rock bottom again. But then again, I know that if I really did fall to rock bottom, I would be able to get back up on my feet. Losing gymnastics taught me that I  can pick myself up from whatever lemon life decides to throw my way.

Going into ballroom, I didn’t think this sport would be too hard on my knees. After all, there was no jumping involved, which was the primary cause of my “Jumper’s Knee”. Of course, I was mistaken. Ballroom is hard on the knees in a different way, since this art places so much emphasis on beautiful lines and hyperextension of the joints. My coaches always want me to straighten my knees beyond 180 degrees to create that gorgeous line. The thing is, my knees don’t go backward naturally!! I can FORCE them to hyperextend, but not without a lot of effort and pressure on the joint. After doing this for 4 months, my knee injury reactivated.

A few days ago I practiced for only two hours- not much compared to my 5 hour trainings in gymnastics back in the day. The next day, I couldn’t walk without yelling from the sharp pains. If I couldn’t walk, then there’s no way in HELL I could dance. I know that I need to listen and respect what my body is telling me. If my poor knees are screaming “STOP!”, then I have to listen. There is no point in being “heroic” by pushing through the pain… And for what? For becoming a champion? For a slim chance at momentary glory? My body is my body, and Heavenly Father blessed me with this ONE body that I must cherish. If I continue killing my knees, I will pay the price in later years. I don’t want to live my life as a cripple. That being said, I was quite saddened when my knees flared up again a couple days ago. But in a way, I saw it coming. The thing with me is that in whatever I do, I refuse to give less than 100% of my effort. I have this urge to be reach my greatest potential in whatever endeavor I take on. This is a wonderful trait I have been blessed with, but it can also be detrimental to my health, especially if all my life I have chosen to make athletic endeavors my primary focus.

But I know this is not the end of my ballroom journey. There is still so much hope inside me, I can feel that this is not the end. I just need to take a short break, properly rehab my knees again, and ease back into it. I’m going to my sports medicine doctor next Monday, so we’ll develop a solid game plan then. Until then, I will continue to be hopeful. And if worst comes to worst and I have to end my ballroom journey, I will be very disappointed, yes. But I won’t despair. I can always dance for my own enjoyment without killing my body. Plus, I’ve realized during my post-gymnastics years that there is SO much more to life than gymnastics, or any other physical endeavor for that matter. Hello, what about the vast wealth of intellectual pursuits? Writing, for instance, is not something I picked up until I had stopped gymnastics. My recent experience with shadowing Dr. Nwynn has opened my eyes to the world of medicine, and I realize that this is something I am fascinated by and want to pursue. In conclusion, then, injuries are never pleasant. They hurt, both physically and emotionally. But injuries may also be blessings in disguise.

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