Professional Triathlete Kelly Williamson is our guest blogger this week.
Learn how years of experience have changed her perspective on coming back from injury. Something many athletes can relate to. Gather a fresh perspective yourself and read on.
It is funny how experience (12 years) can change your perspective. I hear people talk about being stressed out from an ‘off day’ in training, or a small tweak to the body, and I just don’t see it quite like I used to. A few years back it always felt like the curse of doom, career-ending…and while I will still admit that it sucks to deal with setbacks, I now approach it more pragmatically. What is wrong, how can it be dealt with, and what can I do in the meantime. I’ve learned that every obstacle can (and often is) a motivator, and can make you a much better athlete; but it often depends upon your attitude.
The so called ‘injury’ I am referring to is something I dealt with last season. I had surgery in September, just two weeks after 70.3 World Champs, to fix an artery in my hip which had become ‘diseased’ so to speak. Honestly, I’d not even call this an injury but moreso ‘faulty wiring’. This was something that symptomatically came on gradually and was a bit of a puzzle to diagnose; I had no idea it was happening as it happened. Thankfully, I had the help of an incredible doctor at Memorial Hermann who diagnosed this very quickly; just one month after I first saw him. Given that it can take years to diagnose, I consider myself very lucky in this sense. I physically struggled through the year knowing things were not quite right, and while we were fairly certain this was it (endofibrosis of the external iliac artery), we got the ‘official’ diagnosis in September. I had thought long and hard about surgery, spent hours researching, talked to fellow athletes, done my homework; I knew I wanted to do this. Once the surgery (and four days in the hospital) was over, it was back to Austin and onto the recovery process.
I have had a few other setbacks during my career; notably, a double compound fracture of my left arm in 2005. This was actually more of an interruption, as it entailed 3 surgeries in a 9 month time span. This current issue was unique in that they literally went in and replaced a small piece of my artery; the recovery was something I took extremely seriously, following the doc’s orders. Seeing that I am now 6 months post-op and about to start my 2014 season, I just wanted to highlight, in retrospect, a few important things I took away from my recovery process.
1) Focus on what you CAN do. I was told ‘only walking’ for 5-6 weeks. And, walk I did. It started gradually, the week after surgery it was 2×15 min walks, very slowly. I built upon those to where about 3-4 weeks post, I was doing 2×3-4 mile walks a day, sometimes up to 6 miles at a time. I have always taken this approach to setbacks. There is almost always something you CAN DO… it’s best to focus on this, because if you dwell on what you cannot do, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Needless to say, I loved the walking; it was a perfect way to feel I had done something yet never feel over-exerted; a pretty refreshing feeling for someone used to training 20-30 hours a week.
2) Patience & A Plan. While 6 weeks sounded like an eternity at first, I embraced the downtime and accepted that to be able to do what I loved, I chose to get this surgery; to make it effective, I had to be patient and respect the recovery. Additionally I created a ‘plan’ as to how to add other activities. This gave me something to look forward to each week; maybe I added light 5lb weights, or aqua jogging with a belt. It kept my attitude positive to know if I took small steps, I could see where I would be in 1, 2, 3, 5+ weeks.
3) Embrace the rest. My husband may say otherwise, but I truly did enjoy the down time I was forced to take. I was so worn out physically, mentally and emotionally from the season and the toll this had taken. My body needed this rest, and the 6 weeks of only walking was likely the biggest ‘forced off season’ I have had in years. I’d like to think that will work in my favor as the season approaches, knowing I’ll demand a lot of my body for the next 8-9 months.
4) Perspective. Funny how this can change so drastically given the circumstances. I did a 5k on my birthday, exactly 10 weeks post-surgery. It was a good minute slower than my best time. Did I care? Not at all. It felt amazing, and I was so incredibly grateful to get to do what I loved again, without feeling any pain. I’ve gained perspective in numerous ways over my career, but given that this was a fairly major surgery, I was just so thankful to be running again, reminded yet again to just be appreciative of the basic things.
We may not always why things happen when they do, or why they happen at all; but if we let ourselves accept them, step back, and see the larger picture, we often figure it out. This one just gave me one more good story (and scar) to tell people about; personally, I find that pretty cool. Life would be pretty boring without any scars to show.
Kelly H. Williamson