Like a lot of you out there, I’ve suffered my fair share of injuries throughout my sports career.
One of which I remember particularly well. It was one of those soccer games where both teams screamed back and forth on the field, taking the lead only to lose it in a matter of minutes. I locked legs with another player, and in one swift moment, I hurt my knee. Not in the oh-give-me-a-minute-to-shake-it-off sort of injury, but a I-can’t-really-walk-on-my-own sort of injury.
A few doctor’s visits later I found myself diagnosed with a grade II sprain of my MCL, ACL and PCL. That's a fancy way of saying I sprained three crucial ligaments that keep my knee working properly (how’s that for a nice trifecta). In three seconds flat, I went from charging down the path towards the championship to limping along the path of injury recovery. To say the wind was knocked out of me is an understatement.
I had months of crutches, knee braces, and excruciating physical therapy. I really didn't understand what soreness was until I literally couldn't sit down after my first PT session, my muscles just screaming at me, raw, stubborn, and on fire. I didn't know how hard I could push myself until I almost threw up from working so hard on the stair master.
I put in the work on my knee injury recovery. Work that paid off when my doctor and PT both said my injury recovery and rehab were complete, and I was ready to get back out there on the soccer pitch.
Wait, what? You're saying I'm ready?
I didn't feel ready.
I felt two competing parts of me fighting for air - one part that was hopeful, excited even, to get back out there and block some shots. The other part of me was screaming, HOLD UP.
Would my knee really work the way it's supposed to?
What if I hurt myself again?
How can they really know if I’m ready?
I thought I had done the work. I mean, come ON. I almost threw up from working out on a stair master for Pete's sake. I put up with screaming muscles that refused to sit down. I cried my way through longer-than-hell-and-back wall sits. If that's not work, I don't know what was.
What I didn't realize was that it wasn't just about the physical work on this road to knee injury recovery. There was this thing called mental work.
I couldn't short cut it. I had to do both kinds of work. I had to get over that fear of hurting myself again, this fear of not being quite ready yet.
So, like an athlete, I gritted my teeth and did it.
And as I did that mental work, diving deeper into my mindset and how the heck I was going to get back out there, I realized there were other fears lying beneath the surface.
I realized I was afraid of letting myself down, letting my trainers and coaches down, and letting my teammates down. I was terrified I wasn’t every going to be able to play like myself again. That I wouldn’t be the same player.
What if I can’t play or compete at the same level?
What if I’m just never the same player again?
In the end, it was WORK to get there. Messy, hard work. But you know what? At the risk of sounding a bit cliche, I emerged a stronger version of myself. A more confident version of myself. A version of myself I actually liked better, and was more proud of, than my pre-injury self.
I not only got back out there, I excelled. Stanford soccer captain. #11 college draft pick for the Women's Professional Soccer League. Starter for the LA Sol, one of the top teams in the professional league.
I don't list those accolades because I have a big ego. I list them to help demonstrate what I gained from my physical AND mental injury recovery.
We athletes know what work is. So let’s do it. Together.
Kirby is a former pro soccer player, creator, and coach who helps elite athletes figure out what's next in life after sport. Learn more about her and her services at kirbymethod.com.