As a sportswriter, I often had to write about athletes getting injured and their recoveries. Injuries to the legs, knees, ankles and feet usually were the worst, because of their significance in everyday movement (at least for those of us who are used to relying on them every day.) More often than not, an athlete has to rest for a dedicated amount of time and then very slowly ease back into physical activity before they can even think about jumping back into their sport.
When the orthopedic doctor grounded me for the stress fracture, I certainly did not think of myself in terms of those athletes I used to write about.** I wasn’t nearly as active or accomplished, and all I did was overdo it on a running routine. All this to say, I’ve been surprised at how difficult it’s been to fully recover from my injury, although I probably shouldn’t have been.
I wore the boot all of December, through Christmas and New Years and went back to the doctor a day and a half before I left for India. He told me I could be the one to decide whether or not I left the boot at home during my trip, but with the caveat, “If it hurts even a little bit you should take it with you.” Of course I was not going to take it with me — that was a foregone conclusion. My leg had hurt very little the week before the appointment, but who in their right mind would want to wear a boot during 18 hours of flying (times two), 16 hours of Germany layovering and a week and a half in a country that is not particularly accessible? Only crazy people, that’s who.
To my satisfaction, my leg did not hurt once during the trip, and we did just enough walking around to test it. In the wake of returning home and shaking the jet lag, I felt sluggish and unhealthy and was determined to get back into a serious workout plan — I had an aggressive schedule of swimming, fitness classes at the Y and the rehab walk/run plan from the doctor to tackle.
And almost immediately my leg began to hurt. The pain wasn’t necessarily in the same spot — it moved, it grew, it diminished, it moved again, rinse, lather, repeat. Scared of reaggravating the injury, I stopped for a few days until it stopped hurting. Then I started working out again, and it started to hurt again.
After resting, icing and wearing the boot for a few days, I started back at square one: swimming with a pull buoy, which was the one thing the doctor allowed me to do while wearing the boot full time. And I was pissed and frustrated beyond all get out: my month in the boot was up, my leg did not hurt when I was done with it, so why wasn’t I completely healthy and ready to work out again? Usually I have a problem with lack of motivation, but for once all I wanted to do was be physically active, but my body wouldn’t allow it. Not to mention the Olympic triathlon in May I’d had my heart set on was out. I would have had to start training at the end of February, but I couldn’t even run a few feet, let alone the 5k that is a standard prerequisite to starting a tri training program.
I kept swimming every other day, just to do something. My leg would hurt mildly during my swims, even without the kicking, but a little ice at the end usually made it go away. After about a week, the mild pain went away, so I tried mixing in a few sets of breast stroke with kicking. The mild pain returned, solved by icing and a day’s rest. And thus, a workout routine was born for February: swims every other day, mixing sets with and without the buoy, followed by 30 minutes of icing and, if necessary, a couple of hours in the boot. Two weeks ago I tried a random Zumba class and put on my walking boot before my leg even had a chance to start hurting. On Sunday I returned to the first step of the doctor’s rehab plan, an unimpressive five minutes of running mixed with 30 minutes of walking. It’s a far cry from the 6 milers that contributed to my injury back in October, but by God, I woke up Monday morning and my leg did not hurt. And that is already an improvement over the past four months.
There are o pledged at the end of the 2012 triathlon season to spend time this winter working on my swimming stroke. I wanted to be a confident freestyler so I wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on the breast stroke to get through an open-water swim. Swimming with a pull buoy forced my hand on that one. Since I couldn’t kick in the pool, I focused on every detail of my stroke and breathing to keep from getting bored and now my stroke is cleaner, my breathing is smoother and I’m faster. Would I trade those things to have not been injured at all? Probably so, but I guess I’ll be able to answer that better if and when I get back to tri training.
**This begs a more serious question: at one point does someone turn into an athlete? Did an Olympic triathlon make me one? Or does it take more? I certainly don’t feel comfortable calling myself an athlete, but I can’t put my finger on why.