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Uncategorized / December 12, 2015

How to Rebound Mentally and Physically After Injury

Written by: Devon Balet

I remember the day as if it was yesterday. June 16th, 2015, I hit the ground – and I hit it hard. It isn’t even a cool story. I wasn’t doing anything spectacular. In fact, it happened on a bike path on my way to get coffee. Twenty miles per hour to zero in a matter of a few feet, and somewhere in the crash my hand got caught up in the mix.

The words came down on me like a ton of bricks. At 31 years of age, I was sitting in the examination room of my local ER, bawling my eyes out. I could sense the discomfort of the doctor as he stood there, unsure of what to say. All the goals and aspirations I had set and been working toward that summer seemed to go up in smoke when I heard, “Your scaphoid bone is definitely broken.”

For those unfamiliar, the scaphoid bone is a very small and extremely crucial bone in your hand that essentially makes your wrist a wrist. It controls movement in the 360-degree rotation this joint has. It is also a very difficult bone to heal if broken. Blood enters from one end, and if broken badly enough, requires surgery, screws and pins.

Fast forward through a hand specialist and a CAT scan. Results came in: the break was severe and the ligament was damaged. Surgery was inevitable. I looked for a second opinion. I did research on potential side effects if left untreated (and treated). I couldn’t believe this minor crash was taking me down in such a major way. I set a date for my surgery.

But, alas, this story isn’t about my journey through the injury healing process. It isn’t about the late night ER visit for the intense pain. It isn’t even about the steps I have taken to treat my body the best I can following the ordeal.

 

This story is about the mental effects of being an injured athlete.

We tend to identify ourselves with the activities we participate in, our jobs and our lifestyle choices. For athletes, we identify ourselves through our sport. For the last ten years of my life, I have spent more time mountain biking than anything else. (Well, maybe sleep, but who’s counting?)

As athletes, we find comfort in our daily routine of working out. The early mornings don’t seem so early when you are ten miles into a ride and the sun is cresting the horizon. The achy muscles and tired body isn’t such a big deal because, to us, it shows we have been active. The funny tan lines and blisters are merely byproducts of our hard work. We revel in the pain of progression.

Now, take that all away. Eliminate all of the things you use to identify yourself with, the things you do on a daily basis. Eliminate your outlet for frustration and the mechanism for clearing your mind. It’s like taking drugs from an addict. You are left with a void, like there is nothing left in the world for you.

For me, my injury was an even harder hit as I am a full-time freelance photographer, and cameras are designed to be used with your right hand. Everything about being an adventure, lifestyle, and mountain bike photographer demands your body to be fully functional. And here I was unable to hold a tooth brush, let alone a camera.

So, what did I do? How did I deal with this overwhelming feeling of despair? First, I went and bought myself a nice new point and shoot camera so I could shoot left-handed. However, the most important thing I did was keep my chin up. I was injured, unable to ride my bike, and my friends were seemingly nowhere to be found. It certainly wasn’t easy, but remember, you control your happiness and misery is an option.

 

The best thing you can do when faced with this internal battle of identity is to busy your body and mind. I discovered Bodyflow, which combines tai chi, yoga and pilates for a 50-minute continuous movement workout. I started reading and writing more. And I started running. Yes, the “R” word. (Something cyclists normally don’t talk about unless when speaking to its boredom.)

Here I was, the guy that was normally on his bike for 10-15 hours a week – running and enjoying it. I got that same feeling of accomplishment and soreness. It gave me motivation to get out of bed and look forward to each day. It was something I could actually do, which helped me focus on my current, existing abilities, and not my impairment.

Four and half months post-surgery, I still cannot ride my mountain bike. I still struggle with feelings of emptiness. It’s important to not hide from your feelings; address them, but don’t allow them to control you. A well-accomplished cyclist, Sonya Looney, put it nicely in an article she wrote on the same subject, “I am going to look at this setback as an opportunity rather than a failure.”

I am looking at no less than another six weeks with this brace and a non-functioning hand. So, today I decided I am going to start training to run a marathon. You don’t need a functioning hand to do that!

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about the author

Devon Balet

Born and raised in Colorado and living in the outdoors with a bike between his legs and a camera in hand, Devon discovered mountain biking after he started working at a bike shop at age 14.

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