For anyone who has ever sustained an injury, whether physical or emotional, the greatest lesson is that it takes time to heal completely. We learn that we cannot shorten or control the time in any way. It is almost as if the healing has a life of its own, and we can do nothing but wait for the process to unfold. For seasoned athletes, this wait can be grueling, and can even feel like a punishment. Especially with first time injuries, we may be tempted to take one of two detrimental paths.
The first unhealthy response is to ignore the injury, and train in spite of it. Goal-oriented personalities will often choose this path, which can result in greater injury and even longer healing time. Recently while training for a half marathon, I developed a stress fracture in my ankle. When the orthopedist advised that I not run for six weeks, it felt like a prison sentence being handed down. The temptation to run anyway was greater than any I’ve experienced. It took discipline and effort to train safely until the bone was strong enough to support more strenuous activity, and I wished every day that I could speed the healing process. I must admit, the indoor elliptical machine is a sorry substitute for the freedom and excitement of running outdoors. So while on the machine, I imagined the crisp air, the crunch of the asphalt, the smell of trees, and the feeling of being invincible, until I could get back out there in reality. Imagination is a powerful thing.
Another potential response to injury is to accept it as defeat, and abandon our goals entirely. In this case, faith for healing seems far away, and the realization that we are capable of being hurt seems to shake our confidence as well as our progress. Sometimes we allow our diagnosis to define us, and we repeat it as if it were immutable to everyone who will listen. Believing injuries are permanent can result in a regression of our fitness. During my six weeks of recovery, I made every effort to talk about the healing rather than the injury, the progress rather than the pain, and the goal rather than the limitation. In the case of emotional pain, which can be every bit as debilitating as physical, the temptation is just as strong to label ourselves “injured,” rather than “healing.”
As we progress toward our goals, some type of injury is inevitable. It is part of life to feel pain, to experience that jolt of reality that stops our progress, to struggle and recover. When injury happens, we should neither ignore it, nor accept it as a permanent limitation. A more balanced approach is to learn from it and allow the healing time, no matter how long it continues, knowing that we will eventually emerge stronger and we will still achieve our dreams. In fact, the experience can make us even more thankful when we do.
Every decision counts.