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The downside of being a competitive athlete

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My RehabNazi, who is overseeing my pt with iron fists and even more iron weights managed to look up at me struggling with lifting my leg a few inches off the floor with just a 1lb weight attached to the ankle and saw that I was in enough physical pain to have started involuntary emission of tears.

"Why didn't you tell me to stop?" she snarled. (this woman has two settings: Snarling and shouting, neither of which really works with me)

"You said I had to do as many reps as possible."

"I meant until it, say, STARTED HURTING ENOUGH SO THAT ANY SANE PERSON WOULD STOP MOVING!!!" So we're back to shouting.

"I told you in the beginning, I have a skewed perception of what constitutes hurting enough to stop. I was an Olympic hopeful as a teen."

"Oh? Well, tell me sooner next time." Snarl.

Everybody always keeps going on and on about the benefits of exercise for children and teenagers (and adults, really). Nobody ever talks about the downsides.

For one, if you're into more than one sport, like I used to be, there are confusing and contrary instructions and messages. My fencing instructor always wanted me to eat more and keep building mass so I might also build some height and get past the magic 5'5" mark (took me until I was 15 to get there even though my parents aren't short). My martial arts instructor, on the other hand, wanted me to keep my weight down as much as I could so I'd stay in the lightest weight class possible for my height.

Another thing is that, as seriously competitive athletes, you're taught to ignore and even switch off certain warning signs such as the dizziness of hypoglycemia or the muscle weakness indicating overtraining of a certain muscle group. This leads to injuries, sure, but more importantly it leads to RESULTS and being a SUCCESS, and that's a lot more important in most athletes' books than being healthy. Who cares if you're fainting after practice, or if your BP is one step above a comatose person's, you're a WINNER!

That's the final, and perhaps most devastating realization of all: Nobody really cares if what you're doing is healthy. There is counseling- on how to overcome obstacles, and how to win. You're basically taught and forced to stick to disordered eating. You're pushing your body beyond its limits on a regular schedule and do everything within the realm of allowed medicine to keep it going when it breaks down, no matter the consequences.

Being a competitive athlete as a teen isn't about health- it's about results, and winning.

And that is just plain sad.

I loved competing and training though. I can see the downsides now, when I was working toward becoming an Olympic level fencer there wasn't much you could say to deter me from what I thought/felt I needed to do to get there. I competed on broken bones, sprained joints, with a 103 degree fever, after shoving an epi-pen into my thigh because I'd been stung by a wasp... These ARE the more extreme examples, but basically, what it boiled down to was: You're alive, you can move, you compete. I felt amazing and invincible, sort of like a superhero at that time. I could do things others couldn't even think of doing. It was all mind over matter, and it was so much fun to test the limits of my mind's abilities (I rarely got to anywhere else).

I'm still reaping both the disadvantages and the benefits of this time in my life. The ability to concentrate through even the most annoying distractions (construction, someone blasting nyan cat...), keeping cool under pressure, enhanced reflexes, going on when normally my body would just give up. The injury I'm rehabbing, not knowing when to quit, missing an "Off switch", often thinking I should dial back my food intake even further, needing to be perfect at whatever I do, frustration at hard limits I can't overcome with mind over matter...

There are two sides to everything. I think that with competitive athlete teens, the media tends to spin the most positive story possible. I just wanted to put some things into perspective.

  


Injuries suck.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My bionic leg doesn't work with the protectors we wear at volleyball, and I can't move fast enough or jump high enough or extend my body enough for the sport with it on. I can't wear it and be the best I can be for my team, so I'm not wearing it at practice and games most of the times unless we're doing conditioning (I've got my doctor's approval for it, too).

I'm aware of the risks that come with doing something high-impact without the brace. I can deal with the swelling, the weird crunchy sounds, realigning my kneecap every once in a while, and the persistent ache. It's there all the time anyway, and having the joint ache a little more doesn't really bother me.

The cold weather is what's getting to me most of the time. Humidity+cold=hell on old bone injuries. Our coach tries his best to warm us up, but I've always been slow and I can't come in the half hour early that I'd need to really be warm and limber.

In training, my leg went one way and my knee another. I shoved the kneecap back in place (I know how gross this sounds, but seriously, it's not that bad! It hurts for a moment but then it stops, if I don't do it, it hurts and hurts and DOESN'T stop!), but there's this stabbing weakness that goes through my entire leg whenever I jump off it/pivot on it. I'm terrified I've reinjured some tendons- I can still do the moves even now but they're getting harder.

The party was a huge success, but trying to clean up, EVERY single time I put weight on the knee it started giving out- and I was wearing the brace (pretty embarrassing to be Supergirl with my bionic leg, but there you are). I feel like something isn't right, something's moving that shouldn't be moving.

Now, trying to sleep, it being nearly 4am, I feel like someone's using hot and cold needles to stab into my thigh and knee. I also can't bend it all the way.

I need to go see my doc in the morning- I don't want to go to the ER, my doc has all my x-rays and files and post-op notes and knows just what it takes to make me admit I'm in pain.

Because that is the one thing I haven't lost about being an athlete: I know my body. I know how far I can push. I know the difference between good pain, and bad pain, and just "I need a little rest but I'm OK" pain.

This one's bad.

Pleasepleaseplease, dear forces of enthalpy and entropy that rule the universe, work in my favor? I can't go through another op and rehab... I just got back to training!

  


Banging against the glass ceiling

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There is a glass ceiling- people like to pretend it's otherwise, but it's there, especially in a profession that's basically an extension of the Old Boys' Club. No matter how good you are, no matter where you come from or how far you've come, if you're lacking the equipment you're not in.

I know exactly why I was transferred overseas. I'm grateful for the opportunity, I am, and I've learned and continue to learn so much that I'll never, ever be able to regret to take that offer.

Still, the reasons for the transfer remain- unwritten, but projected large in every single promotion back at HQ. Getting texts, and tweets, and happy calls about it... I don't know, I DO feel happy for my former colleague, but at the same time, there's a little envy and bitterness interspersed with the joy.

Some of these could have- maybe should have- been mine.

But I'll bang against that glass ceiling until it turns see-through. I'll beat against it until it shatters.

People like me, I'm told, are the reason it's been built in the first place after all.

  


Deceptively difficult

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I don't know, this is the third time I'm doing C25K and I'm still amazed how, at the end of every week, the program that seemed undoable at the beginning is easy and fun.

Next week's going to be the hardest, I remember. Going from 3 to 5 min of running is somehow messing with me, maybe because I'll be running for an ENTIRE SONG on my mp3 player.

I know next week is going to be difficult from a personal standpoint too- I have a lot of social obligations planned in, there's going to be visitors on the weekend I'm going to have to cook for and the possibly-maybe-interested-in-me (PMIIM) guy is coming to visit too.

I'm scared, and excited, and... happy.

Oh, and I ran/walked 5k in 46min tonight despite feeling like I was going very slow. Yay for this program, it surprises me anew every single time.

  


44:47

Friday, October 19, 2012

That's my new personal best for C25K. So glad I went running today- it re-confirmed my suspicion that I just can't have anything at all to eat before training/doing sports or I'll get nauseous. Don't know why, just remember that's the way it's always been (even as a teenager with a higher energy level).

30secs off my last best time, yay!

So, tomorrow's going to be an easy run, no pushing, because on Sunday... I'm going to play in a volleyball tournament! I'm going to be a starter! On the team! Go me! Wheeeeee! I'm so excited!

/end exclamation mark.

  


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