This year I came across the hardest few months I’ve ever experienced as an athlete. At the end of the season on April 5th I ruptured my ACL ligament in my left knee. This is the most common injury in ski racing, mainly due to the fact that we have a 1m80 piece of wood on the end of our feet that stops the knees ability to bend in all directions when under stress (like in a crash). I have previously written about the work I have been doing in rehab to heal my knee but this is only half the story. Half the battle is in the mind and I am interested in finding out whether each athlete mentally goes through the same process or it differs greatly from person to person. If you’ve experienced an injury of any kind, athlete or not, I’d love to hear about your journey!
I have kept a diary throughout my rehab where I log the exercises I’ve done but also how I’ve felt. I created a “mental timeline” where every few days I just write the a few words to describe how I’m feeling. It’s a quick and easy way to get something off my chest and it’s nice to look back at when I’m having a bad day to remind me that I’ve overcome worse. The day I crashed my mind immediately went into catastrophising mode. I didn’t want to ski anymore and I didn’t want to put in the work required to get back to full health! Why should I have to put in the extra work and suffer, why did it happen to me. My mind turned incredibly selfish: “I’ve worked too hard for this to happen to me”, “no one else has to do this” and probably the most difficult thought “everyone else who has torn their ACL has had it easier than me”. Now writing about my thoughts they sound so silly but when something big happens my mind directs itself inwards. The worst thing that somebody could say to me was to relate my injury to someone else’s. I didn’t care about anyone else’s injury! Mine was clearly a bigger deal. 5 months on I can see that actually having someone else’s point of view and experience was really helpful.
I took me a few weeks to get over feeling sorry for myself and decide that I could make it through. I felt like the world was against me, my surgeon told me I would have to wait 6 weeks for surgery, I couldn’t have the operation I wanted and I was panicking about getting into a rehab centre. I spent hours searching online for stories of people who had made miraculous ACL recoveries in just a few months but eventually I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, I was in this one for the long run.
I got stuck into doing my prehab despite knowing that after my operation everything would go backwards again before it went forwards. I was so ready when I went into my operation, I walked (literally) into the operating theatre determined to get this show on the road! My mind surprised me again after the operation when I suddenly had a drop in my determination again. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this, did I really want to dedicate the next 6 months to hard work to get back on skis? It took me a whole week before I realised how much I missed skiing and I was ready to do whatever it would take to get back.
As soon I was in rehab my mind refocused on getting better. My days were filled with everything to make my knee better and having my mind occupied on one goal set me back on track. I came to accept my injury and see the good side of it. I was learning so much about fitness, strength and my body that everyone who was skiing wasn’t learning. I began to understand that what I thought was hard work before didn’t even come close to how hard I was now working. I think my recovery is almost an easier goal to work towards than a specific race or competition. It can take weeks to see improvement on skis but in rehab is a gradual everyday process and you can clearly see your body healing and strengthening.
Last week somebody asked me if I had every considered quitting skiing. My answer was that I never had until I hurt my knee but every time I did I ended up with the same answer: I have worked far too hard, given up too much and love this sport too much to stop. My journey in skiing is far from over and I still have so much more to give to it.