I slam the medicine ball down as hard as I can and I sprint to the last exercise of the circuit, mountain climbers. I can feel my legs burn and hear my heavy breathing as I continue to push as hard as I can for the last 15 seconds. “Stop”, I hear and I immediately fall to my knees. My heart rate monitor reads 187 bpm. Not bad. This is the hardest workout I have completed in over six weeks, and it reminds me of how much I love and have missed pushing myself.
On September 19th , I had an unfortunate crash on my bike that resulted in a concussion. I was on my way to the gym when I hit a bump in the road, flew over my handlebars, and fell on my face. I spent a month at home in Chelsea recovering and had to miss the National Team training camp in Park City, Utah.
I think we can all agree that cross-country skiing is one of the hardest sports in the world. I have been training for skiing for as long as I can remember, but these past six weeks have been the toughest of my career and I have barely lifted a finger. The recovery process has been a steep learning curve, so I thought I would share with you some of the knowledge I have gained along the way!
1. POSITIVITY IS KEY
This is easier said than done. Two weeks after the bike crash I remember thinking “I just want someone to tell me what I need to do to get better because I will literally do anything even if it is going to make me unhappy”. The hardest thing about the recovery was feeling helpless. I wanted answers. I wanted to know how long it would take for me to recover and what I needed to do to get better. I would set myself timelines but every time I would reach them, I would end up feeling discouraged. In the end, it was exhausting and stressful, a mix of feelings that are not helpful for recovery. So, to remediate the problem, I came up with strategies that allowed me to have a more positive and hopeful outlook on the situation.
2. Focus on the things you CAN do
With any injury, it is so easy to start thinking about everything you are missing out on. You look at pictures of your teammates and competitors training hard and you can’t help but think “it’s just not fair”. The concussion not only influenced my training, but it also made it difficult to do schoolwork and simple daily tasks. At the beginning, I was quite limited in the amount of activity I could do, both physically and mentally. So, to make sure I wasn’t A) feeling helpless in my recovery and B) bored out of my mind, I would write down every day, a list of small tasks to complete. These tasks varied from mobility sessions to listening to a podcast. I also started doing mindfulness training. I subscribed to the Headspace app that leads you through different meditation sessions every day. This may not be for everyone, but I truly felt that it helped me gain a more positive and relaxed perspective on the situation.
3. Keep track of your progress
I started writing down how I felt each day, detailing things like hours of sleep, the amount and type of activities I did, and how I felt both physically and psychologically. This gave me a better sense of what activities made the concussion symptoms worse and it also made it easier to see progress, no matter how small it was.
4. Be proactive but not obsessive
I think that with any injury it is important to build yourself a support team, however, I also believe that there is a fine balance between being proactive and being obsessive in your recovery. In my case, the proactive list included: reaching out to my nutritionist about good recovery eating habits, talking to my sport psych about strategies to stay positive, and staying in touch with someone who is knowledgeable in concussion rehabilitation to follow my progress. What was NOT helpful was obsessively searching for treatment options over the internet and comparing myself to all the people I knew who have had concussions. Every situation is different, so being confident in your own recovery path is essential.
5. Listen to your body
I found that one of the most difficult parts of recovery was knowing when I was feeling good enough to start training again. I found it easy to convince myself that I was feeling normal when I wasn’t. Maybe it was because I was just too eager to get back to training or maybe it was because I truly couldn’t remember how it felt to be my normal self. The bottom line is, you know yourself best, so be honest with yourself, and the recovery will be much quicker!
When athletes have setbacks, they often say that they come back stronger. Having had my own setback, I now understand what this means. From a training standpoint, I am not any fitter or stronger than I was before, but I know that I have made valuable gains in many other aspects of skiing. This injury provided an opportunity for me to work on my patience, my mindfulness and other skills that are completely unrelated to fitness but which will be helpful during the rest of my skiing career!