I have been running competitively since I was eleven years old. I had tried all types of sports, but in running I found passion, the thing that clicked. After three years of training post-collegiately and significant improvements in my fitness, I came to understand that the constant pain that had developed in my hip was not going away on it’s own. After several months of trying to treat the injury non-operatively, we were down to one last option: surgery. Before I knew it, I was hobbling around on crutches, quickly watching my leg muscles wither away despite following all PT and movement recommendations possible. I remember telling my husband, “I haven’t been this inactive since before I could walk.” I was one of those walkers before 9 months old and the baby crawling out of her crib to her mother’s dismay. I loved moving so much that I often refused to be held, also to my parents’ dismay. My recovery journey after surgery was long and, in some ways, still continues. This was my first major injury and I was not sure how I would handle the long road ahead.
Injury is not uncommon. Many athletes relate to the disappointment of an untimely injury or season-derailing setback. When you test your body’s limits throughout the pursuit to be your best, you are likely to bite off more than you can chew from time to time. When your sport is the foundation of your social structures, calendar of events, self-esteem, and identity, injuries can mess with more than just the affected muscle or bone.
My support system helped me work through the loss and disappointment of my injury. I used my extra downtime to pursue (and find) other interests that I could invest my time in while my body healed. These factors helped but learning to embrace what I call upside thinking kept me from feeling defeated by the obvious downside.
Upside thinking acknowledges and grieves loss while also acknowledging provision and support in times of need. I will never forget waking up out of surgery and seeing my husband and coach by my bedside. I will always appreciate the encouraging notes, the weekly support from my physical therapist, and the fellow athletes who shared their own comeback stories to inspire hope during that time. Upside thinking finds strength in anything positive around them. Additionally, while upside thinking does not wish the recovery road on anyone, it considers overcoming injury an opportunity to increase mental toughness and resiliency in the face of adversity. Upside thinking adapts when the uncontrollables rear their head and demand flexibility. This mindset allows you to increase patience rather than anger. It is 100% natural to feel angry over an injury and all that it takes away from current opportunities, but patience will likely pay more dividends and help you stay the course when the journey feels long. Dr. Kay Porter shares in her book, The Mental Athlete, “How you think and what you believe determine your experience by confirming your self-concepts and creating your reality. You can change these belief patterns so that they work for you and change your reality to a positive and supportive system.” (Porter,2003, pg. 6). The appraisals we assign to our experiences shape the self-concepts and beliefs that endure. Upside thinking seeks to lean into the challenge, identify hope in the midst of discouragement, and give lift to your ability to rise above your circumstances.
Porter, K. (2003). The mental athlete. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.