790 days. That’s how long it took me to fulfill my goal of becoming a competitive high performance athlete again. That's how long it took me to complete the re-return of my comeback.
That’s 2.25 years.
Okay, now I’m just being dramatic, but you get my point
790 days filled with pain, grief, small victories and lastly triumph. Did I win a gold medal? Nope, I didn’t even make it out of qualification. But, I was able to represent my country again. I was able to compete in two international tournaments - my first on the FIVB senior world tour scene. I was able to run, jump, dive, hit, and serve again. All things that I questioned whether I had the determination to overcome the pain, and whether my body would physically be able to perform after being put together anew.
But here I am.
Back in action.
A fully updated version.
I'm practically bionic now.
“You’ve seen my descent. Now watch my rising.” - Rumi
If I think about my journey back to the court, I am quickly reminded of my fall into the unknown, and the resulting awakening that it has since caused.
As an athlete you live in a bubble. You go about your day to day regimen - wake up, eat, train, eat, workout, nap, eat, train, eat, netflix (lols), sleep and do it all again tomorrow, or some variation of these key tasks. Days off are far and few between. It’s a toss up whether you'll be able to attend family and friends life milestones, or your own for that matter.
But, it’s stable.
Your days are essentially planned out for you, all you have to do is show up, perform, give your best, and when you fail you try harder and smarter tomorrow. Try and throw an athlete off their game during training or competition in some way shape or form and I bet you it will hardly phase them. We are bred to be adaptable in sport - no practice or game or situation is ever the same and you plan for that. But take away that structure, and livelihood of sport completely and many will falter before finding their footing.
I know I did.
I spent many days gasping for air trying to figure out this small, sometimes crazy thing called life that was seemingly passing me by after years of cruising on auto pilot doing a little bump-set-spike.
After all this time I haven’t found out the answer’s to my life’s biggest questions, but I’ve found ease and purpose in knowing that more often than not everyone is in the same boat of trying to find themselves. And it is more than okay not to be okay, to ask for help, and to lean on your support system.
In tearing my ACL I somehow found that clarity. Weird, I know. Clarity for what I needed to do. Clarity for what was in and out of my control. Clarity in that my sport didn’t define me, and that this would and will be my last effort in pursuing this career. It was terrifying, yet it was humbling. Intimidating and exhilarating. And through it all I like to think that I’ve stayed true to myself while growing mentally tougher, physically stronger, emotionally unburdened, and spiritually in tune.
“When something bad happens you have 3 choices. You can let it define you. You can let it destroy you. Or you can let it strengthen you”
I’ve been asked several times by other injured athletes about overcoming the mental and physical challenges of getting back on the court. Truth be told everyone’s experience will be different. My injury in itself wasn’t a gruesome fall. My ACL merely said I’m going on vacation and snapped in a brief gesture of pain and all was said and done. Ultimately it made getting back into the game something that I wasn’t afraid of, and instead something that I longed for.
But, if I learned anything along the way (and there is always learning happening... always) it would simply be this;
Our bodies are brilliant. They will heal on their own, but they need time. Though a doctor can speculate when a return to play will be, your body will ultimately give you the answers and show you the way. There is never a rush. It is always best to do as much or as little that feels right for you.
Injuries suck. Take care of yourself. Show your body kindness by what you feed it, how you treat it, and how you speak to yourself. When ready, push yourself, but be kind and diligent with therapy and rest. It's okay to take time off, and it's okay when things don't go according to plan. Know this.
With my knee injury this has been the hardest lesson to learn. Riding a bike just days after surgery? Yikes. Running for the first time on a hard surface? Good joke. Jumping for the first time in months? That was scary AF. Landing from a raised box on my surgically repaired leg solo? Yeah that damn near gave me a heart attack. But at some point those were the steps that I needed to take so my only option was to approach it like I could 100% do it even if I really wasn’t sure.
Of all the things that I have accomplished in my life this has made me incredibly proud. Like the day that I completed an art attack project on my own that didn't turn out like poop. I have been challenged many times physically, but this tested my character, my soul, my drive, and my spirit.
Am I a better athlete than I was before? I don’t think so. But I am more grateful than I have ever been to be living with this body that has given me so much purpose and playing a sport that has fuelled my greatest passion.
There is beauty in the rise after falling from grace. Nobody wants to be a comeback story. It will never be easy. If it was, everyone would do it. But if you take the time to appreciate all that you have, trust the process you must take, the uprising can be one hell of a ride.