I cannot bring myself to watch the video of Kevin Ware’s injury. I too broke myself on a basketball court, and it would hit way too close to home to watch it from an audience viewpoint. My injury exposed more than weakened bones. Being physically broken showed me the weak spots in my emotional and mental game too.
It makes me concerned that we, as coaches and parents, are not doing enough to prepare athletes for the inevitability of injury.
The following is an excerpt from my book: Choosing to Grow for the Sport of It Because All Kids Matter and I offer it up as food for thought.
It could be the noises in the darkened hospital, or maybe it’s the overwhelming sense of helplessness, but either way, the throbbing pain partnered with my over-active brain renders me sleepless. The painkillers have numbed the dull aches in my leg and my arm, but there is no way to make my discomfort go away completely. Without an option of rolling onto my side, I stare out over the edge of the bed and past my elevated full-leg cast, while the full-arm cast rests awkwardly on the pile of pillows on my stomach.
I can see the glow of the nurse’s desk and I can hear the murmurings of patients and machines. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been dead silent… the motion in my head is distracting enough.
“Why did this have to happen?” my sixteen-year-old brain wonders, “I have never been hurt like this. Who’s going to believe I broke my arm and my leg…playing basketball…at a practice? The orderly’s right…I need to make up a better story than that. I’ll tell people I was saving a small child from an approaching semi…my leg and arm just couldn’t get out of the way in time…that’s a better story for sure. It sounds like a reasonable explanation for why I’ll be doomed to these casts for the next six weeks.”
It is night two of my hospital stay, and I’m finally alone. My dad has come and gone on the breeze of his alcohol-filled breath. My sister has called crying to tell me our basketball team lost the playoff game, and my stupid boyfriend had even less to say on the phone than usual. It is the first time since arriving I am lucid enough to recognize the fear, pain, and sadness have arrived. I wasn’t afraid when they talked about resetting my badly broken arm…I wasn’t afraid when the doctor explained I had fractured my tibia just below my knee cap… I wasn’t afraid as they wheeled me out of surgery and past the waiting room where my mom and soccer coach were visiting. I wasn’t afraid as the day-time conversations swirled around my mobility. “She’s going to need a specially-constructed pair of crutches. Oh, and to get around school? I guess you’re right, she’s probably going to need an electric wheelchair.”
Now, in the solitude of a crowded hospital… with only muted hallway light to cut through the darkness… the fear grows. I am afraid of the unknown. I can’t picture what this new kind of movement will look like. I didn’t know quite what to make of this new version of myself.
Tears fill my eyes and as they start to pour down my cheeks, I have to let them fall. I can’t move the casted arm, and the other one is painfully connected to my I.V.
“So this is what it’s going to be,” I think. Tear after tear lands on my hospital gown.
I try to compose myself, as the weight of the casts seeps past my bones and into the very center of my awareness.
“I can’t do this,” I sob to no one in particular.
This scene, in my sports story, is more important than any other I experienced. It was a stark wake-up call to how dysfunctional my relationship with sports had become. The moment I hit that basketball floor, the world I had built, and the only world I felt I understood, shattered. I had been functioning as a barely one-dimensional athlete, and I hadn’t realized it.
Successful athletes need to be physically coordinated and conditioned, but they also need to be mentally tough and emotionally stable. Who was I without the physical capacity to compete in sports? I hadn’t had a reason to contemplate that question, and I likely would never have asked it without being forced. So in the six weeks that followed my “accident” I took inventory of my worth. I had to look at my world without the physical language on which I had become so completely dependent. I was forced to gauge whether I had the internal toughness to fight through pain, ridicule, and recovery, and I had to address the gaping holes in my emotional armor. When I emerged on the other side of that time of reflection, I was not the same person, and I dare argue, the “recovering” version was why I ever came close to attaining my full potential as an athlete.
Breaking myself was the best thing that could have happened to me. Only during the course of research for this book, did I begin to fully understand, and appreciate, why battling through that injury made me a better athlete…and a better person. Of course, I knew that the entire experience had been, as my mom put it, “character-building”, but I hadn’t taken the time to fully analyze why those weeks of immobility were so necessary. Before I got hurt, I truly believed physical work and achievement were all that mattered. Period. I had used both academic and athletic achievement as a way to distract me from the painful parts of my childhood. I hadn’t spent time thinking about the emotional fuel I had been using, nor had I considered whether my internal script was building a solid foundation for my beliefs about myself. The only piece I had succeeded in achieving in athletics, up to that point, was my physical literacy.
The next blogpost will be about physical literacy and the ways parents and coaches can utilize the developmental tool to build physically stronger athletes.
Copyright 2013 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow
Categories: Athletes, Parents, Psychology
I too have been unable to watch the videos of the horrendous injury seen by millions last weekend. On the other hand after having watched your physical and emotional pain was one of the most difficult experiences of my life as well. I marvel at the strength and growth you achieved from this horrible experience. You have added to the incredible admiration I have for you, and how you used this ‘growth experience’ to mold an incredible life. You also had the privilege of learning at an early age what true friends and generous teachers you had. I am so glad I have not had to use the logistical lessons from that experience again, but they too have added to my growth. As an aside I learned the lesson that I am unable to pump up the tire on a wheelchair with a bicycle pump. Thank you for forgiving me for my attempts to do that in full view of your entire school!
We both did a lot of growing in the six weeks I was hurt. I grew to humble myself so I could have help washing my hair, and you learned that a 500-pound electric chair requires the help of a jogging stranger to load it in the car. And wheelchair tires…whether inadequately pumped with a bike tire, or pumped in the school shop class…they are a real pain! I was lucky to have all the support I did through that experience, and I was meant to go through it.
I remember your injury and walking to class with you when you were in the wheelchair. It’s interesting to read about how you’ve reflected on that time in your life and realized what a large impact it had on your emotional development. And even if it did not seem like a blessing at the time, looking back years later you are able to be thankful for that chance you had to grow.
You were one of the reasons I grew in the right direction. Some people scattered, others were visibly uncomfortable, and you were ALWAYS there for me. I’m not sure I ever adequately thanked those who supported me through that ordeal, so I will use this opportunity now to thank you…I have always considered you such a blessing in my life.