Does it Matter if You Are Hard On Your Body as a Young Athlete?

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I am in an old body now. It has arrived in spite of my competitive and active spirit. Doesn’t the fact that I’m still pretty young count for something? I’m not even 45 yet! I can’t seem to will my joints to feel like they used to or my muscles to line up as they should. My body has seen too many combattive miles. Not just running, but running and colliding, running and cutting with aggression, and running and then falling or diving. Plus, I hurt myself…a lot.

I played hard. I ran, I hit, I jumped, I fell, I got back up and I did it again, and again, and again. I was a tenacious competitor. I battled until I broke…literally. My first big injury was when I was 16. Broken tibia and broken ulna. Yes, one bone in my leg, the other in my arm. Full leg cast, full arm cast. Same side of my body.

I should have stopped there. I should have let my body heal, and ease it back to gentle movements. But I simply could not stop the fight I had started. I felt like I needed to prove something. Ultimately, my body fought back.

I was getting good. I was nearing that athletic peak and why wouldn’t I ascend as high as I could because I still could? Even if it meant enduring other big injuries, tape cuts from wrapping before every practice and game, sitting in ice baths and waiting out the timer on the stim machine? So what if I needed a few surgeries, months of rehab, my own pair of crutches and a number of prescriptions for Vicodin?

It was all worth it, right?

Part of my college tuition was paid for and I had the opportunity to play at the highest level at the time (except for the National team). When it comes down to it, I don’t regret I kept going, but not for the personal athletic peak I achieved. I’m glad I fought it out there because I met my husband, we had our children, and we made a life. So, for that opportunity I will be forever grateful, but I wonder, often, whether it was worth the price my body has paid.

I watch my peers post pictures of triathlons and marathons and endurance challenges. I know it’s not in me anymore. I put too many difficult miles on my body too soon.

I have found relief in daily walks, regular yoga, strength training, pool workouts and hiking. Those movements are great, but there is a part of me that longs for the other uses a body of my age should be able to do, if I hadn’t battled so hard (and lost so often) when I was younger.

I asked a question on Twitter over the weekend about whether we should focus our programming energy in youth sports toward helping athletes achieve their greatest potential or to develop people who enjoy being active for life. Choosing to get as good as possible is the harder road. The chase for the highest level has gotten more crowded and more competitive over the years, and I have a hard time encouraging our kids to engage there. Especially if it hurts them to try. It is my own unhealed voice, I know, but I want them to have a 45-year-old body in better shape than mine is. I hope they achieve the very best of who they can become, but if that is as an 80-year-old running marathons, surely it matters what they do now. I sincerely hope they feel well enough long enough to enjoy the full capacity of the gifts of their bodies. I spend a lot of time protecting them from their own battles, but maybe I shouldn’t.

What do you think? Did you play at a high level and find challenge in your aging body? Do you keep your kids moving without worrying about whether they are in the fight now but it may cause them issues later?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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