When I was just ten years old, my world came to a screeching halt. I discovered that my torn shoulder would prevent me from competing in my beloved sport. Swimming had been my entire life and I quickly learned that being an injured athlete was no walk in the park. Even though I still worked just as hard if not harder than the other swimmers, they ousted me as both a friend and an athlete. I became an outcast because no once could understand the intensity of my injury. Even my coach said, “Sarah, no pain no gain.” Over the years, through great effort, I have tried to share my belief that injured athletes are athletes too.
After six months of struggling with my swim team, I found an elite swim club that offered a rehab program for injured athletes. Although I was with other athletes plagued with similar injuries, I still felt very alone and showed little improvement. My only choice was to end my swimming career.
Fortunately, I found a new sport to pursue. Tthroughout my first two years on the team, I greatly excelled working my way up to the first varsity eight. A national championship was just on the horizon, with college coaches scouting at every race. During the biggest race of the summer, I felt another tear in my shoulder. I knew this could be the end of my rowing career, but I still pushed through the injury.
During the fall season, my coach continued to put me in lower boats, trying to “protect” my shoulder. Only a year later, I learned that he was using all of his power to drive me to quit. Although I was not able to do full activity with the other athletes, I was committed to my physical therapy and to strengthening my shoulders. Yet, the greatest struggle was again feeling my teammates drift away from me because of the injury.
After a four month recovery period, I made one final attempt to row at Syracuse. I failed the initial fitness test due to my injury, and therefore, began my freshman year as an injured athlete. As much as I loved the sport, I found myself in the same situation. I was once again the outcast, the lame duck. After a tough semester and an even tougher winter training trip, I ended my rowing career.
In my last few weeks as an SU rower, I befriended a few of the other injured athletes. Over time we have learned that all injured rowers suffer the same fate, to be pushed aside and ignored by their teammates. Even my roommate, an outstanding athlete, finds herself excluded by the other athletes and even her coach, constantly putting obstacles in her path to recovery. She exercises at least twice a day in addition to her physical therapy in the hopes to be back in the top eight.
All injured athletes wonder down the same road, pushing through the injury so as to continue to be a part of the team. Yet, the only response they receive is disdain from coaches and teammates. Even for those of you who are not athletes, it is important to understand the complexity of an injury and the mental and physical difficulties an injured athlete suffers.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.