Injury is an opportunity
Learning of the week
What I learned
One way to look at injury is as “suffering physical harm or damage to a part of one’s body or mind.”
Another way to look at injury is as “an opportunity to strengthen the parts of ourselves that are not injured”.
We are always hurting in some regard, and approaching it as an opportunity can have a positive impact every day.
First, a quick backstory:
Every now and then, I go through periods where I have a desire to improve or achieve some physical or mental feat. This past summer, it was running — I’ve always been a runner, but I hated getting injured so I kept my distance under 6 miles. But after watching a few friends run a marathon, I was inspired and I decided I wanted to run longer distances. “So long as I can keep injury at bay for a training period, I’ll be able to run a marathon then cut back,” I thought. So off I went.
Progress was smooth for the first four weeks, going from five miles to seven to eight to ten. Then one Saturday morning, I decided to run 13 miles.
…It wasn’t until a few days later that I started feeling a dull pain in my left knee, no doubt from pushing myself too hard.
Being stubborn, I didn’t take the hint and kept on running. A week later, the dull pain had grown to a sharp one that made running miserable. I realized at that point that I was being stupid and just needed to give my knee a break. Based on how long it took my last stress fracture to heal, I figured 3–4 weeks would be enough.
If you know me, you know that a month without running is torture. How will I wake up? How will I relieve stress? Running is my meditation — without it, I can’t think.
Rather than mope and stop working out altogether, I started thinking of other ways to work out. After all, I had no choice! As world-famous chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin advices in his book The Art of Learning:
“You have to make obstacles spur you to creative new angles in the learning process. Let setbacks deepen your resolve. You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down.”
After some consideration, I decided I’d use this time to:
- Strengthen my quads and hamstrings to remove pressure off my knees when running.
- Focus on high intensity workouts (I’ve always been an endurance person so this would be a whole new challenge for me).
I signed up for TRX and created a few strength training workouts for myself. Meanwhile, for cardio, I switched to doing the staircase and elliptical to the extent my knee could handle it. I basically completely revamped my workout from long, endurance based ones to short, high intensity interval based workouts.
And boy was the first month hard. I’d wake up sore everyday, wondering how I was going to get through the next session. My body was trying really hard to get used to the new rhythm — and it felt good to feel so beaten. The challenge was keeping me on my toes and rejuvenating me.
Why it’s important
All that freaking out and feeling of hopelessness over not being able to run turned out to be an amazing outcome. It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself physically and mentally and grow in other areas.
Three months later, my knee is healing well and I can run up to five miles without knee trouble 👏
Plus, spending the time on high intensity workouts added a whole new dimension to my daily “meditation.”
Without the knee trouble, I might never have branched out. It turned out “injury” wasn’t a show-stopper after all.
Sure, I could have decided to just take a break and not work out for a few weeks. But that would have been … well, lame.
Remember the time when two weeks before the 2008 US Open, Woods suffered a double stress fracture in his left tibia?
Doctors told Woods the preferred treatment was three weeks on crutches, followed by three weeks of rest. Woods looked at the doctor and said: “I’m playing the U.S. Open, and I’m going to win.”
His swing coach Hank Haney said,
“Every night, I kept thinking there was no chance he’s going to play. He had to stop in his tracks for 30 seconds walking from the dining room table to the refrigerator.”
But apparently, nothing was going to stand in Woods’ way. As Haney explained,
“Despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament and the double stress fracture, Woods managed to win a major that required five days of flinching, grimacing and a long list of spectacular shots that have defined his career.
He went 91 holes on a leg that got worse each day, finally defeating Rocco Mediate on the 19th hole of a playoff.”
I’ll leave with one closing thought:
Next time you have an injury, try to remove focus on the fact that you’re injured. Instead, focus on how you can use it as a way to challenge yourself in other areas. It’s not always fun, but it’s almost always worth it.
Sources: The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, ESPN, Bleacher report