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Sweat dripping. Muscles straining. The final push.
These are the moments that define athletes. I can feel those moments as I write this. The last leg of a race when the mind and body battle for dominance: one wants to collapse and one won’t give up until the finish line is crossed.
Or it’s the last quarter and your team is losing, morale is low but you find that inner grit to keep your head in the game, your energy strong, and your attitude positive.
The athlete is born when the results of a hard fought race are called and all your work pays off as you finish in the top tier, cheeks bright red from exertion, heart still pumping and eyes bright as you proudly let it all sink in.
Or is that when the athlete is born?
Perhaps instead, the athlete is born on the sidelines. The injured athlete who has months and months of watching others on the field while they wait, in an altered timeline where time ticks by so slowly as it is measured by incremental improvements that take weeks and months to see.
Perhaps the athlete is born when they crutch in to physical therapy and spend an hour engaging in tedious exercises and countless days between appointments at home, separated from the team, the competition, the endorphins, doing hours of pt rehab.
It’s in these dark times where either the athlete emerges or doesn’t. Grit and determination decides this outcome. For those with grit, those with determination, those with focus will dig deep and do what they need to do every single day to cross this finish line strong, ready, healed, prepared, and rearing to go. These are the ones who emerge stronger than before both physically and mentally.
I have been on both sides of this journey. I have pushed hard up hills in exhausting races. I have trained hard, pushed hard, and cried much. And I have also been injured and on the receiving end of the news: hang up your shoes, you aren’t running for probably a year. And on January 1st, 2020 I came in first overall in a 5K race as I saw stars, crossing the finish line completely spent. Which was harder? Which required me to dig in deepest? By far, the year spent in recovery from a torn plantar fascia.
I have watched my daughter go from tearful cries of “I can’t do this!” to daily decisions to spend the hour or more needed on her pt rehab. In the middle of the recovery, the end still felt so far away but each day she would still make the choice to set the sadness and depression aside and get back on her new game of rehab.
So last week when we had her 6 month appointment with the surgeon, she sat nervously waiting for his entrance. Nerves turned to elation as he eventually concluded that she is at the top of the recovery curve, able to do things most can’t at 6 months and that her dedication to her physical therapy exercises was very evident.
“You are cleared”, he confidently pronounced.
And she beamed. She beamed as big and proud as she did the day she killed it at her Nordic ski state meet, coming in 14th in the state as a first year member of the team. Dare I say, she beamed even brighter.
And then when we got in the car, the emotions over took her. The 8 months of sadness, dread, and disappointment was now behind her and tears began to flow. The huge payoff from months and months and months of determination to never give up even when the end seemed so far away had arrived. The dam of emotions she stoically held at bay were now free to be released. And the outflow was strong and so good. Tears mixed with laughter mixed with more tears filled the car with 8 months of pent up emotions.
“It’s been so hard mama.”
“But you did it sweetie. You did it!”
“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?! I really did.”
Sitting in that car that day, I had a front row seat in the biggest sporting venue I will ever have the privilege of attending, for that day, I watched as an athlete was born.
Humans value our independence. That independence begins when your feet hit the ground and can take you where your heart pulls you.
We value our freedom. I feel it best when my ponytail is flapping in the wind, sweat is dripping off my forehead, and my world becomes all about my shoes hitting the trail. Maybe you feel that freedom when you slam a soccer ball into a goal or stop a running play at the 10 yard-line. Maybe for you it’s hearing the swoosh of the ball in a basket or the sound your shifter makes when you gear down to climb a hill on your mountain bike.
When injury takes that from any of us, even though we know it’s just temporary, it hits hard, knocking the wind out of the fiercest athlete. I’ve been there. And those first days and weeks time really seems to stop. The…
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When the crowds stop cheering and the athlete is sidelined, grief can be overwhelming. Come visit this new blog to be encouraged, join the community, gain some insight, and share your own story.
Either you’ve been injured or you know someone who is or has been. Please share this blog and help build a community!
Friends rallied around us when Bekah got hurt. One dear friend came over with this letter, flowers for Bekah, wine for me and it has been something I have read over and over throughout this process.
May it encourage you too if you find yourself sidelined with an injury.
There are times when we find ourselves fully in our joy doing what we love, and then fully in misery. It comes abruptly, unexpectedly, and when the swelling of reality sets in it can feel like the injury is too much to contain. There is more rent within us than connective tissue; of this we can be sure.
You might be questioning whether the work towards, and happiness for, your dreams can sustain the juxtaposition of these two opposites (joy and misery) and the palpable disillusionment that can ensue. It doesn’t seem right that love, even for sport, can exist with so much suffering -that ability and injury go hand in hand. This is normal.
I see your pain. I feel your heart. I know the tedious journey ahead.
My Dad once wrote me a letter when, at the beginning of my first collegiate season, I tore my ACL. I was devastated. He reminded me that there is a falling that can be utterly brutal to come to terms with. I’ll be with you in this reckoning, empathizing with you from the cheap seats or down on the field if you call me near. But there also will come – and I’m reluctant to say this so soon as if to gloss pass present pain – arising, and I’ll root you on in your greatest, courageous comeback.
Mourn your loss.
And then, when it’s time, remember your victories.
Godspeed, precious lamb.
Trailer was already packed. Her ACL was gone. We had cried for days. But why let a 1 inch part of your body stop all the fun. We are a family that adventures together. We thrive on spending intentional time, together, in the mountains. This ACL tear was not going to stop that. In fact, we all needed it even more. With a 6 to 9 month recovery ahead, waiting a month to do the surgery wasn’t going to matter. We were trading July for January.
It was our last summer trip with Cade – who is now graduated and heading off to college. He quit his job at a local bike shop – a job he loved – to spend a month on the road with us. So we headed north and savored Teton National Park, West and East Glacier National Park, Coeur d’alene and Stanley, Idaho. Epic.
Here’s the deal. I pretty much teared up every day. Every. Single. Day. The impending ACL surgery at the end of the summer, Cade moving out, Bekah spending her Junior year recovering…it would all bombard me at some point in the day. Too many emotions. I’d let myself cry for 5 to 10 minutes, look around, take it in, smile again, and embrace the rest of the day. Puzzling for sure as I was also so deeply happy to be together in these gorgeous places with the people I love so much.
But here’s what I learned:
You can be sad but that doesn’t mean you are only defined by sad. Nor does it mean you are a “sad person”. Sad and happy can occupy your heart at the same time. It really can. I stopped fearing the tears and just let them happen. Usually daily. And then I’d get on with my day.
We spent the summer hiking (less than normal but still hiking!), going on long bike-rides (Bekah, with only one ACL, biked 20 to 30 miles often), paddle-boarding under breathtaking landscapes, laughing, talking, dreaming. The guys did insane mountain biking days in Jackson, WY; Whitefish, MT; Kellogg, Id; and Stanley, ID. Stokage was happening. Bekah was laughing. Cade was hooting as he hit mountain bike jumps. Cory was beaming as he captured glorious sunsets on a ripped landscape. And I was taking it all in, my heart bursting with thankfulness.
What we generally were not is plugged in to any digital devices that would distract us from the moments at hand. It’s probably the singular most important part of our adventures.
We unplug and reconnect. It’s just how we have always rolled and when adversity hit, we just hung tighter together and did our thing. And it worked.
For years I have been aware of the very real possibility of our daughter tearing her ACL. Skiing, soccer, tennis – all risky to the knee sports. Lateral movements that can go wrong in a simple misstep and girls tear their ACL 7 times more often than boys do.
Guess what? Fear of this happening did not prevent a thing.
It happened. It actually happened.
Fear lies to us. It tells us that if we fear something, we somehow can control the outcome. It’s an illusion.
And the opposite of this fear is faith. I begged God for faith. I did not know, in the weeks after she tore her ACL, how to cross the bridge from fear to faith. I was drowning in anxiety over her upcoming surgery, the year that would follow, and how she would be able to cope.
And then I read Phillipians 4. I have read this many times but this time it gave me the formula:
Do not be anxious about anything (easier said than done…but how do I do this!?) This is how
prayer + thanksgiving + requests to God = the Peace of God, which transcends understanding
So if we intentionally focus on what we are thankful for first we can then come before Him with requests and then anxiety will be replaced with peace!
So I started practicing this. Honestly, it was just going through the motions at first but I wrote it all down in a journal and believed the peace would come because He said it would. I did this day after day and my grip of fear around my daughter is slowly being released.
In it’s place images of her shining through this are starting to flood my heart. I now know that she will surprise me with her resilience. She will also need me to just hold her or support her when she once again has moments when she feels like she can’t do it – and I can do that too.
But she will rise from those low points. She will find strength she didn’t know she had and maybe even surprise herself.
The thing is, I spent years aware that our daughter, being a soccer player, was 7 times more likely than male soccer players to tear her ACL. I talked to PTs over the years about ways to prevent it. The day I met her now coach, I spent 15 minutes in conversation with him over how he structures practices and trainings to strengthen the girls to prevent knee injuries – 15 minutes after that conversation, Bekah called me. I needed to come get her. She hurt her knee. One week later the MRI would confirm – completely torn ACL and meniscus.
Sucker punch to the gut. It was literally the first morning of summer. Our fifth wheel was packed for an eight-week summer adventure. The last family trip with our son before he left for college. It was difficult to not spend those first weeks focusing on all she lost –
A summer of backpacking….she lives for our weeks on the trail. She needs them.
Her junior year of soccer and Nordic ski team and tennis and….
In shock, truly for weeks. Her desperate sobs all the way home from the doctor: ” I can’t do this again…mom, I can’t. I just can’t!!!” made it all seem so unfair. So foreboding. Just two years earlier, she sat on the sidelines for her entire 8th grade year with double stress fractures in her heels due to growing so fast. No sports. No running. No jumping. No playfulness really. We had two seasons since then where she could play and vibrantly embrace the epic high of scoring on the soccer field, being part of a team, the euphoria of a nordic ski race.
It’s all too recent, still so raw. And in an instant, her carefree joy as an athlete, the break from the tedious nature of school work, has been, once again, put on pause. A six to nine month pause.
But I write this after the shock has passed. After the anger has passed. I suppose we’re all in the acceptance phase now and within this lens, God’s voice is breaking through. I was too panicky – too horrified – in those first weeks to hear Him. But His quiet whispers beckon me to stop focusing on loss and switch to a focus on blessings.
We are strong. She is strong.
We are healthy. She is healthy.
We can do this. She can do this.
From gratefulness – hope peeks it’s head, like a tiny purple crocus after a harsh winter. HOPE.
Is this still hard? YES. So hard. Watching her in her full leg brace crutch her way to her team dinner last night hurt. She smiled to her teammates as she said goodnight and got in my car but oh how I miss when her smile lit up her eyes. It will return.
The glacial ice that sits on us slowly carves a new and stunning valley. In the spring when the snow melts and the grandeur of the work of this glacier is revealed in our daughter who will be transformed by this, will be nothing short of stunning.
Who she is becoming because of this will be beautiful.
It was the second week in a row that I saw my third grade son at the school I taught at, kicking a soccer ball into the brick wall – all alone. That wall was his soccer buddy – it passed the ball back to him in predictable ways and kept Cade running to return it. He saw me crossing the playground and stopped for a second, all sweaty and all smiles he came bounding towards me, “Hi mama!!”. He gave me a big hug and went back to his brick wall.
That evening I decided it was time to check in with him about this curious behavior. Was he lonely? Did he have friends? It’s hard to see your kid hurt. It’s hard to see them suffer. Was he suffering? Was this normal behavior or a sign of something wrong?
“Cade, is everything Ok with you and your friends at school?” I hesitatingly inquired.
“Yeah mama, things are great!” was his eager response.
“But, I keep seeing you play by yourself. Don’t you want to play with your friends?”
“Well, I guess so…but they don’t want to play soccer!” My adult reasoning kicked in, interjecting that sometimes it’s nice just to join the group and play something we don’t like as much just so we can hang out and foster friendships.
Sound advice, right?
As the mom now of Cade, the 17 year old, I am not so sure that Cade didn’t have it right all along. Cade had a passion. Soccer gave him a natural high. From early on, his brain was addicted enough to his own natural highs that he didn’t necessarily need to have his friends approval, or even their company. He enjoyed his friends and if they wanted to hang out with him, they knew where to find him – kicking a soccer ball – but he didn’t waiver. He knew who he was. He knew what he loved. Period.
This kid is not a loner. He just got voted into his Senior Homecoming court with two other guys. His peers like him. His teachers like him. I like him!
As a 17 year old surrounded by the majority of kids in his life who are experimenting with vaping, marijuana, and alcohol he continues to be that same, like-able 3rd grade kid. His friends know they can find him flying down a trail on a mountain bike, kicking a soccer ball, or maybe even fly-fishing but they won’t find him getting stoned or drunk.
This kid is connected to his passions – his natural highs – his sense of self. He loves his friends but if necessary, he will go kick his soccer ball against a brick wall, by himself. And he’s OK with that. And I think other kids notice. They might try to get him to vape and attempt to make him think he will lose face if he doesn’t join them but then they watch him laugh with his contagious laugh as he says, “No way man. That stuff is not for me. And dude. You’re nuts to be doing that at all”.
Building resiliency in kids happens when they connect with their passions. The folks in Iceland have figured this out and have some of the lowest rates of teen drug use in the world. Icelandic female superstar athlete IngaDóra says of her countries success: “We learned through the studies that we need to create circumstances in which kids can lead healthy lives, and they do not need to use substances, because life is fun, and they have plenty to do – and they are supported by parents who will spend time with them.”
Natural High.org is a powerful resource that is empowering youth to find their natural highs and have the courage to live life well. They have celebrity videos filling their sites with mentors for kids that have chosen their passions over temporary highs and false escapes from reality. The lead singer from Switchfoot says of people that do drugs that they never say, “It’s been great. Things have worked out really well. I just do drugs and it’s awesome. There haven’t been any problems with it. NOONE ever says that! Ever!”
Checkout the Switchfoot video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_toaYKoUPhI
Talk to your kids! They need adrenaline. They need endorphins. They need natural highs. Turn off their devices. Get them outside doing LIFE! Loving life! Embracing life. Not comatose on their devices. Kids need to be sweating. They need to be dirty. They need to be breathing heavy from running and jumping and kicking balls.
It was the most surreal conversation I have had, ever. Our dear friend and mentor from our college days, Doug Burck, called a few weeks ago to tell us personally that he has his ticket punched to go to heaven and should be heading there in a month or so. With his unique candor and contagious laugh he announced that his kidneys have failed and he only wants to do dialysis for a short time. This is our Doug that keeps us laughing with his stories and jokes, guides us to find God in everything, and has adopted us as his own kids.
So Doug gets to decide when he wants to pull his own plug and board the train to Heaven. And get this. He’s excited about his next adventure. Sure, he’s sad to leave his wife of 30 years behind and all of us who can’t really imagine life without him but he’s so Heavenly minded that he, albeit a bit nervously, looks forward to what’s ahead.
Not many of us get to know that we have 2 weeks left but Doug has been given this gift and with it he’s connecting with every dear friend he has to say goodbye, he’s making things right with others, and he’s savoring every minute with his wife.
He and his wife were our bridge to independence during those fragile college years where you are simultaneously letting go of parents with one hand while reaching towards the unknown of independence with the other. He prided himself in being the pebble in Cory’s shoe, forever challenging him yet he was the gentle salve my troubled heart needed. He knew how to love each of us, right where we were at. And they continue to bless the next generation as they have poured into our kids as well with yearly reunions that highlight our year.
Tonight we had one of our last conversations (man that’s difficult to type) in which he challenged our son Cade to “be better than me”. He said, “take what I’ve taught you and go further. If you don’t push to be better than I am than I will feel I failed.” He went on to tell Cade that he sees wisdom in him and he wants him to use that for God’s glory (little did he know that Cade’s name means, “Wise warrior”). He said, “If it’s possible I will greet you at heaven’s door and I want to see that you’re bruised and bloodied from your battles for God and when I ask you if you strived to be better than me, I hope to hear you say ‘yes’.” Big words for a 16-year-old to digest to which Cade tenderly responded, ” I will never forget you. You mean so much to me.”
Such a legacy. He poured into us. He poured into our kids. Open arms. Open heart. Unconditionally accepting. Feisty yet tender. Prodding us ahead to be better, stronger, and to live with integrity.
I know he’s excited but I am not ready to say good-bye. These are the relationships that forever change us, they become part of who we are and live on through us. I am a better person because of him and as we say good-bye I promise, Doug, I will keep striving to love others completely, fully, and tenderly as you do. If only I could master your feisty and rambunctious laugh.
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