You hear it all the time in every sport. The moaning and groaning of an important player out for weeks or the season because of an injury. The fan and sports writer a-like bemoans the dreams of championship glory. They feel robbed of the season that might have been. All these reactions make me cringe.
All I can see is the individual behind the uniform and I can feel their pain. A person has been injured and their whole life may be altered. I know this world for I live it.
I was a swimmer growing up. A pretty good one, no Michael Phelps nor even one with realistic Olympic dreams, but one that made goals and accomplished them. Whether it was Sectionals, State High School or Junior Nationals, if I made a goal I accomplished it.
The biggest goal I made as an 8th grader was to swim in college and receive a scholarship. I trained hard to attain that goal. As a Junior in high school I had a couple of schools that expressed interest in me and I went on three recruiting trips. In November of 2006 I realized my dream when I signed with the University of Idaho Vandals. I loved the coach and I loved the University. I could not wait for the new adventure.
I moved over 2000 miles to go be a Vandal. With the start of the new season I created my new goals. Some demanding, some attainable, some objective and others subjective, everything great athletes and coaches encourage you to do. But by my sophomore season opener, every one of those goals would be in jeopardy.
Every swimmer will tell you of their shoulder pain. The fatigue with which the sport wears on your shoulders is widely known. I happened to be a distance swimmer, making the strain more than most. Some of my teammates were much wiser than I and took care of their shoulders with icing after practice. I saw such things as weakness. By my sophomore year, the near constant shoulder pain was becoming life-altering. I was not an athlete to complain about injuries, hard workouts and lack of rest, yes. But injuries, never. I still remember the workout that it first happened. It was a Saturday morning workout and I could not feel my fingers. I tried swimming through it for about 15 minutes before I stopped and asked the trainer why my left hand was numb. I do not think he believed me as I jumped back in and tried to continue the workout. But my shoulder hurt and I could not feel my hand. I tried swimming with a clenched fist. I did not have a very good workout. My coaches were annoyed. I was annoyed.
The trainer told me to come to the training room after practice. He loaded me up with some Ibuprofen and ice on my shoulders. My swimming career ended that day, but I would not know that for another 9 months. I would red shirt that year and spend hours after hours in the training room doing physical therapy. I saw doctor after doctor trying to get different opinions. I would get a cortisone shot (the most painful thing I have ever experienced including childbirth). But by the end of my sophomore season, months of physical therapy and the effort to get back into shape my shoulder would not hold up. The day I told my coach I was done I cried. It was a difficult choice. My identity lay so much in who I was as an athlete. Who was I when “The Swimmer” was gone?
But I made new goals and new dreams. I would coach, I would get married and I would have a family. Of course, I was sad, I had never left a goal unachieved. But I had no idea at 19 years old that the injury that changed my life would follow me.
It’s almost 10 years later and I still feel the pain in my left shoulder. It is a light, nagging pain. I have had 3 children and each of those pregnancies have been worse because of my sports injury. When pregnant, the only way to sleep in anyway that mimics comfort is by sleeping on one’s side. But with a shoulder that restricts blood flow I would wake up constantly without feeling in my left arm.
At the age of 19 when I realized the injury would end my career, I was much too naive to understand it was an injury that had altered my life. I have since been to doctors and physical therapists in hopes of fixing it. But there is no fix, just relief. There are skills to help relieve the pain temporarily. But the nag and the pain are still constant companions.
These experiences are the ones I think about when I see Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. I do not see the season that could have been nor even the frustrations at his back-ups ineptness. But I look at the person who has broken his collar bone multiple times. I see the hours of rehab and pain that will follow him the rest of his life. I have seen enough to know that I was lucky. There are athletes with far worse repercussions than myself. Athletes with disfigurations and pain pill addiction. Athletes with injuries you cannot see nor understand unless you have lived through them.
Maybe we can all have a little more sympathy for Sam Bradford who cannot seem to stay healthy. And realize that his life outside of when we see him is probably full of great pain. Maybe instead of looking at Andrew Luck as the man who could have been, we will look at him as a man doing everything he can to get some relief. Hopefully we will look at the individual whose life was affected little more and a little less at the athlete who dashed our sports dreams.