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  • Kate Mihevc Edwards PT, DPT

Building Up The Athlete's Toolbox

If you run, my guess is that you've probably had an injury. Injuries impacts an athlete’s physical body, but they can also impact their confidence, their spirit, and their mood. I remember the first time I watched a race when I was injured. It was excruciating. I was frustrated, angry and even a little bitter. I remember, for a split-second thinking, maybe I should just stick my foot out and trip someone. Thank God I didn’t – what does that say about someone when they willing to trip their friends just because they feel bad? This begs the question, why do injuries impact runners so much that they feel “crazy” and may even act a little “crazy.

In the medical world, we would say it’s because runners often have a strong athletic identity. What that actually means, is that once an athlete becomes a runner it seeps into their blood and every aspect of their lives. Before they know it everything they eat is to fuel for a faster or longer run, all their friends are runners, the clothes they wear are all running related. Running becomes their community. They may have a difficult time knowing where running ends and they begin. When a runner becomes injured they lose part of themselves and need help finding their way to the other side.

If that runner relies on running for happiness, anxiety and stress relief then not being able to run also takes away their coping mechanism. Imagine losing the one thing that helps you deal with difficult situations in your life when you need it most. When an runner is unable to train or compete, they can often become more anxious and upset. That is why we need to help runners and athletes build up their toolbox before they ever become injured. We need to help them figure out who they are without their sport so that they can be better, more resilient athletes. This will help them when they are injured but also when they are healthy.

I will admit that when I was running strong this was not something I wanted to address. Even though I knew that 90% of all runners become injured at some point I was unable to see myself in that category. I was so consumed with running, training, and my lifestyle that I truly did think it would ever change. When I could no longer run, I was a disaster. I had no coping mechanisms and spent months and years re-learning who I was without my sport. I learned the hard way...learn from my mistakes.

Have you heard of Deena Kastor, Michael Jordan, Lebron James? My guess is that you have because they are extraordinary athletes. You don’t become an extraordinary athlete by doing what everyone else does. You become an extraordinary athlete by pushing boundaries at every level, by figuring out where your weaknesses are and strengthening them.

Do you know what these athletes have in common?

They all know who they are outside of their sport.

They have done the work that most athletes never get around to doing.

They also all have a mindfulness and meditation practice. In fact, LeBron James calls meditation his secret weapon.

If you truly want to excel in your sport, to become extraordinary. If you want to build resilience and be able to cope when you become injured, you must take time to build your toolbox up. You must figure out what else you like besides your sport. You must find other coping mechanisms just in case. You must accept that sport is only part physical.

You can begin this journey today. Start exploring what you enjoy outside of your sport.

  • Read more: Reading can inspire you, take you to other places and help you learn more about yourself and your sport

  • Practice meditation:-Meditation can help you to build resilience, focus, create clarity and improve your mood; it may also be as simple as having something else to focus on while you are recovering.

  • Be creative: Paint, color, take pictures, write, listen to music, play music, cook

  • Practice gratitude: Research says that if you practice gratitude daily it can bring more happiness and joy into your life. All you have to do is make a list of everything you are grateful for.

  • Have Fun: Spend more time laughing with your friends and family, hang out with them or watch movies together, so you can make the most of your recovery time. Don’t isolate yourself.

  • Move your body in a different way. Just because you can’t run doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move. Exercise is known to help with anxiety and depression. I know running is what you like the best but if you can’t then try something new.

I would have laughed at these suggestions in the past, when I could run. I would have read this and probably thought "no way." Unfortunately it took me losing what I loved and going through several really difficult years to finally accept that I needed more in my life to thrive.

There are so many ways to begin building your toolbox. Pick one thing and try it for 21 days whether you are injured or not. Many of these suggestions will make you a better runner in the long run.

Let's stop looking at injuries as the thing that prevents us from enjoying our life, instead let us continue to explore what else is out there to help strengthen ourselves for when we are healthy or become injured. The more resilient we become the better athletes we are and the sooner our bodies will recover from injury.


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