Who Are You Without Your Sport?
“I’m not sure where running ends and I begin; we are so intertwined as one.”
A few weeks ago, I wrote about athletic identity. I did not intend to bring it up again this week, but life has a funny way of changing your plans. This morning I was scrolling through social media when I read a devastating and courageous post from Kara Goucher.
Kara announced that she must stop running because of runner’s dystonia. Runner’s dystonia is a neurological condition that impacts the lower extremities and occurs with repetitive exercise. If she does not stop, someday, she won’t be able to run or walk anymore. I still remember when the doctors gave me the news that I would never run again. This is the news that every athlete fears and no athlete ever wants to hear. It is heartbreaking, devastating and gut wrenching. It is like waking up in the morning after you lose your very best friend and then having to move on and figure out who you are without them.
We have cheered for Kara from the sidelines for years- and today is no different. She represents what it means to be an elite female athlete, but she is also a human. Someone that is grieving, maybe angry and likely struggling.
Kara will not only be dealing with the loss of herself, her athletic identity, and her ability to do what she has always loved – she will also have to put a brave face on for the world because she lives in the spotlight. I hope we can all remember to send her the much-needed support not just today, but for years to come. Losing your athletic identity is not easy. I still struggle with it daily and I haven’t been able to run for six years. Just yesterday I was visualizing my favorite running route and imaging myself making my way through it- thinking about the sounds, smells and sights that used to surround me. I was using a technique I developed to help me cope with my loss.
I believe that it is inevitable that an athlete will lose their sport at some point in their career. It may be an acute injury that lasts a few weeks, perhaps retirement from collegiate and professional sports OR worse they have a catastrophic event that takes them out completely.
If this were to happen to you, would you be ready?
As healthcare providers, coaches, and athletes we need to build up our resilience and create a toolbox of skills, habits, community and joy outside of our sport. When you are a young, healthy, athlete this is easy to ignore because you feel invincible. I used to believe I would run forever. When I couldn’t, I crumbled. I was angry, I was sad, I was completely lost. There were no resources available to me as I transitioned from athlete to bystander. We can do better. We can create a culture that allows room for more than our sport, supports injured athletes better AND facilitates a transition from runner to bystander.
Athletes are so much more than their physical body and sport. Now how do we make the necessary changes in culture to support this truth?
1. My book about my journey:
Racing Heart: A Runner's Journey of Love, Loss and Perseverance More Than Miles
3. Meditation Series: