Headgame – Battling Injury

Until late last year, I wouldn’t have considered myself to be a sportsperson. In fact, climbing was the only physical activity I did willingly – all other forms of exercise I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Not for lack of fitness, but due to a basic inability to run, kick, jump. Then I discovered rowing. Here was something a bit more my style – requiring strong arms and shoulders, good posture, and concentration, it seemed the perfect sport for me to get involved in.

I began in mid-October, and immediately found myself in the unusual position of being one of the shortest in the crew. And subsequently, the slowest beginner – pulling 2000m in 12 minutes wasn’t good enough, but I wasn’t deterred. I hit the gym 5 days a week, went to circuit training run by a loud ex-military Welshman, and managed to cut my time down to 9.5 minutes. The improvement was huge and evident, as was my altering body shape. And it felt good. I was still climbing, using that as one of my training sessions. Things were looking promising for a year of races.

Then one day whilst in the boat, things went wrong. I was freezing cold, my legs and feet numb to the point of excruciating pain. And my back seized up. So began a long journey of physio, exercises, stretching, and disheartening conclusions. As someone who’s never been hugely involved in sport, getting an injury wasn’t something I’d considered or expected. I’m young, healthy, fit, and enjoying myself – the physio informed me that in fact, my skeleton was rather twisted and the rowing motion had aggravated muscles that had been attempting to hold my body in place for 20 years.

The training stopped, the climbing stopped, anything above walking stopped, and I was shelling out £32.50 a week to be prodded and tortured by a short man with spikey hair (though to give him credit, he’s been incredibly good). How do you come back from that? Without the motivation of knowing I was good to start with, how was I supposed to get my head back into fitness, and remind myself that things can change? It’s a process that I’m only a little way through at the moment.

Slowly I was able to start climbing a few times, the only bit of exercise that didn’t create more pain in my back. I was scared to touch the rowing machine, and even running was jarring. So I climbed. I went away – I climbed abroad. I came back, went to physio after a week-long spasm, avoided the gym even more, and climbed. That’s how to get through it – find an activity that you can do, and do it as often as possible. I’m now 90% pain-free, and back in the gym on the treadmill, doing core work, using the weights – I’ve still not touched a rowing machine. I cancelled the training week I’d signed up for months ago, accepted that I won’t be entering the biggest race of the year in May, and have called it quits for the foreseeable future. But I’m still climbing. Twice, three times a week, training with Simon (my crazy, motivating, incredible other half), improving every time I step on the wall.

Feeling like a real athlete - taped up.
Feeling like a real athlete – taped up.

It’s still a headgame. This week I found myself freezing on really easy routes, something in my head stopping me from making the next move. I’ve no idea why and it’s very distressing, the possibility of not being able to keep going. But then I stop, take a deep breath, and push on. Simon says I climb like a man – no finesse, just beast my way to the top – and that’s working for the moment to psyche myself back into it, building my strength, and encouraging me that I can do it. Technique can be taught and honed at almost any time, but the ability to keep pushing through even when everything in your head’s telling you to stop, that’s something you’ve got to find for yourself.

Injury is horrible. It’s frustrating if it’s come from what was just a past-time, and starts to affect your whole life. It’s something that as a lay-person, you don’t sign up for. But it’s something that when you begin to overcome it, will empower you to try a little harder, reach a little further, and set a few more goals. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to rowing in the summer – it’d be nice to at least get some use out of the kit I spent £300 on. But for now, it’s getting me up the wall a bit quicker, and I’ll see where that takes me.

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