Don’t Call It A Comeback…

On June 14, 2011, in Injury, Running, by Meghan

…because, with apologies to LL Cool J (And to myself because, yes, I am quoting LL Cool J.), I’ve been here for years. Lost and not me, but here.

Some of you know that, on a warm September day last fall, I came to rest on the floor of my office at Yosemite National Park. My lower back and left hip vibrated with pain in every other position but this: lying flat and flaccid on the ground.

The pain had two facets. There was a pin-point spot that, with every movement, would feel either just fine, thank you very much, or hurt in such a way that made me want to chew my arm off. There were also dull aches of tight musculature that began in my IT band, circled around the hip, and draped across the left side of my lower back. These aches were old pains, parts of my life for two or three years.

The stabbing-pain stuff: it was new and not survivable. There I was, a 32-year old woman considered by my peers to be at an admirable athletic pinnacle, withered to a physically-incapacitated state. My friends didn’t know, though, that I had been shrinking into this dark corner for some time.

It was my fault. I’d been living with pain and still asking my body to do challenging feats of athleticism for the previous few years. I had also let go of everything in my life but work, commuting for two hours each day in a car, and running. No stretching, no core exercises, no lifting at the gym, no cross training. In every imaginable way, I was perpetuating my own problem.

My coworkers put me out of my misery that day, taking two hours out of their lives to shuttle me home while I lay with the seat reclined to prone. I stayed put on the couch and bed for two days, until the pain abated enough so I could do things like take a shower, stand at the counter long enough to make a meal, and go marginally on with life. I returned to some exercise, but things weren’t quite right, and I had new pains that resulted from this acute incident.

Mostly I just felt bad for myself, forced myself to run when it wasn’t that comfortable to do so, and let my athletic life continue to SUCK. THE. BIG. ONE.

One day in January, it occurred to me that my aching body was not a product of some inexplicable magic trick. It was the direct result of my mistreatment. If I wanted to get better, stay better, and resume the kind of athletics I loved, I needed to pull my head out of my arse and get to it. I marched into a physical therapist’s office and asked for help in creating a plan-of-attack for healing.

While he wasn’t quite the right physical therapist for me (Though I did eventually find the right people and the right plan.), he did do one very important thing. He told it to me straight, “You’re weak as sh%t. You can’t go out and tear it up on the trails and expect to stay healthy unless you’re ripped.” I had to blink back the hot tears in the creases of my eyes as he spoke, but it did the trick in forcing my perspective into a healthy one.

I’m going to cut to the chase by saying that I’m finally, finally getting my physical and mental act together. The journey of getting better is complicated, long, and not even close to over, but I’m headed the right direction.

I have some words for you, my athlete friends, that are birthed from my two or three years of injury as well as the path to health I’ve just started traveling. I learned this stuff in the hardest of ways, a way I wish on no one. If just one human being can learn from the mistakes I have made, I’ll sleep a little happier at night.


Take pride in the density of your bones and the strength of your muscles, not just in whether you are light in weight.

Learn the difference between hard-work pain and injury pain. Accept injury the moment it strikes and stop doing what hurts. The faster you stop, the quicker you’ll heal.

Your body tells you everything you need to know when it comes to being an athlete, so listen up.

Remember that Albert Einstein said we’re insane if we do the same things over and over with the expectation of variable results. Mistakes happen, but learn from them.

Eat good, build-your-bones and muscles food. Drink more water, always more water.

Gain other hobbies besides your sport and build a multi-dimensional personality. If that sport gets taken away, even just for a few days, make sure there’s other stuff about your life that gets you going, that can fill the void.

Remember that, when you are injured or otherwise unable to do your sport, you are still an athlete. It doesn’t matter how you compare to others, or how you used to be, or even what the occasionally over-judgmental or insensitive people say to you, you are still an athlete.

When you’re injured for a period of weeks or months, you may gain a few pounds of weight. Don’t fret. It’ll slide right off when you start training again and, chances are, you’re the only one who knows that inch or two is there.

Most of all, don’t call it a comeback. Call it becoming who you want to be.

Becoming me (Bryon Powell photo credit).

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11 Responses to “Don’t Call It A Comeback…”

  1. Sara says:

    I so relate to this, all of it. Great post. I had to learn it all the same way.

  2. Danni says:

    Very timely post for me. Today I finally went back to the gym after a month off to do some heavy squats. Much to my delight I am not as weak as I feared. I need to get serious about taking care of myself now that I’m no spring chicken. I also need to wipe self-destructive comparisons to others and my 30 year old self out of my mind and focus on going forward. I need to not walk into stuff…

  3. Karen says:

    You’re not trying to say something to me, are ya? I wrote a post about my injury stuff yesterday..haha. 🙂 Listening to my body seems to be the only thing that keeps me out there–I’d probably be really hurt otherwise. Thanks for the wise reminders, they can be applied to just about any sport.

  4. olga says:

    I am all for lessons you stated. Glad you’re figuring it out, and getting stronger.

  5. Ewa says:

    Smart, very smart advice. I don’t think I need to add anything more.

  6. JeffO says:

    Since I had Guillane-Barre, my body doesn’t actually tell me everything I need to know.Some nerves tend to be fully intact, but others seem gone.
    Sage advice, if I can guess what’s needed. I just use a pound of caution, but I still manage to get injured (gravity can do that when you collide with the ground).
    I relish being able to walk, each morning when I go to work.

  7. Meghan says:

    We’ve all been there, injured. Thank you to each of you, Sara, Danni, Karen, Olga, Ewa, and JeffO, for your support during mine. I hope we are all a smidge wiser for our experiences. Stay strong and healthy, friends. After that, RUN!

  8. Paige says:

    So glad you’re back on the recovery trail. The recovery trailhead is very poorly marked, but once you find it it’s pretty easy to follow…well, for the most part 😉

    Welcome to becoming who you want to be!!

  9. Meghan says:

    Paige, thanks, girl!

  10. […] –  Meghan Hicks offers some great advice to the injured. […]

  11. […] If so, you’re not alone. It’s basically every athlete at some time in their athletic-ing lives. It’s been me. Three times, actually, as my noggin is pretty dense. I’ve been forced to take significant amounts of time away from my sports on three occasions because of overuse injuries and general body mistreatment/life mismanagement. My acts of self-inflected idiocy were a stress fracture in 2005 from running, plantar fasciitis in 2009 from running, and a multifaceted back injury in 2010. […]

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