Cliches persist because what the hell else can you say when something dreadful happens? The cliche on my mind now is that when one door closes another opens. I don’t know what the next door will hold but I’m trying to have faith that it will be something amazing. The further you push something under water the higher it goes when it pops back up. I’m counting on something really big and fantastic coming because I feel about as low as low goes right now. I’m so grateful for my friends and family, even friends I’ve never even met in person, who have been so amazingly supportive the last few days. I don’t know where I’d be without them — especially my training partner Susan, whose presence with me at the doctor yesterday kept me from falling apart.
I’m not good at making a long story short, so how about I start at the end, and you can keep reading if you want more?
I’m done with powerlifting. I don’t have a coach. I don’t have a gym. I’m in the worst physical pain I’ve ever known and I’m heartsick.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that powerlifting taught me how strong I truly am, and how mentally tough I can be when I have to be. I am hanging on for dear life to that thought because when the sports doctor told me yesterday about the acute herniated disc (and a couple other bonus problems) and that I’m not to load my lumbar spine again (read: don’t squat or deadlift) I lost the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.
I’ve already had a rush of heartfelt messages from friends telling me I can come back, not to give up, that a herinated disc isn’t the end of the world, other people come back from that and worse, that I shouldn’t let fear of reinjury stop me. And the last thing I ever want to look is afraid. But I will freely say that I am.
Of course I’m afraid! I can’t count the number of times I’ve woken my husband up at night the last week and a half, screaming because I’ve accidentally moved an inch the wrong way causing an explosion of pain. I’ve become afraid to stand up or to sit down or to change position at all because each move comes with a flood of pain so intense I sometimes collapse. You can bloody well bet I’m afraid!
Powerlifting transformed my life and made me a better person, but it isn’t my entire life. I wanted to be strong to make the rest of my life better and I loved the confidence it gave me and the freedom to try new things and to be a more adventurous traveler. If I’m debilitated, that goes. I want to travel the world for the rest of my life, and no PR, no record, is worth risking that.
The doctor gave me what he called a ‘come to jesus’ talk about what it means to be an athlete, and how you engage in sports to be healthy. I had lost all sight of that in my drive to be stronger, stronger, stronger. Now that I’ve jeopardized being healthy, I’m suddenly aware of how precarious our hold on health is. I’m 37. I’m by no means old, but I have to show my body some respect if I want it to serve me well into my old age. I’ve learned how crucial it is to listen to your body. Mine had been telling me for weeks and weeks that something was wrong. I ignored it. I don’t think it’s that I’m stupid, although in hindsight it sure looks dumb. I just truly didn’t think anything bad could really happen. This was my wake-up call.
So even if he hadn’t told me I couldn’t squat again, I had realized over the weekend (while waiting for the MRI results to show if it was a disc or a fracture of the spine – a truly horrific prospect) that I had to call it done. Not to say I’ll never put a bar on my back again. I love lifting and will find a way to wrap my hands around a bar many, many more times. But my brief career as a competitive powerlifter is over. And I made the choice. I met every goal I set for myself last year, even surpassed some. Nothing can ever take that away. The changes lifting made in me are for good. I don’t have to make a comeback to stay the strong woman I have become.
I’ve been so moved by the many wonderful things people have told me this week, but I have a couple favorites I want to hang onto as I figure out what my next chapter is.
Thanks to my cousin Andrea for this: If anyone had to leave a sport I am sure they would want to leave like you have, a true winner who kicked ass in a very short amount of time.
and to my great friend Dawn for this: You are the true definition of ‘it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.’ And you have more fight than anyone I know.
When my next two weeks of rest and rehab are up, I’m counting on being recovered and not needing further steps to heal. And I want to take the fight I have in me, and find out just what else I’m capable of. With or without a gym or a coach I know now I’m an athlete, and I need physical challenges as much as I do every other kind. I’m thinking about trying all the things I couldn’t do that would have interfered with my competition training, and just doing them for fun. Boxing? Rock climbing? Martial arts, kettlebell, water sports? I didn’t know I’d love powerlifting until I found it. What else might I love?
Thanks for reading. I’ll continue my adventures here, although I may want a new blog name. And watch out, sports world. I’m coming!