How to Get Back Outside After a Major Injury

On June 27th, 2016, I severe­ly frac­tured my tib­ia, fibu­la, and ankle after an approx­i­mate 20-foot climb­ing fall. It was the worst injury in my out­door ath­let­ic career. The fol­low­ing four months since the acci­dent con­sist­ed of surgery, immo­bi­liza­tion, reha­bil­i­ta­tion, and ulti­mate­ly return­ing to sport­ing fit­ness. I was told the dam­age was so bad that I might have a per­ma­nent limp, which would effec­tive­ly end climb­ing, ski­ing, and run­ning.

injury recovery

The tough­est part is to admit to your­self that you made a mis­take and it has the poten­tial to affect an ath­let­ic and out­door lifestyle. There’s not a lot of hope after a severe acci­dent, but over the course of the recov­ery, you grew stronger, not only in body, but in mind as well. Injury and recov­ery are an incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult process, but it doesn’t have to end the sea­son or stoke.

Stay­ing Active Dur­ing Recov­ery
Almost imme­di­ate­ly after surgery or the ini­tial steps toward recov­ery, start focus­ing on the fol­low­ing sea­son. Tell your­self that you are going to ski, run, or climb. Tell your­self you’re not going to come into the sea­son with fit­ness start­ing from zero. Start rehab exer­cis­es before you’ve offi­cial­ly start­ed rehab. Make it a point to get some move­ment each day for oppos­ing areas which weren’t injured. For exam­ple, if you have your ankle in a cast, do sim­ple leg lifts and crunch­es to keep the core from falling out of shape and per­form easy, non-weight bear­ing upper-body exer­cis­es as much as the body will safe­ly allow. It makes a dif­fer­ence since by the time you offi­cial­ly start reha­bil­i­ta­tion; you are already ahead of your fit­ness.

But it’s not only the body that needs to keep active.

Writ­ing, Read­ing, and Watch­ing to Stay Excit­ed
Dur­ing the injury and recov­ery peri­od, it’s easy to fall into self-defeat­ing and self-dep­re­cat­ing thoughts, espe­cial­ly when con­front­ed with a long peri­od of immo­bi­liza­tion. Watch­ing sports doc­u­men­taries, read­ing ath­lete books, and writ­ing or blog­ging about per­son­al expe­ri­ences is sooth­ing and keeps the mind off the injury. For many sport doc­u­men­taries, injury and com­ing back is a com­mon theme. Films like the climb­ing doc­u­men­tary Meru, the ski film Into the Mind, and the road cycling biog­ra­phy Pan­tani: The Acci­den­tal Death of A Cyclist, all include some ele­ment of injury and redemp­tion.

Even though it seems hard, there are still ways to get out­side.

Get Out­side In Any Way Pos­si­ble
Look­ing at a hik­ing trail or a climb­ing wall can appear intim­i­dat­ing and men­tal­ly defeat­ing when you know you can’t move. Don’t be dis­cour­aged by the lack of activ­i­ty. Many state and nation­al parks have areas that are acces­si­ble to all kinds of peo­ple and abil­i­ties. Nation­al Parks have scenic byways, from Rocky Moun­tain’s Trail Ridge Road, Yosemite’s Tio­ga Road, and the North Cas­cades’ North Cas­cades High­way.

As the recov­ery peri­od pro­gress­es, start think­ing about rehab and start­ing the road back to fit­ness.

Take Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Seri­ous­ly
The com­mon thought is that the injury peri­od gets eas­i­er from the ini­tial acci­dent to recov­ery. It’s actu­al­ly the oppo­site. Phys­i­cal ther­a­py is a slow process that preach­es hard work and patience over­all. It’s a step-by-step process that involves remov­ing ele­ments by the week such as cast, crutch­es, plas­tic boot, and final­ly learn­ing to walk with reg­u­lar shoes again or being able to use the body unaid­ed. It’s equal­ly frus­trat­ing as it is painful to see slow progress. Fol­low the instruc­tions, but also keep a strict reg­i­men out­side the clin­ic with move­ments that restore strength, motion, and flex­i­bil­i­ty. Slow­ly start eas­ing into train­ing and sport at an easy pace and work from there. It’ll feel like start­ing for the first time, but it’ll be less risky than going all in on the first day back.

Don’t feel debil­i­tat­ed by being injured. It’s hap­pened to the world’s best ath­letes and they’ve always man­aged to find a way to bounce back. The right men­tal­i­ty is not to treat the peri­od like a stop-all and more of a delay. The day I was in the hos­pi­tal bed, I told myself I would climb, ski, and run again. The road is long, it’s often dif­fi­cult, and there are going to be good days and bad days. Find ways to stay stoked and active and it makes that first day back just that much sweet­er.