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.
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.