No really, I couldn’t shut the trunk with my right arm. I couldn’t do a push up – I could barely hold a plank. I couldn’t reach over my head, and I would wince every time I reached over to put on my seat belt. Normal things – like sleeping – were ridiculously uncomfortable and had been for too long. I was in a lot of pain. It was finally time to repair my shoulder.
As a collegiate athlete, there comes a time when you know your career has officially ended. I was lucky that I was able to play four full years of softball and take part in an amazing experience. The wild ride was incredible, but it took a toll on my body for sure – especially my throwing shoulder – and my time had come. In October of 2007, it was time to finally get my wing fixed. I remember the feeling of one chapter ending and another beginning as I walked up to the desk to check in for surgery.
I remember wondering if I would ever throw a ball again – if I’d ever be able to play catch with my nephews. Lifting weights over my head wasn’t even a thought – I was just holding out hope I’d be able to raise my hand over my head without wincing. When I woke up – all bandaged up, set in a sling – I remember the doctor telling me that they had successfully repaired the torn labrum, cleaned out a bunch of gunk, and shaved down a bone spur they found by surprise – which apparently was the reason for my pain.
And then the work started. Physical Therapy was something I was already familiar with – I had been working with Athletic Trainers and Physical Therapists in order to extend my playing career through the end of my eligibility. But this was different. Saying the experience was “humbling” still feels inadequate.
But, as my body built itself back, I became stronger and more mobile. It seemed like I was in the sling for an eternity, but eventually I didn’t need it anymore. At PT, the 1-pound dumbbell grew to 5 pounds, and then 10, and then beyond. My range of motion increased slowly but steadily. Little efforts toward progress every day continued to add up. I continued to learn about what I could and couldn’t do, trusted the experts I was so blessed to be surrounded by, and built my shoulder back.
As I write about this experience, it seems like a lifetime ago. Vivid memories are still burned in my brain – trying to put my hair up in a ponytail, rolling over in the middle of the night and *zinging* down my whole arm, and the first day of physical therapy where I had to squeeze a rolled-up towel under my arm (and failed. Miserably).
I also remember the first time I shut the trunk of my car.
I was coming back from Kroger – the Safeway of the Midwest – and popped open the trunk of my Corolla. I unloaded the groceries into my condo, came back outside, reached up, and shut the trunk. Just like that.
And then I started crying.
Not because it hurt, but because it didn’t. I didn’t even think about it, and just reached up and pushed the door down. And I did it. It was so mundane, but to me, it was a huge accomplishment. I thought about all the things I thought I wouldn’t be able to do again, and they all became possible in an instant.
Don’t get me wrong, it took me a long time before I felt like I could throw again (and an even longer journey before I challenged myself to lift weights over my head). But the important part is that I took small actions every day to make progress. I am so lucky that I had a support system around me to say “Yes, you will play catch with your nephews” and “if you do a little bit more each day, it WILL get better.” Often I was discouraged and frustrated. I felt like things would NEVER get better – the path to success seemed impossible. I am forever grateful to those who pushed me every day, and those would not give in to my pity party.
I wish I could have seen myself 11 years into the future, driving a heavy barbell over my head. I wish I could have seen myself smiling ear-to-ear as I tossed a ball with my nephew on Thanksgiving. And I wish I could have seen the ‘future’ me, chatting on my cell phone, balancing groceries, and slamming my trunk shut without skipping a beat.
The truth is we only see a snippet of where people are. We only see right now. Only rarely do we get the privilege of witnessing a process in its entirety. You might think that I’ve always been able to press a barbell overhead. No sir, not the case. Not at all, not even close.
It is also difficult to acknowledge and witness our own process. When we are “in it,” we struggle to recognize small and steady progress. Our goals seem so, so far away. With every set back, we question ourselves on whether our goal is really that important. It can be daunting to say, “I don’t care how long it takes, but I am going to _________.”
I am pleading that you refuse to give in to your own pity party. Refuse to believe that you have to accept where you are at. And, at the same time, I am begging that you take a second to reflect. How far have you come? Where did you begin? Stop being so hard on yourself and remember that each day can be a tiny step in your great process. It is possible to hold your vision on your future goals and appreciate your current abilities.
You never know, you may even surprise yourself.
See you at the gym,