Surviving and thriving during injury recovery

By Laura Henry | Dec. 17, 2019, 11:25 a.m. (ET)

man grabbing ankle

There are two types of triathletes: those who have been injured, and those who will be.

Despite every athlete’s best attempts, there will eventually be some sort of injury that puts them on the sidelines. It could be a broken toe from climbing a set of stairs, it could be a massive blister, or it could be a more serious series of injuries from an accident.  But no matter what, the day will come when an athlete needs to face the reality of injury.

Being injured is probably one of the biggest fears that a multisport athlete has. This is for a good reason; there must be a change in lifestyle to accommodate that injury, and that can be very scary for athletes.  When one is used to incorporating workouts and sport-related activities in their life on a day-to-day basis, the reduction or loss of those activities and that structure can truly be tough to bear.

As an athlete who has been significantly injured during my time in sport, as well as a coach who has coached many athletes through injuries, I can tell you that it is possible to execute the patience and survive the very real ordeal of injury. Not only is it possible to survive an injury, but it is also possible to thrive as a result of it.

Injuries, while initially frustrating, provide opportunities to focus on other important areas in athlete success. In assessing the injury and how to move forward, I always first ask why the injury occurred in the first place. If it is an overuse injury, the recovery timeframe provides a wonderful opportunity to address the underlying reason why. Oftentimes, this means a focus on strengthening weaker areas. Not only does this help rehabilitate the injury, but it provides a really strong, stable foundation for the athlete so that there is a decreased probability of the injury reoccurring.

Another question I like to ask is this: What can we do during this time period?  Focusing on what we can do (versus focusing on what we cannot do) provides a more positive mindset to navigate the injury with. For example, if an athlete has an injured lower extremity, perhaps we can focus on some core work, upper body strength work, or upper body swim technique. Thus, instead of the injury timeframe being a “setback,” we can convert it to a focus block of training. From there we can spend time increasing the number of tools in the athlete’s toolbox that they can draw upon both during the injury and after it.

Finally, I like to encourage the athlete to spend time focusing on some other non-sport areas of their life during an injury. While we certainly want to do all that we can to heal and strengthen up during this time period, spending some time on non-sport activities (that are appropriate for the athlete given the nature of their injury) is very important. Doing so provides a distraction (as injuries can become all-consuming and occupy a lot of brain space) and also enables the athlete to do some things that they might have let go while they were focusing on training.

Things like spending time with family and friends, minor house projects, taking classes (perhaps something like cooking or photography), taking the time to read a book (an actual book, not just an article or magazine), or volunteering talents to help others are all very worthwhile pursuits while one is injured.  In fact, these activities usually allow an athlete to feel that their time spent being injured was more rewarding.

While sport is a major part of our lives, it is not the only thing in our lives. Injuries provide a wonderful opportunity to recognize this truth.  As such, it’s very possible to thrive, as well as survive, as a result of an injury that causes a bump in the original road to one’s goals.

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who coaches with Team MPI (www.TeamMPI.com).  She is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN U Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 3 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer.  Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.  She can be reached at laura@teammpi.com.