Most long term injuries reach a tipping point – where you go from recovering from trauma to genuine rehabilitation. In my case, the obvious watershed moment was the removal of my surgical boot. I thought I hated the boot but in fact I’d become dependent on it. Funny how a boot can become a crutch.
After the early struggles, life with crutches and boot had become comfortable. I’d adapted, quite happily, to the changes and found my new routine (including being waited on hand and foot by my wife whose patience reached sainthood proportions) very productive. Walking with a boot and crutches was my new ‘norm’.
I’d warned myself in advance that I might feel that I’d gone backwards for a short while. Unfortunately, knowing something is never the same as experiencing it. The first week without the boot was not too bad as I put it back on if I went into public places for fear of getting a knock.
The real challenge came when I had to go ‘boot-free’. The security I’d derived from the boot alongside all my new found abilities were stripped away.
I’d learned something of this progression from Toni Minichiello and Jess Ennis-Hill. The one athletic similarity that Jess and I share is that she too spent an extended time in a surgical boot (10 weeks in her case) and needed to find a way of performing to her full potential (that’s where we differ: significantly). This is the basic progression.
1. Boot – 2 crutches
2. Boot – 1 crutch
3. Walking on boot
4. No boot – 2 crutches. (had to revert to No.1)
5. No boot – 1 crutch
6. No boot
In case you’re wondering – number 4, listed above, refers to a setback Jess incurred while rehabbing. I was constantly reminding myself about her experience of picking up an injury and having to go back into the surgical boot for a further two weeks. Alongside some fairly rich language, her coach Toni Minichiello describes it as ‘an emotionally horrible time’. Despite developing a reliance on the boot, the thought of going back into it horrified me. Which in turn sensitised me to every single little stretch or spike of pain. What to do?
There’s only one way to deal with such a situation and that’s to go back to Rule #1. Followed by Rule #2 and so on. For Jess as an Olympian, her rehab was framed around reaching levels of athletic prowess that enabled her to compete on a world stage. For me it’s been about learning to walk without a limp first (whilst writing I’m nearly there but not quite) with the ultimate dream of being able to ride, run and surf without a second thought.
Rule #1 for Jess involved an incremental progression through the following steps:
One legged cycling
Both legs cycling
This in turn led to a tortuously slow remedial process of balanced strengthening of her weakened leg and re-educating her body and brain to swap lift-off foot for the long jump (think swapping your favoured foot in football). And I think I’ve got problems.
Any change of significance; physical, emotional or environmental means you will benefit from re-appraising your situation.
If any of this rings bells for you, or a friend and you’re wondering when or why you might need to ‘re-set’ to Rule #1 it’s quite simple. Any change of significance; physical, emotional or environmental means you will benefit from re-appraising your situation: you’ll probably still want to achieve the same ultimate goal but someone or something just came along and changed your starting point. It happens. I’ll repeat a story I’ve used before:
Two American tourists are lost deep in rural Ireland. Spying a farmer resting his arms on a five-barred gate, they pull over their car and the driver winds down the window,
‘Excuse me sir, do you know how to get to Dublin?”
The farmer eyes the couple and looks up the crooked lane with its potholes and hedgerows brimming over with wild flowers, before he responds,
“Well”, he says, drawing a ponderous breath, “I wouldn’t be starting from here”.
Point is. We don’t get to choose where we start from. I’ve seen many people raise their eyebrows at the phrase, ‘it is what it is’. I use it a fair amount – for me it’s not about surrendering to fate but rather an acceptance of my current circumstances prior to taking control back: if this is now where I’m starting from, what do I need to do differently to get where I want to go?.
Use your personal ‘re-set’ as an opportunity to get creative and re-engage with the rehabilitation process. And enjoy the adventure.
As most of you will know, Jess went onto to stand on top of Olympic and World Championship podiums. For now I’ll just be happy for my ‘baby steps’ hobble to transition to a nonchalant stride. You? You get to define your own podium. I wish you well.