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More Than Just An Injury
The news hit me hard. At the very end of my physical examination, the doctor told me that I was "biomechanically disadvantaged", "flat-footed", "bow-legged", and possibly injured. I knew that my legs hurt whenever I ran or walked up and down stairs, but that was it. Why did the doctor have to bring up so many other terms? All I wanted to do was run with my teammates, finish out the fall season of Cross Country; but after hearing all the obstacles I was up against, I wasn't so certain anymore. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with two stress fractures: one on my tibia, which is sorta-kinda my shin bone; another on the ankle of my other foot.
A stress fracture is not a big deal. I mean, it's not losing a limb and it's not losing an eye, so I was fine with that. I could stand the physical pain that it brought along. I could endure the questions that my classmates asked me when I went to school with a big black boot that immobilized my leg to help the break heal faster. A fracture was just a teensy-weensy crack in the bone. I was strong, in that respect.
What I could not stand was more mental, more being unable to run. That was Cross Country. It was all running, but it's not the wimpy I'm-just-going-to-run-so-many-laps-around-the-track. No, we ran in the woods through creeks, over rocks, under vines, into puddles, on rainy days. We ran distance never less than 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles.
I missed that.
With my injury, I was mostly stuck at home after school. I remember looking at the clock when I did my homework. 4PM. My teammates are arriving at the park now. 4:15PM. Yeah, they're about done with warming up. Stretching now. Give them ten more minutes and then Coach White will have them run intervals or distance. And when I looked down at my homework, I'd be frustrated at the inane questions I'd had to answer. I would much rather be out there with my teammates, watering the forest with our sweat.
I was disabled (as I viewed it) for too long. The doctor said that I could not put pressure on my injuries, so I walked. I walked around the neighborhood or biked, and I tried to draw up that same feeling of peace that running would give me. I could not. Walking only reminded me how slow and disabled I was. Biking was just...biking. I was dying inside.
A huge part of me disintegrated at every race. I had to haul myself over in my big black boot and hobble along the sides cheering my teammates on. I would never miss a race for anything, even if I could no longer run in it, but seeing other runners run killed me. If you ask me what is the most beautiful thing in the world, I would not linger over sunsets or rainbows or butterflies. I would tell you about runners.
I would describe all that they went through in 3.1 miles. I would list the pain and the concentration and the dedication and the mental strength that each of them had trained so hard to attain during those trying three months of practice. I would point out the sure step of their feet as they ran, never faltering even though their legs had become tired within the first mile. I would ask you to look at their times with me and marvel at how mere students can run 3.1 miles in record times of 18 minutes or less. I would watch their faces, see all the emotions, and realize that once upon a time, I was that same runner.
I could not help feeling left behind. It snuck up on me. I would watch all this beauty around me and feel all the excitement and pain but only be able to do so vicariously. It was easy to pretend to be otherwise. I'd hobble around as fast as I could, trying to help my teammates at the finish line in any way that I could, but my big black boot was like fetters. My injury was jail.
At the same time, I stopped watching my diet. Before, I had been very careful. I ate what was healthy. After the stress fracture, I think I gave up. I knew I would never be able to pull on running shoes again that season and run. I ate whatever I could get my hands on and if I was bored, I ate some more. You could have turned eating into a sport and I would be the one in first place. I gained around five pounds in four weeks. Gaining belly fat. Watching my thighs jiggle. They were the last straws.
So you can not blame me if I threw my doctor's words to the wind and started running ahead of time, after only four weeks of being in the boot. The stress fracture pain was only half gone. I still felt pain shoot up my leg sometimes if I set my foot down the wrong way, but mostly, I thought I was all right. I didn't think that a tiny crack in the bone would get worse.
But my arches still hurt and I got shin splints frequently. It was painful to run--something that I had never experienced before. I cried after every 0.5 mile, not because I was in pain but because I was in pain inside. I begged my parents for shoes. I believed that if I could find the right shoe then the pain would be gone.
The first shoe store we hit was Academy. I bought myself a trail running shoe. No one helped me. Dad told me to rely on how comfortable my foot felt in the shoe. Well, my foot felt fine in the store, but it was another matter entirely when I started running. The pain was still there, if not more severe. Only later did I learn that one does not run on concrete with a trail shoe.
The next store was The Athlete's Foot. I bought a motion control shoe. The shoe salesman there told me I was an overpronator, which meant that I needed a stability shoe to control my foot's motion. Yeah. I don't know what he was talking about. I just believed in him, tried out several pairs, and ran when I got home. Pain. Again.
It was frustrating. I kept on thinking of how well I used to run. I kept on thinking about how beautiful all the races were. I remember the inside jokes that my teammates shared. I wanted to feel all those memories again, of everything. I missed it.
I ran a while in those shoes and when the pain was too much to bear, I finally tried out arch supports, which were supposed to help lift my arches and take pressure off of them. And maybe arch supports help some people, but they didn't help me.
I could not run for more than five minutes without arch pain. It started with discomfort in the front of my foot and then it spread until it encompassed my whole arch and turned into pain.
Ever since my last race before I was diagnosed with a stress fracture, I have not run properly. I have almost forgotten the easy rhythm of swinging arms, sure feet, and steady breathing. I just know pain.
The Cross Country season is starting again. It is the end of May. My teammates will start conditioning for practice for races at the park again, and I will be in the doctor's office again.