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This is the second part of my personal story with injury. If you haven’t read the first part, do so now and then come right back here 🙂
Quick recap: I broke some things in my neck, doctor told me to wait for a year, I trained on despite my body screaming at me to stop -> I got myself into a 3-year cheer time-out.
We already talked about all the medical stuff, so here’s the mental aspect of injuries within team sports.
How did I even get there?
When I was a junior, I looked up to my coaches and to the seniors team. To me, they were the most amazing athletes in the world, and I wanted to be like them. They did all these cool stunts, and they had an incredible work ethic.
I’ve always been an all-or-nothing person. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it. I still am like this, although a bit smarter now. As a teen, my coach didn’t have to tell me twice that I needed to work out – if she did, I doubled the amount of workouts I was already doing. I took the sport very seriously from the moment I became a senior.
Back then, it was very common to take a hit in practice. Coaches weren’t as educated as they are now especially when it comes to safety, and there weren’t as many rules as there are now (or maybe we just ignored them). Heck, we did level 6 4-2-1 pyramids with peewees. On the senior level, this often led to minor injuries like broken noses or just general aches and pains.
I saw other athletes, whom I looked up to, train through the pain. That was what you did, and you were expected to take a beating without complaining. This is a common theme in the cheer world. We see athletes compete with braces all the time. Me being me, I soaked up this mentality like a sponge. After my accident, I firmly believed: This happens to everyone, all my teammates feel the same amount of pain, and they push through. So I push through.
Generally, that’s not a bad mindset. Sometimes you have to push through pain in order to be great. But you also need the wisdom to know when to stop, and I didn’t have that. If I had taken just one year off and gotten the right treatment, I could have worked pain free for the rest of my career.
Know that you’re a role model
All athletes and coaches need to be aware that they are a role model to others, even if they don’t want to be. Your mentality rubs off on the people around you. Be smart with that. You can be a hard worker and an asset to the team without damaging your body. If you project to others that you’re in constant pain and that you’re working past your breaking point, this can not only hurt you, but others who look up to you.
When in doubt, sit out
Detecting problems early keeps you out of a lot of trouble. Talk to your coaches immediately when you realise something is wrong. That doesn’t mean that your season ends, but it means that your coach can help you make smart decisions so you can recover as fast as possible.
When I was 15, sitting out for a season wasn’t an option for me because that felt like FOREVER. I thought if I take a break now, I’ll never be one of the best. I was wrong. If I’d had that break, I’d probably been even better when I was 20 because I would have been healthy.
When to push
You have an injury, but Nationals are so close and you really want to compete? Ask your doctor what would happen if you pushed through. If the answer is “The healing process will start a week later, but if you wear a brace then you’ll do no further damage,” go for it if you want. Your body, your decision (or that of you and your parents, if you’re a minor). When short-term pain is the only consequence, you have to decide if you can handle the pain for that time period. Still, you absolutely need to inform your coaches and teammates.
When not to push
If there’s a significant chance that working through the pain will cause permanent injury, don’t continue. This one season is not worth years of pain in your day to day life. Do your recovery work and come back stronger. You can still support your team by coming to training, shouting for them or helping out your coaches.
Don’t start your season with a nagging injury. Let it heal up completely. Maybe your coach can still put you on the team if you start a few weeks later; here’s where open communication comes into play. Be aware that you’re no asset to your team if you’re hurt all season. Nobody in your stunt group will be able to work properly, and you’ll hold them back more than you help them. This is a team sport, not a one man show.
Part two of my story
So we left off with my doctor advising me to stop cheering, and me completely refusing that. I asked my coach what I can do while I’m recovering, and he was looking for an assistant coach to help with tumbling on the seniors team. I was already an assistant coach on the junior team, so I took the opportunity.
Over the next three years, I discovered my passion for coaching. I learned new things every single day, and my journey is still going on – and still as exciting. After Nationals 2016, I tried to come back. My back was stronger than ever, and though my neck will never be the same, I learned to take smart decisions that make training possible for me. The season ended abruptly when I broke my hand in January 2017, and I was put to the sidelines yet again.
This was a blow. I wanted Nationals 2017 to be my final season, to end with a bang. For the first few weeks after the operation, I worked out every day, hoping to heal quickly enough to earn back my spot on the team, but my hand had other plans. I had learned from past mistakes, and I took the time I needed to heal. I did a gazillion workouts to stay in shape, and after Nationals 2017, I came back again. I’m like a cockroach. Impossible to get rid off.
The season leading up to Nationals 2018 was the best one I’ve ever had. The juniors team I was coaching was doing brilliantly, I loved my stunt team, and I was in less pain than I could ever remember. I was finally able to get my first title in all my 13 years of cheerleading when my team won the Senior Level 5 category, and my juniors won Junior Level 5. Now that’s how you leave with a bang.
So cheerleading is over now?
Very obviously not. My heart beats for this sport and for my team, but in early 2018, I realised that I can bring much more to the table through coaching than through participating. This is the perfect moment for me to stop competing and focus on what I think is more my calling. I’m incredibly happy and thankful to everyone who has supported me through the years and enabled me to get this clean cut ending.
I have a very exciting time ahead of me, and I kick it off with my summer holidays – they start on August 3rd! I’ll be sharing my vacation on here, on my Instagram and maybe even on a Youtube channel that will be launched shortly, so stay tuned! Hope you’re all having an excellent summer 🙂