Stepping Stones After Surgery

Nearly four weeks ago, I had hip surgery to fix a labral tear and femoroacetabular bone impingement (FAI). About a year ago, I had arthroscopic knee surgery to fix a pinched fat pad as well as frayed cartilage, swelling, and was given a PRP injection. In a couple months, I will need the other hip repaired for the same issue.

Needless to say, running has been scarce for me for about a year and a half. I missed my high school senior year of track as well as cross country, indoor, and outdoor track of my freshman year of college. I will have to miss another season of cross country and likely indoor track of my sophomore year and very possibly outdoor track as well.

I have never known a heartbreak like this before.

It is very easy (and even kind of fun) to let our sole identity be a runner when things are going well. The danger with this comes when you can’t do what you love most. You might begin to question your whole purpose, which sounds crazy to most, but from what others have shared with me and what I have read in blogs and articles, the rare runner breed understands this sense of loss. I wouldn’t say the commonality makes such a profound sense of devastation OK, but it does make a person feel a little more normal during such an abnormal walk of life. 

In the past year, I have tried so hard to prevent the inevitable loss of muscle and fitness, SO hard that it took a direct shot at my mental health. My whole world revolved around recovery after my knee surgery. And it wasn’t in a healthy way. Every move of mine was dictated by my knee. For example, if my friends were going to be getting ice cream around 9pm, I wouldn’t go. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I figured that 9pm was too late to be out for a person who had had knee surgery and that I should be completely dedicated to recovery. The ironic part was that I’d lay awake knowing that everyone was together, so I got less sleep than I actually would have if I had just gone with them. My efforts were meant with very good intentions, but had extremely adverse effects on my health.

Knowing how draining that mind frame was on me, when I found out I needed two hip surgeries, I was (and still am) determined to not let things be the way they were last year. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not as dedicated to running. I just don’t want my whole life to revolve around something as fleeting as running. I told myself that this time around, I would need to dramatically shift my thinking from being focused solely on the end goal (running) to enjoying the whole journey. Although I am far from perfect at having the most positive attitude when dealing with injury, so far, I have found this journey-focused mindset to be a way better route.

The very beautiful and unique part of starting at phase 1, building from scratch, is that there is a magnitude of growth and opportunity that is literally at my fingertips. It’s quite a wonderful privilege, actually.

Last summer after my knee surgery I couldn’t quite figure that out. No amount of leaps and bounds made in recovery was enough cause for celebration for me. The only thing I wanted was to run, which made for a very, very miserable year when it didn’t come.

Things are different after this hip surgery. I have found myself nearly weeping after I advance and get to do one more thing, no matter how little it might be, like doing a step up on a 2 inch bench first time or getting to walk for one extra minute a day.

This certainly doesn’t dispute the heartache I am facing and the tears and disappointment that some days bring (because recovery, like life, isn’t a vertical straight shot). Running is my passion so it hurts like heck not being able to join in the participation of such a gift with my teammates. And I am aware that while every day I am getting stronger, in a short while I will once again start at phase 1 after my second hip surgery.

You can try to hang on to your own plans, dreams, goals, etc. and do everything you can to keep them close, so desperate to hang on that you leave claw marks behind. I know from experience that watching them slip away can bring you to your knees in sadness. I am longing for the day that I get to put on the Augustana uniform for the first time with my teammates, but I do recognize there is a long road ahead. However, this time I feel special to have been chosen to walk the sometimes isolating and lonely, but also opportunity-filled road, as maddening as it may be.

Although I am head-over-heels in love with running and everything about it, I have found that life goes on, even when running doesn’t. My faith is the most important thing to me, and I think the difference with this hip surgery is because of the reminder that whatever the outcome is in any battle of life, we are already victorious champions because of the Champion of death.

It is really exciting to dare and dream of incredible, seemingly impossible things. Try it sometime. It just might change your life. 

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