I have played sports my whole life. I was always an athlete and I was always a part of a
team. I began my rowing career as a freshman in high school and immediately I was hooked. I admired the sport so much; from the team camaraderie to pushing my body to its absolute
physical limits. I felt that I was finally doing a sport where I found myself and my identity molded into an athlete.
I eventually was recruited to row for Ithaca College and everything was going great. By
the end of my freshman year, I had found myself in the top boat and I was at the top of my
game. It was a dream come true, and I was so proud to carry my identity.
By the spring of my junior year, I began to have lower back pain that would not go away.
I began going to the athletic trainers for treatment daily and things were not getting better. By the end of the year, it had still not gone away.
As my junior year approached, things began to get worse. I was in pain simply just sitting
in class. I didn’t want to acknowledge the pain I was in because I was an athlete, and being
injured did not fit in with that identity. Eventually, I gained the courage to go and see a sports medicine doctor. Regardless of how strong I was, I was not strong enough for the news I was about to hear; the doctor had told me that I had suffered from a herniated disc and that my season was over. I held back my tears until the doctor had left the room and when I was finally alone, I cried and cried until there was nothing left.
A few days later, I went to my team and let them know what was going on. I knew that
they were trying to be supportive, but I could feel my athletic identity start to fade. They saw me as injured, and that left no room to be an athlete. I had so many emotions and feelings that I couldn’t process. I did not know what to do, where to go, or who I could turn to that would have the answers. I was lost.
Looking back, there is a single word that I give credit to for helping me navigate through
this process, and that word is "lean." I leaned on other people and resources to help get me
through. I leaned on my teammates who were always there for me. I leaned on coaches to keep me involved in the team. I leaned on my fellow campus captains. I leaned on friends who I could count on. I needed to lean on the people around me to help me rediscover my identity, and my happiness.
As athletes, so much of our lives is centered around sports and when that is taken away,
we may struggle to find our sense of self and who we are. We lose one identity that we have
always been proud to wear and take on a different one that we don’t know how or don’t want to accept.
I wanted to share my experience with injury and mental health. Losing your identity and
your ‘why’ is something all too common in the world of athletics. No matter the injury, it takes a toll both emotionally and physically and I’ve learned that it’s okay to admit that. I hope that in reading this you are also able to find your ability to lean.