November 22, 2015

SCAZZERO | Athletes and Injuries

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Some of the most popular pro athletes today have sustained incredible injuries but have managed to stay in the sport. Derrick Rose can’t seem to keep his legs in one piece for long, and Peyton Manning got surgery on his neck no less than four times for recurring disc herniations. It makes sense that professional athletes would go to great lengths to keep themselves in the game — their game is their livelihood. Sure there’s the love of the game, but also the fact that this is their chosen career path. Essentially, giving up isn’t really an option until retirement.

Because of this, it’s not uncommon for athletes to go to extreme lengths to keep themselves playing. Manning had three surgeries and traveled to Europe four times to try different therapies, but then ultimately had to undergo an anterior fusion operation in 2011, where the herniated disc is actually removed and replaced with a bone graft, with a metal plate screwed above and below it. Crazy stuff, but it seems to be working, to this day he remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He’s also reportedly being paid a $15 million base salary for this season, so I’d say worth it.

Derrick Rose is a classic example of someone that keeps getting injured but keeps coming back (or at least tries to). One would think that a twice sprained wrist, a sprained toe (for real, it kept him out of five games in 2011), repeatedly sprained ankles, a strained hamstring, a torn ACL and two torn meniscuses would be enough to make a person say “screw this” and walk away with the few working body parts they had left. But like most athletes, Derrick Rose keeps coming back for more.

We don’t just see this persistence in professional athletes, but even in high school and college athletes. College scholarships are obviously a big factor, providing the same kind of motivation as a high paying salary. But besides that, why do “normal people” — as in those who aren’t getting paid ridiculous amounts of money for their sport — put up with all the pain?

From what I’ve seen as an ex-gymnast, it’s a combination of a fierce love for the sport, a feeling of dedication to it where the idea of leaving after so many years is unimaginable and an ingrained stubbornness to carry on in spite of pain. In sports, pain means weakness. There’s a mentality among athletes that it’s cooler to be tough and push through than take a break. It’s way more satisfying to think “yeah, I made it through that whole game with a fractured foot” than “wow those days of resting and healing were so fun!”

No one wants to sit on the sidelines. It’s that kind of thinking that explains why a gymnast that just tore her ACL would still want to compete on the floor, or why a girl who dislocated her shoulder at a meet mid-bar routine still tried to finish it, or why a gymnast competed a full season with two stress fractures in her back. Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith aptly summed up this mentality recently when asked about his knee injury, “It’s just a meniscus. It’s not getting my leg amputated.” If you’re not gushing blood or if a bone isn’t sticking out, you keep going.

While on a team it’s common to hear “suck it up,” but as humans we can only push ourselves so far for the sake of a sport. Yes, there are so many wonderful things about sports like the camaraderie with teammates, learning hard work, dedication, respect and humility. These are all priceless lessons that will no doubt help athletes be successful later in life. And it definitely makes athletes some of the toughest people on earth. But is it healthy to ignore something like a stress fracture or something that can hurt you later on in life healthy? I’ve got to say no. But hey, if it’s what you love, by all means keep going, because there’s no point in being on this Earth unless you’re doing what makes you happy, even if it means a few scrapes (or torn ligaments). You’ve got to love what you do to pop six Advils, hobble into practice every day and say “I’m fine.”

As the great fitness guru Shaun T likes to say in the middle of one of his particular grueling Insanity videos, “I’m smilin’ cus I love it.” No, I guarantee most athletes don’t actually enjoy all the pain that training and competing brings them, but it’s the adrenaline rush and the challenge of it all that makes it worth it.