Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Body Issue (Part 6): Once An Athlete, Always An Athlete

The crisp, cold smell. The sound of your blades slicing up the ice. The powerful feeling of your legs springing you into the air, your arms, and head turning, and pulling, twisting your body to follow their lead as you rotate through the air.  It's flying. It's flying and it's so freeing and I miss it all the time.

But on this day, I was just sat admiringly in the crowd, cheering on my friend Alec, his skating made me feel everything so deeply, including my longing to make music come alive like that again.

After the show we talked, and I mentioned how I almost didn't come, but I was glad I did. He chastised me a bit, for nearly choosing something else instead.  His words  have stuck with me every day since.

"Once a figure skater, Always a figure skater." It was meant as a reminder of where my loyalties lie. But what it really was, was a spark of hope.  What it told me was, even if you are not currently doing the thing, you still claim the right and privilege to have it be a part of you and your identity.

Because you spent your teen age years, hours on cold sheets of ice before high school in the mornings, and after school in the evening. Because you spent lunch breaks  and Saturdays as an adult you have earned the right to be one of us, even if you currently can't do that, for whatever reason.

You ARE an athlete. And if you let yourself rember, you will remember how it has changed you, what it has taught you. How it made you who you are, at least some part.

Abby Wambach mentioned in her memoir  'Forward' struggling with that feeling of losing her identity as a soccer player, and athlete upon retirement. I think it's something many of us experience. When that physical routine changes, even if it is to another sport, we feel it. And often, I think we feel a little lost.

One day, perhaps I will skate again. But perhaps I will not. Either way Alec  granted me permission on that afternoon to remember I am a figure skater, Always.

Injuries are something athletes have to deal with, it doesn't matter what sport (s) you do. Learning how to handle an injury is perhaps one of the most important things an athlete learns, or doesn't. It took me decades to figure that out.

One of my friends is a runner. A runner in the sense that I am a figure skater. It's not something she currently does, but it's in her soul. We frequently talk about how to come back, being out of shape, fearing injuries.

Fearing injuries old and new is an important obstacle. I run on a treadmill, because I've always had weak easily twisted/sprained ankles.  I'd like to thank my lack of knowledge, combined with the crutch of stiff  skating boots for letting me get away with that. Running on uneven ground terrifies me. One wrong step and I can feel the pain now.

I stopped figure skating because of compressed nerves in my foot. I tried a few things to come back, after all the physical therapy, the metal scraper tool having very painfully broken down scar tissue on my feet enough I can do most anything else. I tried modifying and punching out my boots even.  But the last time I went skating my feet were completely numb of feeling after less than a half hour on the ice.

That's dangerous. Dangerous to me, dangerous to others. If you can t feel your feet, you can't control your skates. And though I may yet try again, someday, for now I am contenting  myself with other sports until conditions are favorable. Stepping off of the ice that day was one of the most discouraging days of my life, and I can not yet take the heartbreak of feeling that again.

It's been a long road for me. It's been nearly five years. First I had the compressed nerve thing. That was hard. For a while I couldn't stand or walk at all. For someone who was all about balancing and sports that killed me. But soon it got a little better and I came back attacking my fitness, and playing some very aggressive floor hockey. Then came the plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. Then a bone bruise on my foot while that persisted.

Eventually I got help from a physical therapist and magic started to happen, and I started to finally learn. You can t just do your sports. The warm ups, the cool downs, the streches, the strengthening, the conditioning, it is all vital. You cannot jump back in, without doing things properly. No mater your age, if you skip that, you will pay for it at some point.

When I came back to figure skating as an adult, I hadn't fully learned these lessons yet. But, I was still a better skater than in my youth because I had more confidence, and a different mindset. No longer a rushed mindset of I need to be competing at this level now, but rather a mind set of I want to compete like this for the rest of my life.

What I hadn't learned yet, was to listen to my body. Frequently I would jump until my legs were giving out and my coach had to tell me to go take a water break and recover. I would have just kept going until someone got hurt if she hadn't done that, because I was so focused my mind had shut out my body.

What I learned from the past five years is to listen. I have learned when to push, when to back off, and when to get water, without someone else needing to tell me.

In many ways, I am more fit now than I have ever been in my life, perhaps thanks to  a very deep love of KT tape, Ice baths (my new frienemy), foam rollers, and physical therapy exercises, which I trade and collect like pokemon.

My YouTube subscriptions have broadened to include physical therapists, telling you what to do differently working in the office, streches and exercises, Dara  Tores and resistance strechin, and British Rowing on how to do dynamic warm ups and cool downs.

My library is full of books that tell me tell me how 40 year olds are competing in Olympic swimming and  gymnastics, 50 year olds swim to Cuba and back. Please give me all your wonderful wisdom and autobiographys. How are 90 year olds running marathons? I want to be them.  I never want to stop doing sports. If I'm gonna live to be 130, then 30 is still a baby. I've got time to do this right. 

And so I run, I row, I kick balls, I curl (on ice and in the gym) and I have hope. Because I am and always will be an athlete, a figure skater. Heck, my figure skater thighs are never gonna leave me, that alone qualifies me. In my youth, my sport built my body a certain way.

As far as athletes go, body issues can run deep and wide. We mold ourselves for sport. Often clothes can be hard to fit that mold. We are both beautiful and odd. We are brave, and we are fearful. We have strength and we have weakness, and it is our job to hide our weakness, to make it look effortless, or unbeatable while we compete.

Sports has always been my fuel, my inspiration. Any time I need to dig deep, to push on, to make changes, it is an athlete that gives me the courage and vision to do so.  Perhaps it is because they are my people, just as much as Mormons are also my people.

Even if it's different sports, we've fought similar battles that only other athletes can understand.  We speak a language, only we can truly understand. We have feelings about a game, that others find childish, they may never understand.  And our insecurities,  what we learn to hide on the field, or the ice, or the track or court, can empower humans to see it's possible to dream, and to accomplish amazing things.

This, for now is my last post on body issues. It's been an emotional topic to write about, but to all my athlete friends out there struggling to see yourselves at this stage in the game, I echo the words of my friend Alec, and hope they give you the same strength and courage that they gave  me ...

Once an athlete, always  an athlete. And don't you dare forget it.

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