Network for Advancing Athletes mentors Courteney Lowe, Carrie Toleffson, Tina Pic, Annie Ewart, Alison Tetrick, and founder Amber Pierce share a love of their sport, a passion for guiding fellow female athletes, and all-too-much experience with injury.
Through traumatic brain injuries, an obscure vascular condition, and various fractures, these ladies have learned–sometimes the hard way–that injury is an unforgiving but rewarding teacher.
Most believe gold can be found at the end of a rainbow. I disagree. Gold can be found in the depths of suffering and pain. If we can muster the bravery to shine a light in the darkness, we’ll find gold.
In fact, the NAA mentors shared such abundant gold that I decided to create a three-part series by theme.
In part 1 we talked about the biggest frustrations and challenges of being an injured athlete, how to work through them, and why working through them matters to you.
In part 2 we talked about the wedge injury drives between you and your friends and teammates, how to work through the disconnection, and why working through it matters to you.
In part 3 we talked about finding a healthy attitude despite activity restrictions, and why your attitude will dictate your motivation.
Although I’m interviewing world-class athletes, I’ve found through my research that it makes no difference. All levels of athletes share similar challenges. I define an athlete as anyone who uses movement to connect with their life or themselves. Injury leads to restricted movement, and that’s where things come unglued.
Interviewing these 6 NAA mentors has been such a joy that I’ve decided to write this one last blog …an unexpected epilogue…a collection of thought-provoking, inspirational, and motivating quotes from the mentors. My hope is you feel inspired to print it and hang it on your mirror or keep it in your journal as you navigate your injury journey.
In this epilogue, the mentors share the most important thing they’ve learned from their injuries and the most important advice they’d like to give another injured athlete. I’ve also collected all the pieces of gold–in the form of inspirational quotes–uncovered over the course of my interviews.
I asked the mentors, “What’s the most impactful or important thing you’ve learned from your injury/ies?”
Do not rush recovery. Be patient, and you will come back sooner than you think. ~Alison Tetrick, professional road cyclist
To appreciate everyday. Sometimes we take for granted what we do for a living, and it can be taken away from us so quickly, which is highlighted when you get injured. During the time that I was injured, was when I truly realized how much I loved cycling, and how quickly it can be taken away from you. ~Annie Ewart, professional road cyclist
I feel it’s really important to be patient. I have learned to be more patient. (Not in every aspect of life but in regards to injuries). You can’t rush it–take the time your body needs to heal. Sometimes it seems like it takes so long to heal–especially when it comes to a broken bone. In the middle somewhere, you can’t see any progress and feel like you are not getting any better. But then one day you wake up and you are back to normal again. Our bodies have the amazing capacity to heal really quickly and then our brain forgets the hardship that it takes to get through the injury once we are all healed. Funny how that is. But it is so important because I know many athletes that try to push too early and the injury reoccurs or they don’t get any better. ~Tina Pic, professional road and track cyclist
I wish I would have rested the injury and listened to my body a bit more. I know now that taking time to heal will only help you come back faster rather then always trying to work through injuries. ~Carrie Tollefson, Olympic runner
Compassion and gratitude. I feel an immense depth of compassion for those facing injury, and a renewed sense of personal gratitude for the things I can do – both in health and when injured. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist
I have learnt that rest and recovery is your friend. Pushing through injuries just makes everything so much worse off and you end up needing more time off further down the line if you push through it. You only have one body, and you need to care of it because you ain’t getting a new one. ~Courteney Lowe, professional road cyclist
I asked the mentors, “Think of only one thing here. What’s the most important advice you can give to another athlete facing injury?”
I learned that through recovery and being unable to do the activities that you are used to, that the peace of stillness, time, and space is a gift. Yes, even that time spent on the couch is a gift. Do the things that you are unable to do when you are training and racing. Scrapbook. Fish. Call friends. This too is a gift. ~Alison Tetrick, professional road cyclist
To set goals; small, realistic ones. They help give you purpose while you are recovering, and it’s a great feeling when you can see progression. ~Annie Ewart, professional road cyclist
I believe that athletes will always strive to figure out the best way to deal with an injury or adverse condition–but again, it takes patience. If it ends up the injury is something that will not allow a return to the sport, I believe that no matter what the athlete chooses to do they will be successful and just have to try and funnel the same drive into another love–whether that is coaching or something else entirely. The hardest part is finding what the other love is because again, with the training, drive, and motivation that has already been put into sport, it will be directed into another love. One of my favorite quotes (from some sappy movie I’m sure–but it hit me when I was at the lowest point and figured I would not race again) is: ‘What we do does not define who we are, what defines us is how well we rise after falling.’ There is still a whole life out there to live. Hopefully, the athlete will be able to figure out and move forward and continue with the sport they truly love. But if not, they will be successful regardless–once they figure out what to be successful in!! ~Tina Pic, professional road and track cyclist
The road can be tough mentally but physically you will be back. Heal up, work back slowly, and enjoy being injury free and competing again. Don’t be 75%, be 100%. ~Carrie Tollefson, Olympic runner
Be patient and compassionate with yourself. It can be hard, especially when those around you are not being patient or compassionate with you. In this, you are your own best and most powerful ally. Be kind to yourself. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist
(Courteney’s answer here is identical to her answer above, but it’s worth repeating.) I have learnt that rest and recovery is your friend. Pushing through injuries just makes everything so much worse off and you end up needing more time off further down the line if you push through it. You only have one body, and you need to care of it because you ain’t getting a new one. ~Courteney Lowe, professional road cyclist
Through parts 1, 2, and 3, the NAA mentors and I created what I’d like to call an injured athlete’s bible. We talked how to work through the top challenges injured athletes face and why it matters.
This epilogue is a gift for you–to help you feel not-so-alone; to inspire; and to print out and tape up somewhere in your house or keep in your journal. What common themes do you see in these quotes? Highlight them and return to them often. What parts of this series speak to you? Share them with a close friend. I hope, after reading all three parts plus the epilogue, you feel empowered and more resilient. I know I do.
On the biggest challenges injured athletes face
I felt very alone. It wasn’t that people weren’t trying to help, but healing is such an individual process. You have to want to heal, and you have to let yourself heal. No matter what people say or do, you have to make that decision yourself. At first, people reach out to you, but eventually, you are in a room, alone, and you have to decide what your outlook will be. ~Alison Tetrick, professional road cyclist
My biggest challenge I faced as an athlete while injured was trying to figure out how to train through the injury. Was I pushing too hard and not letting my body heal? The older I get, the more I realized how I wish I would have just been disciplined and confident enough to take the time off needed and then start working through it. I had some injuries that wouldn’t allow me to run and those actually healed faster then the ones that I tried to work through. It is a tough call but an important one. ~Carrie Tollefson, Olympic runner
On post-injury attitude
I set daily, weekly, and monthly goals with my injury. These goals were not major; it would be anything from letting my shoulder dangle for a few minutes without support, to walking 200m further than I did the day before. Having these small goals helped me track my improvement and kept me in a better mental place. It gave me purpose to each day, instead of sitting on the couch watching TV, and my parents bringing me food (since I couldn’t prepare anything myself). ~Annie Ewart, professional road cyclist
My attitude post injury was that I was truly lucky to be alive. ~Tina Pic, professional road and track cyclist
I always came back a better athlete. Not necessarily a fast athlete but a stronger more intelligent athlete. One does learn a lot about themselves when injured. ~Carrie Tollefson, Olympic runner
I felt more determined and motivated then ever. Having to go through this ordeal for the second time made me so eager to get back on my bike and give training and racing 100% of my time and attention. I appreciated what I do so much more, when I realized I can’t take what I do for granted. ~Courteney Lowe, professional road cyclist
On coping with friends and teammates who are out training and racing
Figuring out how to stay in it when times are tough is the best way to come back even faster. ~Carrie Tollefson, Olympic runner
I’ve realized that I enjoy celebrating the success of others more than I enjoy being jealous of it. Moreover I’ve realized that the jealousy is silly, because it’s not as if there aren’t going to be bike races when I’m healthy again. When I remind myself that there isn’t a fixed number of races in the world, and that I’ll have plenty of opportunities to go for it once I’m healthy and fit again, I can relax and truly feel happy for my teammates and friends who are racing and finding success. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist
On asking for and accepting help
We are intense and independent people, especially as athletes. We want to handle things on our own, but we do need to admit when we need help. Even if it is just for accountability or not to be alone. If I sensed that my family doubted that I was “fine,” I would become defensive and bolt the opposite direction. It took me being honest with myself and them when I needed to seek medical help as well as to have accountability for my feelings of darkness and inadequacy. ~Alison Tetrick, professional road cyclist
On keeping yourself motivated
Since I have had so many injuries I know it is all a passing thing. However, the latest one was different. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fantastic career up to this point and felt lucky to have been able to compete as long as I have. However, I would guess if I had this problem 16 years ago, I would not have had the life experiences to fall back on and would not have been as ok with letting it go. I think it would have been very, very hard for me. ~Tina Pic, professional road and track cyclist
I was unfortunate with the amount of injuries I have had during the prime of my career but to be honest, I have learned a lot about myself. Being an athlete is not easy. In order to see what talents we have we have to push our bodies to do things that most people wouldn’t think to do. With that, injuries arise and how we handle them shows the true character that we have. Stay tough, smart, and focused and you will get back! GET AFTER IT! ~Carrie Tollefson, Olympic runner
It’s really hard not to compare where you are with where you want to be, and that can be overwhelming and demoralizing. But, I had some key people around me–my husband, my coach, and my sport psychologist–who helped me stay focused on the small victories, and take things one day at a time. When you do that, you really do see huge leaps and gains, which can turn things around mentally and emotionally. It’s hard to keep that focus all on your own, so it really helps to have people around you who truly believe in you and help you celebrate your progress. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist
On your inherent focus and drive
Being an athlete puts you in a different category right off the bat. We are motivated and persevering people, who try and beat the odds all the time, which helps when it comes to injury. ~Annie Ewart, professional road cyclist
I separated sport from my identity. I am here for a reason, but now I have taken control of my choice, and will be the best I can be. I had to lose the sport to realize how much more I was with or without it. ~Alison Tetrick, professional road cyclist
Amber Pierce on what she’s learned from her injuries,
That it is not only okay to be human, but that I can celebrate my humanness–in all its fragility and fallibility. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist
I’ve learned to accept that my emotional well-being influences the quality of my training and performances, and that by attending to my human side–my relationships, my emotions–I can better attend to my athletic goals and responsibilities. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist
Over and over, injury has helped me to clarify priorities and cultivate gratitude. ~Amber Pierce, professional road cyclist