Defining Moments: How to Thrive in Recovery

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Tyler Grace Hawthorne, 16, is a junior at St. Ignatius Prep in San Francisco. She plays for STEPS California and is a USA Lacrosse Impact Athlete. She has been a member since 2012.

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was ending, and it felt so great to be back doing what I loved, playing lacrosse. Then, during a national tryout with the ball on the other end of the field … BANG! Something hit my leg from behind. I staggered backward out of balance.

I immediately looked around to see if another player or a stray ball from an adjacent field had hit me, but there was nothing near me. Turns out I had just been clipped by what people in the NFL call the “field sniper.” The pop and impact I felt was my left Achilles rupturing.

Middle-aged weekend warriors rupture their Achilles playing pickleball. Sixteen-year-old high school lacrosse players in peak condition do not. My surgeon was dumbfounded.

When you rupture your Achilles, you are off the field for a year. One whole year. As a high school sophomore last spring, that sounded like an eternity. I had a lot of goals for the season and summer — this was the year to win our state division, make All-American, dominate on the field, attend college recruiting camps and have fun. But in a random snap, I was suddenly and unexpectedly sidelined.

In the first couple of weeks after the injury, I realized I was not alone. My teammate tore her ACL, my friend broke the tibia attached to his patella and my other friend reinjured his MCL all while playing lacrosse.

Whenever something unexpectedly bad happens, people often say not to worry, that it happened for a reason. I hated hearing that. What good reason could there be?

It took several months to find purpose in my long recovery. Despite being unable to play in tournaments or clinics during what was supposed to be a pivotal summer, it turns out, being off the field was one of the most defining times of my lacrosse journey thus far. These past eight months have been filled with everything from triumphs to trials to try-agains. It has taught me to appreciate and love my body and everything that it does for me.

During the initial stages of my recovery, I found that the struggle to stay mentally positive and engaged was far more difficult than dealing with the physical side of my injury. I missed the peer interaction of practicing with teammates. I was my own support system.

I learned several techniques that helped me stay positive and focused on my recovery.

1. Be patient

Recovery progresses differently for everyone. Don’t compare injuries or timelines with other teammates or what you find on the internet. Don’t try to return to play too soon. Acknowledge your emotions and let them play out. Patience is something that can be practiced by focusing on thinking versus feeling. Take the long view to help you put things in perspective.

2. Investigate your injury

This is your body. Study what’s happening. Your body and brain are connected. I now know more about my Achilles than I hope I’ll never need to know again. I’ll be stronger coming out of my recovery because I’m training in a more intentional way.

3. Look ahead, not behind

Do not waste your time replaying what happened and what-ifs. None of that matters. Live in the present, not in the past. Set goals for your return to play so you have future markers to look forward to. Visualize what you want to happen when you step onto the field again. This will bridge the psychological and physiological aspects of your progression.

4. Put energy into the things youcan control

You can have a pity party or decide to channel your attention to school or a project you’ve been meaning to start. Remember, you’re writing your own story.

5. Listen to your body

It doesn’t lie. When you don’t feel well or feel sore on a particular day, be kind to yourself and lay off. The body is healing itself and needs extra care during different parts of the recovery process. Part of healing your body is building your emotional wellbeing too, so do things that make you happy. Good moods are scientifically proven to improve cognition in certain tasks. Yes, a happy person can better optimize their performance than an unhappy person.

6. Seek help

You are not alone. It’s hard to watch from the sidelines when all you want to do is play. No doubt, recovery is an emotional roller coaster, so if you are having a particularly hard time, reach out to a parent, coach or friend. Sometimes just unloading will get you back to the center. Also, take solace in knowing you are not the only person in this world who has ever faced this situation.

7. Find other ways to fortify your spirits

Being physically active supports mental health. A modified game of tennis on the computer or an arm-only version of Just Dance can keep your blood flowing. And a scientifically proven way to get out of a rut and your mind off your problems is to help others. When you give to others, you also help yourself.

8. Keep a recovery journal

Writing your thoughts throughout the recovery process is a good way to capture your progress. When you get things out of your head and write them down, it’s a way of unloading them. And sometimes when you look at something outside of your head, it doesn’t feel as heavy anymore.


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