Is athletic toughness pushing through the pain and possibly compromising your body for future sports participation to compete in a race?
Is athletic toughness having the integrity to listen to your body, make self-respecting choices and think beyond today’s game?
Depending on when you’d asked me this question, I would have had a different answer. Before my pain and injuries, I would have definitely agreed with the first statement. At that time in my life, being athletically tough meant competing regardless of the consequences. Being older and wiser now, I follow the wisdom in the second definition and refuse to endanger my body--and future ability to be on the start line--for a single race.
What about you? How do you define athletic toughness?
What about the athletic community in general?
Unfortunately, it seems that the pervading belief of athletes is that it is okay to sacrifice their bodies to compete. And, I found this to be an international attitude while in South Africa at the joBerg2c. During the race we stayed in simple tent villages. Each night one team of two riders was awarded a luxury tent with cots, standing room and a table. Although it doesn’t sound like much, it was a real treat! We actually stayed in this tent on the night of our 20th wedding anniversary.
Early in the nine-day event, a rider crashed and suffered a rotator cuff injury. Although she was only able to ride holding the handle bars with one hand, she vowed to finish the race despite her pain and injury. So, what did the race announcer do? He awarded her the luxury tent, of course! He saw her determination as admirable and held her up as an example for others to follow.
When she came into the massage tent to be worked on, she requested the therapist work on her legs, not her injured shoulder area. She explained to the therapist that she was going to continue riding. The therapist, who is also a physiotherapist (physical therapist in the US), was appalled. When I came in to have my my massage with the same therapist, she shared the incident with me--and her frustration. We are of a similar mindset. She asked me, “Why would you intentionally jeopardize your ability to ride another day and possibly make your injury worse and healing longer?” An athlete herself, she couldn’t understand it. Having been there myself, several years before, I did grasp the distorted thinking, but I knew from experience that the result was going to be poor if she continued riding. I later learned that the injured rider wasn’t able to finish the race, as her riding was too slow to make the time cuts. A blessing in disguise.
For many athletes it is harder, and shows greater toughness, not to compete when injured. Previously, I was not tough enough to sit by and watch others participate. I made bad choices, pushing my body when it needed recovery. The drive to be in the race is so strong that our minds can create elaborately skewed logic that convinces us it is okay to go out and play when we hurt.
After four joint surgeries, requiring years of healing, I have finally learned that an event is not worth it if it jeopardizes my body. Why do I want to risk more pain, endure more rehab and take more time off my bike and enjoyment of other sports, just for one race? It doesn't make any sense. All the rationalizing in the world about money spent, people disappointed, training wasted (and on and on) will not make it okay. You are the one who is most upset and frustrated. Every time you make a smart decision that nurtures yourself, you are displaying athletic toughness.
The next time you are faced with a difficult choice on whether to compete or rest when injured, I hope you will demonstrate athletic toughness and stay home. Believe me, there will be plenty of other opportunities to test your strength and endurance against others when you are healthy.