When I was 36 years old, I was in a car accident that should have killed me. I was thrown out of the side window and my leg was ripped from my hip. I lay on the ground thinking, "Why am I here? Why am I cold? What can’t I move?" When the paramedics arrived in the ambulance I didn’t want them to touch me. I fought with them and tried to get myself up, but it was no use. Four doctors told me that I would never be able to get back to adventure racing or endurance sports. It’s probably no surprise to any of you that my response was, "F*** that."
So, I found a doctor who wasn’t interested in throwing in the towel, became a maniac about recovery, and set my sights on healing. I started doing yoga, cycling, pilates, and swimming every day. I busted my ass to ensure that my body would mend. And it did.
My story isn’t an anomaly. Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Kerri Strug — there are quite a few stories of athletes who have overcome significant injuries to go on and persevere. Right now, our very own Nicole Mericle (2019 Spartan World Champion), is recovering from a torn ACL. I have no doubt that we’ll add her to the list next year.
I’m sure that when you take a look at the recovery plans of these athletes, you’ll see similarities: Time in the pool, mobility exercises, cross-training. But what’s not listed? A no-quit attitude, a winner’s mindset, and a relentless mental program that propels you through all of it.
Appreciate the Wall That You're Up Against
When you’re injured, you’ve got two choices: Beat it or get beat. It’s that simple. You are pushed up against the wall and you can either fight or choose not to. We all know what I chose. Adventure racing had become such an enormous part of my life that I couldn’t fathom life without it, so it didn’t even feel like a choice (but I know that it was one).
I could have easily thrown in the towel like the rest of those doctors and said, "There’s no chance. I’ll just find something else to do," but I chose to rebound because I knew that if I didn’t, I would be choosing complacency. I would be choosing comfort and ease — two things I’ve spent my life avoiding. The wall that I was up against reminded me of the kind of person that I wanted to be: a man who zigged when others zagged. No injury was going to change that.
Regardless of the injury that you face — no matter how big or how small — you will have a choice in what happens next. Some may tell you that you don’t, that your fate is set. Don’t believe them. You have people telling you right now that racing is stupid, eating well is pointless, and that what’s streaming online is more important than sleeping. It’s bulls***. YOU create what happens next with your own choices. And recovery requires hard choices. You choose the pool instead of the pillow. You choose nutrient-dense foods instead of nachos. And you choose courage instead of complacency.
You Are What You Think You Are
When you’re told that your body may not recover, your mind flips the f*** out. Even though I wholeheartedly believed that the doctors were wrong, there were a few moments when I doubted that recovery was possible. What if they were right? What if I’m done? What if I’m incapable?
When I noticed these thoughts pop into my head, I caught them quickly and shoved them out. I knew that I would become what I told myself. If I told myself that they were right and I was unable to fully recover, then I would fulfill that destiny. So I kept repeating to myself that they were wrong, that I was right, and that I would fully heal (and then some).
The thoughts that roll around in your head carry substantial weight. More than any heavy bucket or dirty sandbag, what you say to yourself has the capacity to weigh you down and change the game. So pick what you pay attention to. It’s normal to have doubts and uncertainties, but remember that you are what you think you are. Think positively about the future, and you will make what seems impossible, possible.
When you’re healing your body, your mind will become your best friend — if you let it. When the critics, haters, and doubters all share their pathetic reasons as to why they think that you can’t, you’ll hit them back with why you can. It’s not just about staying positive or remaining hopeful. Remember what kind of person you want to be, and recovery accordingly.