My Achilles Heel: Part 1

A few weeks ago I wrote a brief post detailing the annual Alumni Basketball Tournament that I play in at my old high school.  In that post I explained how important that tournament is to me in terms of seeing all my old friends and coming back each year for one more chance to play with my old teammates.  And it’s certainly true; those reasons absolutely help to make that event so special to me and the others who play in it.  But there is one reason that I did not mention in that post which makes that event even more special and important to me.

In 2014 I went back to my hometown as I had done each year for the previous 6 years.  I was headed back to play in the alumni tournament, only this time was different.  I was not 100% healthy.  My fitness had gone by the wayside in the previous year or so and my weight and conditioning were not where it had been going into previous tournaments.  Now, let’s get something straight, I’m not exactly used to being in great shape as it is, but I’ve always been able to get up and down the court relatively well and always played well in the tournament.  While my fitness was definitely lacking I had started working out and running again to try and get back in shape for the tournament My wife and I had even gone so far as to get a YMCA Membership at the start of the year.  However, my attempts to get into quick shape before the tournament started to backfired when I developed tendonitis in my Achilles.  I knew it was a problem when my Achilles started to hurt while running and never really loosened up regardless of how I stretched it.  Long story short, I went to the alumni tournament that year with my injury in the back of my mind, which as any competitor will tell you, is never a good thing.

Walking into the gym that weekend I knew that there was the possibility of a more serious injury occurring.  What I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t even make it a full minute into our first game before it happened.  I showed up to our first game extra early just so I could get a full warm up and stretch routine in.  The game started just like any other.  We lost the opening tip and got a quick defensive stop on the other team’s first possession.  I collected the rebound and passed the ball off to our point guard as I started to run down to the offensive side of the floor.  On the offensive end I set an initial down screen to get my teammate open on the wing before popping out to the corner.  The ball came to me in the corner and I was open for the shot as my defender was playing off of me a step.  But since it was only the first possession, and because my defender was much smaller, I thought driving to the basket was a better decision.  I was wrong.  I planted my right foot and broke forward, starting to dribble as I propelled myself toward the basket.  But as I attempted to explode towards the hoop I felt a jolt on my right side like someone stepped on the back of my foot.  I went down immediately and the ball went loose.  I remember looking up from the ground to see the other team collect the ball and start down towards the other end of the court, more upset about the turnover than anything.  Then I tried to get up.  And I couldn’t push off of my right foot.  It simply wouldn’t support any weight.  I tried to get up to walk and immediately fell back to the ground.  Tried to get up again, fell down again, now realizing that walking was out of the picture.  I crawled back to our bench, already knowing that I had completely torn my Achilles tendon.  As I got back to our bench my Dad, who had been watching from a seat not too far away, made his way over and sat down next to me on the bench.  His first thought was that I had simply rolled my ankle.  He was shocked when I told him I tore my Achilles, he asked if I was sure and how I knew.  And I told him, I came into the game with tendonitis, and I could no longer push off of my right foot.  Even with the injury I sat and watched the rest of the game’s first half.  I was probably in shock a little bit, probably a little pissed off, but mostly I think I just didn’t want to admit to myself what was happening.  To go to the hospital was to move on, to get the official diagnosis, to start the long rehab process.  I just wasn’t ready yet.

Nevertheless, my mom arrived at the gym and took me to the hospital.  Once again I explained the injury and how I already knew the diagnosis before we even got to the hospital.  Later on during my recovery, my Mom would tell me how astonished she’d been at how calm I was and how well I handled the injury.  To me it was simple, I wasn’t going to dwell on it, even though it’d happened only 30 minutes earlier, my mind was already on surgery and recovery, and on how long it would take me to make a full physical comeback.  Slight sidebar here… once you get past your physical prime, bring your health insurance card with you everywhere, you never know when you’re going to need it, and hospitals don’t like it when you don’t have proof of insurance!

Once we got to the hospital the trip became pretty routine.  We saw an on call doctor, got some x-rays, got a diagnosis, scheduled surgery, and for the first time in my life I learned about how inconvenient crutches are.  But other than the crutches and the injury, nothing else in my day had changed.  Honestly (and this may surprise you) there wasn’t any pain with the injury.  So I changed clothes and my mom took me back to the high school to watch the rest of the tournament.  People were certainly surprised to see me back so soon.  My mom and I had been gone maybe an hour and a half, so people were equally shocked to hear how severe the injury was.  A torn Achilles which meant surgery, 6 weeks without walking, many weeks of physical therapy, and 8 months to a year before full recovery.  People gave their condolences, and I probably made some joke about how I wasn’t dead, just hurt, no big deal.  Again, there was no pain and my mindset for the day didn’t really change.  I even went out to eat for lunch with my family and went out to the bars that night on my crutches (much to my mother’s chagrin… looking back the whole thing is kind of surreal.

But sitting in the gym all day watching the tournament, I had plenty of time to reflect on the position I was in, that I had essentially put myself in.  The realization of how long the recovery would take certainly started to hit me. As did the fact that it was my right leg and I probably wouldn’t be able to drive for a long time (this may have been the largest inconvenience of the whole injury).  My mind was racing trying to grasp the entirety of what this injury would mean.  It was certainly daunting in those early moments, but I knew that I was up to the task.  I was up for the journey.  And sitting there that day watching all of the basketball being played, I knew I would be back on that court playing before long.  All I had to do was take the next step.

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