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The Emotions of Sports: Mind over matter

Physical recovery from an injury is only the first step

Posted: August 7, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 7, 2011 1:55 a.m.

What's greater than the physical pain of injuries?

How about not knowing what's causing it?

Before athletes can start treating and rehabilitating an injury, they must first have the injury properly diagnosed.

And that waiting game can be as unpleasant as any physical pain.

"A lot of times, the hardest part of injuries isn't necessarily the injury," says Canyon High graduate and USA Track and Field runner Lauren Fleshman. "It's how long it can take to get an accurate diagnosis. You think it's going to take three days, then the doctors can't figure it out, so it takes three weeks. You're flying across the country, going to specialists. You just want answers and a protocol of what to follow to get better."

Fleshman has had to deal with four separate foot fractures in her career, so she's very familiar with the anxious days that come before an injury is diagnosed.

So is Hart High graduate Megan Ford.

Ford tore her anterior cruciate ligament during her prep career with the Indians, and she tore her ACL again as a freshman at Cal Poly Pomona in 2009.

Beyond waiting for the diagnosis, Ford dealt with a different kind of anticipation. Once she hurt her knee the first time, it was hard to shake the image of hurting it again.

"The transition period for playing actual games, it's definitely hard," Ford says. "The first couple games, it's definitely on your mind all the time. After a while, playing more and more games, it's not the first thing you think about."

But the thought lingers, no matter how hard an athlete tries to shake it.

"You never really focus on one of your body parts your whole entire career until you have an injury to that body part," Ford says. "Then, that's all you focus on."

Fellow Hart High graduate Ryan Wolfe also dealt with a torn ACL. The injury occurred at a 7-on-7 passing tournament in July of 2003, before his junior high school football season.

Hart was touted as a CIF-Southern Section Division II favorite, and Wolfe certainly had some anxious moments after the injury. But he also focused on the positives.

"It was the first time I'd been seriously hurt," Wolfe says. "I didn't really know exactly how to react. I was going to try and live my daily life. I was kind of in the moment."

Another fortunate stroke for Wolfe was the fact that his mother worked for the orthopedic surgeon who eventually reconstructed his knees. A couple of days after the injury, Wolfe was able to get an MRI on the knee injury.

Less than a week later, he knew the results.

Although it was a serious injury, the quick diagnosis helped Wolfe begin his rehabilitation process quickly. By the time the 2003 playoffs rolled around, Wolfe returned and helped the Indians win their last CIF-Southern Section championship to date.

Once he received the initial diagnosis, Wolfe switched his mind-set to returning that season.

"That's all I thought about," he says. "We started off 0-3 for the first time in like 15 years. It was real hard to not only not be able to play, but to see my team losing so many close games. That was my No. 1 motivation. I wanted to help my friends and get back into the successful ways of the Hart program."

But first he had to wait for the diagnosis, which is a crucial yet often overlooked part of the recovery process. If an injury is misdiagnosed, then the recommended treatments could be detrimental instead of beneficial.

"If it's tendinitis, you treat it totally different from a stress fracture," Fleshman says as an example. "If you take the wrong medicine, you're making it worse. It can be paralyzing."

It's a reality that athletes have to live with, however. And it can be tough, especially people so set in their ways.

"Athletes like to have a schedule and a plan, and go from there," Fleshman says.

Injuries can throw all that for a loop.

Signal staff writer Paul Putignano contributed to this report.



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