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My Life as an Injured Student-Athlete

Bailey Tietz » Bill Reichle Therapy/Counseling » Bill Reichle Therapy/Counseling

They call it the “Broken Leg Test,” and when you are considering playing a sport at the Division I level, you are told to swear by it. Throughout high school, athletic and academic advisors asked me to imagine breaking my leg halfway through my first collegiate season. Would I enjoy attending the universities that I visited if field hockey were to become a nonfactor? After an unconventional recruiting process during the stay-at-home orders of 2020, I ultimately committed to Georgetown University. Far too early in my collegiate career, I learned why the Broken Leg Test existed. I suffered a knee injury that required surgery, putting me out of the game for 4 months. After doing my rehab and making what I thought was a full recovery, I could feel that something was wrong. My first surgery had failed, and a second operation would have me out of the game for another year. During this time, I learned countless lessons about my support system, my interests outside of athletics, and the importance of mindfulness amid adversity. I recall these lessons in this blog post.

Grace 

For most elite athletes, you get to where you are by never being satisfied. We are taught to push ourselves beyond our limits, and while this mindset may be useful on the field, on the court, and in the weight room, it is not necessarily a sustainable way to live one’s everyday life. When I got injured and could no longer push my body in the way that I was accustomed to, I felt something unexpected: guilt. I would attend practice, watch my teammates complete their workouts, and leave feeling a sense of distance that I had never experienced before. Practically, I knew that I had done nothing wrong. Emotionally, my inability to contribute to the team on the field took a negative toll on my sense of self-worth. 

I realized very quickly that I had to combat these feelings of guilt with something that was equally as strong: grace. When healing from an injury, it is important to recognize how hard your body is working in your favor every single day. Every minute at practice that I spent thinking about everything I should be doing, my body was in the process of healing itself. Grace was important when I could not use the weights that I wanted in PT, when I could not take my normal walking routes to class, and when I could not participate in certain team activities off the field due to my injury. In this regard, I had to actively shift my mentality from one that was never satisfied to one that would be able to find moments of satisfaction in the midst of frustration. This was no small task, and I would be lying if I said that I did it without fail. That’s the thing about grace: you are meant to learn how to be comfortable with imperfection. 

Creative Outlets 

While being injured prevented me from participating in physical activity, it did give me the unique opportunity to explore my interests outside of athletics. I began looking at other extracurriculars and ended up joining Georgetown’s premier political consulting club. Unbeknownst to me, this decision would result in my internship at a top political consulting firm last Summer. I

explored my interest in advocacy, becoming the leader of an ideological cohort within a debating society on campus. I also helped to bring Dream on 3 to Georgetown – an organization that makes the sports dreams of children with life-altering conditions come true, for I learned very quickly how different life without sports would be. In short, I searched for ways to achieve the sense of community that I was missing, and this new community became crucial in supporting my recovery. 

It is important to note that my newfound interests included more than just participating in formal groups. Being injured allowed me the opportunity to grow more comfortable sitting with myself and practicing mindfulness at a time when I needed it the most. I found new hobbies like playing guitar, painting, and writing creatively. Out of everything that I was able to take from this period of my life, I am most grateful for the chance to learn about what I genuinely enjoy doing. It was a hard lesson, and granted, I would have rather learned it a different way. All the same, being injured presents an opportunity for an athlete to reconnect with the parts of themselves that they may lose sight of while they are training. Viewing recovery as a period of exploration rather than a waiting game helped me immensely in 2022. 

Asking For Help 

I could write much more about athletic injuries, and I hope to do so in the future. However, I want to conclude by stressing the importance of asking for help. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, and being an injured athlete requires more than physical strength. The mental fortitude that it takes to rehab a serious injury is something to be commended, and it is rarely something that you can do alone. Prioritizing your mental health when you are injured is crucial, and this may require turning to mental health providers. For student-athletes in particular, most universities offer sports-specific counseling services. Podcasts, online forums, and books about injuries also proved helpful for me in the months after my surgery. Asking for help is never something to be ashamed of, and it is always important to be aware of the resources available to you.

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Bailey Tietz Student Athlete
Student Athlete, Field Hockey, at Georgetown University. Bailey is currently a Junior.