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Friday, February 20, 2015

Believe

 Believe.  It's a word that's been part of my athletic existence for years.  In high school, we used to listen to "Don't Stop Believin'" ad nauseum on our annual "PXC mix tape" (mix tapes=admission of age); in college, we'd huddle together briefly before each race for a simple "UBXC believe!" cheer.  I still have a couple of t shirts (complete with bleach stains, laundry isn't among my talents) bearing the same mantra.  I may often head into training sessions and races with a fair amount of doubt and questioning (again, Bills fan here...), but underneath it all, I wouldn't still be going if I couldn't convince myself to mix in a fair amount of belief and faith buried inside somewhere.  I've always been able to come up with 1000 reasons why something won't work before I start it, but once I get going, this tends to melt away (even though I still firmly follow the "it's not over till it's over" theory).  In a letter of recommendation, a professor once referred to me as "quietly confident", which is a phrase that honestly still resonates as one of the best compliments I've ever received.

   This week, though, belief started to get a little bit harder.  After my last post, things generally kept getting better for a few weeks, and I was feeling progressively more positive about it all.  I started to be able to add in things like kicking in the pool, riding an actual tri bike on the trainer (the PR6 is still awaiting a couple of damaged parts, but the CDO.1 is in fine working order), and even getting outside to cross country ski a bit.  Swimming was getting better, and I've been at least tolerating it (ok, I'd say that some part of me is enjoying it in some sick way, but I don't want to give the swimming that satisfaction).  Pain was improving.  Then, around 8-9 weeks, everything started to sort of stall out.  We were still able to add some training stress, but the pain didn't really seem to want to change much-on some days, it became worse.  The orthopedist had told me that I can do what I can tolerate, and other than a couple of times when I *might* have added in a little extra skiing (cage fever...) and ended up back in the tramadol bottle, it was always tolerable.  But...still there, and I certainly had my moments of not being totally honest about it, where perhaps my attempts to put a positive spin on everything were working against my healing.  Most tellingly, I hadn't even tried to start pushing the powers that be to start running again, because if I was real with myself, I knew that I wasn't anywhere close to ready.

   Monday, I got confirmation of this fact when I had another ortho follow-up and x-ray.  As much as I had tried to will the x-rays to be clear as I had water run while water aerobics was occurring that morning (brutal..), they weren't.  "Increased calcification", but both "fracture lucencies still present" on the pelvis; the sacrum was still not seen well enough.  Swimming, biking, and water running were still ok; running still is not.  Even though I knew it, the confirmation still hurt.  I'd had 12 weeks locked into my head as the magical time frame when I'd be good to go (what fractures take longer than that, after all?), so to find out at 11 weeks that it just wasn't going to happen hurt.  There went my countdown.  I was frustrated; I didn't want to believe that everything was taking so long simply because I'm probably doing more than most people who break their pelvises (with lowish vitamin D levels) do.  The lone highlight was when the PA told me that my fairly sizable 8-10lb weight gain from all of this is "good", at this point.

  Additionally, I was already on the outside of team training camp, looking in via social media, hearing about the epic training days and killer workouts that I was feeling so far removed from.  Granted, I've basically always just sort of sucked at camp (sickness, crashes, getting my butt rightfully kicked), so I wasn't really expecting to be all that disappointed to not be there, but somewhat surprisingly, I am.  In a way, a cascade of events was set off there last year-sickness, pushing through sickness, more sickness, pulling out of Cabo, going into Coeur d'Alene instead, the disappointment there, some redemption at Chattanooga, pushing for one more because of it all, and then how it all ended in Coz.  Maybe I just had been thinking that that was where I could begin to turn it all around; or maybe it's just harder than expected to not be able to be a part of it all, again.  Regardless, that was underlying, then those damn x-rays came out not clear at just the wrong time.  Monday...just wasn't a happy day.  Monday night, from afar, Jesse went through round 7000 in the past year (or so it seems) of Jennie phone consolation and reasoning.  I probably broke down a little bit more than I have in the past, so although I knew I was just being sort of catastrophic and eventually I'd be ok, hearing it was exactly what I needed it that moment in order to keep faith alive.

  The next day, I slept in a bit, got up, and dusted myself off-the best way out is always through.  I had one of those trainer rides where I just pumped music into my skull, closed my eyes, and completely zoned out of everything.  It wasn't anything special, but a couple of hours of completely not thinking were so weirdly soothing.  I went to the pool, and left the rest of my frustrations and anger in there, finally starting to grasp the therapeutic value of the water.  I could concentrate on counting and breathing and training pain, the kind I hate and love all at the same time.  Maybe I can't run, I'd logged later that day, but I definitely couldn't have done that swim a few months ago.  Then Thursday happened.  I came home from another tough but productive swim workout to this picture on Twitter, posted as a #tbt from @womenfortri:

  The timing of this, the awesome and positive feedback it received, the emotion of the picture, it easily got to me.  I didn't jump into Mirror Lake that morning knowing that I was going to grab that banner, and there were times throughout the course of that day where I certainly didn't think that it seemed likely, but it definitely wouldn't have happened if I'd completely abandoned all belief that it still could in those moments.  While back on the trainer, Mary then shared the same picture.  With 20min to go in my ride, while listening to "The Cave" on Pandora, I read this caption- "This is one of the best moments of my entire triathlon career, and life. Jennie Donofrio Hansen's IMLP win. Her face says it all."  I didn't do the hottest job of holding my crap together at that point, but in a good way.  I started to think about some of the other highlights of my athletic career, and realized that there was a common theme among them-they were times where something was accomplished that had plenty of times seemed unlikely.  But, even in the face of unlikelihood or doubt, a common thread of belief was still carried through.

Exhibit A-note, I don't believe in my ability to take a picture of a picture without flash glare.  
  This is one of my high school 4x800 relay teams, at state qualifiers my freshman year.  We dreamed of winning and going to the state meet.  Victor was supposed to win and go to the state meet.  For the vast majority of that race, Victor was winning.  Our first three legs, well, we ran our hearts out, even when we weren't in the lead.  Our anchor, Leah, got the baton with a deficit.  While we maybe didn't expect her to chase down Victor's anchor, Andrea, Courtney and I still believed that she could-so we cheered our brains out and jumped up and down as she set out with steely determination set across her face.  She carried the belief of the four of us with her, chased down the lead, and got us to the state meet.

Exhibit B.  This was also one of the greatest trips EVER.
  Fast forward a couple of years.  We'd been trying, year in and year out, to break the school record in the same relay.  Time and time again, we'd fall just a few seconds short.  Still, we never gave up on that number.  We wrote it across shirts, plastered it in our AIM profiles (again, showing my age), and huddled in rooms after practice, watching the video of when the original record had been set.  Finally, we got to the state meet, our final chance.  Here, we believed harder than ever that we could make it happen-and we finally did.  This huddle was pure happiness, the gathering of a bunch of kids with a common goal that they sure as heck weren't going to give up on.

Exhibit C.  More flash glare.  I have a rose from my teammates because I was a senior, not because I was extra special.  We can pretend that, though.
  Finally, this is an awards ceremony at the county meet my senior year of high school.  Judging from where we're all standing, everyone performed about up to expectations, except for two of us-Emily in fourth place, and me in eighth place.  We'd done better than we had expected, and I think that our smiles here show that.  I'd broken 20 minutes in a 5k for the first time ever (late bloomer).  I had no expectations whatsoever of the time in particular or the place; I'd actually had my worst race in a couple of years the weekend before.  But, all I'd done was run hard day in and day out, and eventually this had happened.  

  To me, these pictures suggest that our greatest joy comes not when sure bets occur, but instead when we accomplish what evidence suggests might be highly improbable at best.  Even though doubt might seem like the overwhelming emotion at times, holding tight to a deep-seated belief in the face of it keeps things possible, and makes them all the sweeter if they do in fact happen.  I certainly have my share of doubts right now.  Will this pelvis every finally just freaking heal?  Will I get my run back?  Will I get my bike power back?  Heck, will I get my bike endurance back?  Will I get back to the point where I'm crossing a finish line filled with happiness and positive emotion, rather than disappointment, or worse, indifference?  But, I'm doing what I can to keep some belief that all of this will, in due time, happen.  As an adult, belief looks a little bit different then it did 15 years ago as a high school kid.  I'm not puffy painting the word on various articles of clothing or chanting it before races these days.  Instead, belief becomes something that gets incorporated into what goes on day in and day out, even though nothing (other than swimming, really) is where I'd like it to be right now.  I'm not shoveling snow off of my car in -20 degree wind chills to go swim at 6am because I'm completely devoid of hope that I can really, truly utilize this time to become a better swimmer.  I'm not going after a different approach in the pool with some degree of enthusiasm because I'm convinced that it won't work.  I'm not continuing to turn the pedals of my bike even when then numbers aren't so hot because I don't think it will ever get better.  I'm not navigating through water walkers with fun noodles in the deep end of the pool while water running because there's no chance that I'll ever run a good marathon off the bike again.  I'm not avoiding my urge to keep pressuring for more because I don't know deep down that I should listen to those who have my best interests in mind.  And I'm taking my damn vitamin D and calcium daily.

   So when will I run again?  When will I race again?  When will I truly be "back"?  I have no idea (in a couple of days, it will officially be the longest amount of time I've gone without running at all since I started year-round in 1998), but I have a feeling that when that time comes, these past few months will just seem like a little blip on the radar, and, more importantly, it's all going to be better than it was before, anyways.  So that's what I'm holding onto right now.  Maybe it's foolish, but I'm holding onto the belief that there's good reason for all of this, that it's part of a plan that's somehow better and more satisfying and more joyful than whatever plan I'd been planning on.  I'm so, so lucky to be surrounded by those who care about my well-being and are able to balance the delicate interplay of the physical and emotional components of it.  For now, though, I'll gladly accept healing but not healed, and I'll continue to work on putting one foot (or arm...darn swimming) in front of the other!

I still love this shirt.  Bailey loves lounging.
(Then there's this.  During the Superbowl, URMC debuted their comeback ad.  Similar to the "mom" ad during the Olympics last year, it still gets the deep-seated sap in me every time (or maybe it's just the fact that female hormones work better without heavy training).)

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