Recovering from a major injury is a lot like a trail run.
In the beginning you're gathering information, plotting your course, phsyching yourself up for what you know will be a challenge. You get yourself ready and you head into it with optimism and energy - You can do this!
Through those first few miles you feel strong, moving along the trail with confidence. You know the way, you've been down similar paths before, you know you can do it. You come across an aid station and your friends are there, cheering for you and encouraging you to keep going, and you feel so grateful. You take a minute to rest and refresh, then head down the trail again.
Up ahead is a steep hill. You're starting to get tired, and your old friend doubt creeps into your thoughts, telling you "maybe you can't do this after all". You try to push yourself forward, try to keep a positive attitude, but your body and your mind are feeling worn out. You find it hard to imagine crossing the finish line - it seems so far away. So far, in fact, that you can't see it. You know there's still a lot hard work ahead of you, and you wonder how you'll get through it. But you trudge on, thinking of the goal, remembering all the people waiting for you at the finish, eager to complete the challenge.
The trail is a mix of ups and downs. Sometimes you're cruising downhill, feeling fine, looking towards the finish. Other times you're heading uphill, using all your will power to just keep going, trying to remember how you got into this situation in the first place. UP and DOWN. UP and DOWN.
In hand with the hills are moments of joy and moments of sorrow. You pass a few more aid stations, and are grateful to see that your friends are still there, still cheering for you, never tiring of throwing their support behind you. With kind words and gifts of chocolate they help you find the strength to push on. Then you stumble, fall to your knees, and hesitate to get back up. "This is too hard" you think. "I don't want to do this anymore". You shed some tears, spend some time feeling sorry for yourself, and then get yourself back up and keep heading down that trail.
You can see the finish line now. It's just ahead, and you realize that you're going to make it. You dig deep into yourself to tap into your last bit of energy. You push yourself forward, keeping your eyes on that finish line. As you come across it you're filled with intense relief, and a bit of pride. You did it! Your friends are there, celebrating with you,
You look back down the trail you've just completed. It's strange, but suddenly it seems like the trail wasn't that long. It feels as if it went by rather quickly, though you have in your memory all those hills you slowly trudged up and all the times you stumbled. You laugh at yourself, thank your friends for helping you get across the finish line, and pray with all your might that you'll never have to run that trail again.
It's been 102 days since I fell on a trail run and had to have surgery to reattach a torn hamstring. My recovery is not over, but I'm through the toughest part of it. For six weeks I was on crutches, with a brace locking my knee at a 30 degree angle. It was another week after the brace came off and the I shoved the crutches to the back of the closet before I could drive again. A few weeks after that and I was able to walk without much of a limp, climb stairs almost normally, tie my own shoes, and start doing some strengthening exercises.
On the 100th day after my fall I took my running shoes out. I enjoyed the thrill of tying them on (when you gain back the ability to do things you couldn't do for months, even the smallest tasks become great victories) and set out for a test jog around my neighborhood. It felt weird to be running again after being sedentary for so long. But with each awkward step I felt as if I was waking up from a long and difficult dream. I didn't get very far and I couldn't move very fast, but it still felt like something to celebrate.
Throughout those first weeks of my recovery there were many ups and downs. Or maybe it's more accurate to say there were long flat stretches where I just waited for time to pass and a few uphills where I struggled to keep a hold of optimism. I admit there were tears. It's a hard trail to travel when you lose your ability to do the things that make you feel like, well, like YOU. There were times when I wondered, "Who am I without running, hiking, climbing, and swimming?" I struggled with that question for a while, certain there had to be an answer that I just wasn't seeing. I must be someone. It turns out, there is no one answer. I am still all those things, and so much more. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a hard worker, a lover of nature, a cat lady (I admit it!)... I am the sum of all these things and so much more.
Many of you reading this were probably the friends that cheered for me along the way. I truly believe that without your support it would have been a dark and lonely journey. Thank you.
Yes, this experience has been a difficult trail to run, but like all experiences, there was much to be learned and gained from it.
May all your trails be sunny, flat, and full of joy.