How to be Injured (Injuries, Pt. 2)

People tend to talk about an athlete’s performance before injury, how they got injured, and then jump all the way forward to when that person has returned to glory. There’s a lot in between that you don’t get to hear enough about if you hope to be well-prepared for the tough road ahead.

When you do get injured (I’m so, so, so sorry), even if you’ve done everything in your power to prevent it from happening, it’s tough. In 2007, I developed a stress fracture in my back that ended my season before it started. Before that point, I hadn’t focused at all on keeping my lower back safe in the throw, and thousands of repetitions later, it almost broke. I was in college classes and had wonderful friends, sure, but my main identity at that point was “javelin thrower.” I didn’t make the best decisions (drank my Calories that semester), got the worst grades of my life, and was just generally a mess for about four months. I healed a lot that summer through family time, falling completely and totally for my future husband, and just removing myself from the environment that I’d gotten injured in. I had to have a major reset before I could go back and eventually make my first Olympic Team in 2008. When I tore my ACL in 2012, I promised myself I’d approach the injury in a more positive way. Here are the hard lessons I’ve learned in how to approach surgery or a major injury and the subsequent rehab.

1.       Get a life.

What makes you, you outside of your sport? You’re about to have some extra free time to explore other areas of your life. I applied for the USOC/DeVry University’s scholarship program in the Fall of 2012 (after my knee surgery), and cried the day I learned I’d been accepted and would be pursuing an MBA. My emotions about that program really freaked me out at first, but I realized eventually that I had been *only* a javelin thrower for three years at that point, and deep down I’d been craving something else in my life. I’m thrilled to have realized through that injury that it’s possible to pursue goals in multiple areas of life at once. I also started a year-long photography project that January 1. Whatever moves you, let yourself explore it during an injury period. You can rest your body while you expand your mind.

Related to this is enjoying life as much as possible before you’re entirely focused on healing. Russ and I hiked and camped for a solid month before my knee surgery in 2012. Those are treasured memories outside with him, and looking at the pictures from that trip motivated me during my rehab. I wanted to get back out there.

2.       Assemble your team.

Who can best help you succeed? Rest a full recovery from injury does not make. I watch far too many people just wait to feel better. Put your physical therapy/doctor/perhaps sports psychology team in place before you have your surgery/are ready to take the rehabilitation steps. Do your research, trust your gut, and choose people who will help you work hard to be even better than you were before your setback.

One of the questions I got about this blog was, “Is it true you were on a bike the day after your surgery?” in reference to my ACL surgery. Chris Garcia, one of my favorite PTs on the planet, was absolutely essential in my recovery, and continues to be a confidence booster for me through hard work in my twice-yearly or more visits to Sports Performance Physical Therapy. He put me on a stationary bike one day post-op, and while I didn’t cycle all the way around until about a week later, that activity so quickly after my first major surgery shocked me into realizing that I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself, and I’m incredibly grateful for that gift. (Once the range-of-motion stuff started later in the session, I felt a little sorry for myself again, but those difficult steps are just as important.)

Your support system is a huge part of returning to sport as your best you. People who believe in your abilities as an athlete will help you plan to succeed. Having loved ones to commiserate with on the hard days is important. Choose people who will empower you to face this journey bravely: Those who would hold your hand every step of the way do not have your best interests in mind. Key players on your team are essential. Ultimately though, your recovery is up to you…

3.       Do what you can with what you’ve got.

What can you work on that doesn’t involve your injured parts? I started upper body lifting in the second week after my ACL surgery, and my focus that entire year was improving my bench press and pullovers (lifts I had historically been weak in). I did up to 900 seated medball throws per week that year. After my left shoulder surgery in 2015, Jamie programmed heavy sled pulls for my lower body lifting until I could use the safety bar for squats. I stayed in my sling for safety and pulled that sled at a walk for weeks in all directions. I ran never-ending stadiums after I broke my arm. If your throwing shoulder or elbow is injured, you are absolutely able to keep your core and legs strong. A little creativity, a lot of communication with the people who are watching over your healing, and some asking for help in the weight room mean you can be stronger than ever in other areas of your body when you jump back into sport. Rehab time when you have supervision is for your actual injury, but there is a TON you can do to stay sharp with the rest of your body during normal training hours. Just be smart about it.

Two specific questions I got via Instagram:

“I have an elbow pains during and some after throws what should I do to heal it quickly?”

Forget about focusing on healing quickly: Shift your focus to healing correctly. There is absolutely no reason to rush it.

“Currently I’m out with a shoulder injury and I’m not allowed to throw for four weeks, if not more. What do you recommend to not lose the technique, because I’m not allowed to even lift up my arm really so I can’t even just practice my steps with a jav or with my arm up. Any recommended exercises or drills?”

Like I said, there is a TON you can work on technique-wise with your lower body. Controlling the javelin within technique is obviously important to throwing far, but if you can’t do that, don’t do that. I’ve done countless crossovers while pulling a sled. Work on block leg stability, both in a javelin-specific way and from a rehabilitation standpoint (balance work, theraband work, etc.). Get creative and remember how much you CAN do.

4.       Be patient. Also celebrate.

Things worth doing take time! Surgeries and the processes that go on inside your body to heal from them are actually amazing. An ACL bone-patella-bone graft (what I had) is a chunk of tendon with two chunks of bone on either end that the surgeon inserts into the middle of your knee at a specific angle. Then, over time, your body lays down new tissue to turn that tendon into a ligament (anterior cruciate ligament, ya know). AMAZING. Those processes, and the ones for any other major injury, take specific amounts of time for your incredible body to heal. Patiently allow them to happen. If you rush, you just risk re-injury and annoying the people who are trying to help you (read: heartache and disappointment all around). Take the opportunity to develop new habits as far as treating your body well goes: Employ recovery methods like stretching, cryotherapy or what have you every day. Be diligent about the exercises you’re allowed to do. Some days will be terrible, but there is ALWAYS a little victory to be had in each day. If you balanced on one leg for 5 more seconds or felt your shoulder blade move correctly for the first time, even if it’s weak, celebrate. Little daily victories pile up, and make the process a lot more enjoyable than constant complaints.

Throughout an injury, just remember that you are an athlete, even though you’re an injured one. It’s easy to feel like your identity is suddenly stripped from you, but maybe find a new one, and when it’s time to test your athletic ability again, trust that it won’t have magically left your body during your healing process. Recognize the time you have to spend with loved ones or pursue other interests during an injury, and be grateful for those new experiences. Gratitude is powerful, and so are you.

Specific questions about specific injuries belong in another kind of blog post, so please be patient with me! Part three of this series will finally discuss how to return from injury. Stay tuned!

How to Prevent Injury (Injuries, Pt. 1)

I started writing a blog about how to return from injury, then found myself writing about three different facets of injury. So now I am writing three different blogs. This is the first one!

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to miss out on playing time because our bodies betray us. Sadly, that hasn’t been my experience, but there are a few things you can do as a developing athlete to try and ward off injury:

1.       Be well-rounded.

As this world gets more and more competitive, it is more and more common for athletes to focus on just one sport really early in life. That can lead to injury. Continue to be a well-rounded athlete for as long as possible.

I’m a huge advocate for playing other sports, especially growing up. Tee-ball and softball were my first sports, I played soccer, volleyball, and basketball, swam and finally tried track and field in 8th grade. I vividly remember getting cut from the first basketball tryout I went to, and even took a tennis lesson once. I used to golf with my Mom. We went on (very few!) ski trips in elementary and middle school, and surfing on vacation in Hawaii. I was a three-sport athlete all through high school, and my track season each year remained relegated to track season until I was a scholarship athlete at Purdue. I had traumatic injuries, sure (turned ankles, some connective tissue damage from throwing in the cold, a bruised tailbone after an off-kilter rebound, a broken arm (from mud football with my friends)), but I didn’t experience an overuse injury until I became a single-sport athlete. Take a moment to google “overuse injuries in youth sports,” and let that plethora of returns motivate you to stay well-rounded.


These days, my well-roundedness includes walking the dog every day, running with her, swimming laps each week, and hikes with my Russ. He and I have talked about how great hiking is for glute and core stabilization, and therefore for knee and back health. My healthiest professional seasons have been in conjunction with home renovation (read: manual labor), and I guarantee it’s because I’m moving my body in different planes than it needs to to throw the javelin. Give your javelin muscles a break. Do something ELSE physical that makes you happy.

2.       Pre-hab.

You’re probably familiar with the abbrev. “rehab.” Its lesser-known partner, prehabilitation, is my favorite. Athletes (and this was the case with me) often have to go through injury and the subsequent rehabilitation to realize that there is something they could have done before disaster struck to possibly avoid it. I had no idea how my knees *should* be moving before I tore my ACL, and now that I have the knowledge, my heart hurts sometimes thinking about what could have been if I’d been proactive before.

Seek out a physical therapist who employs preventative therapy. More and more, physical therapy clinics are diagnosing imbalances and weaknesses in clients and tailoring specific programs to help individuals overcome them and prevent further injury as a result. You might come in with a specific complaint, but a fantastic physical therapy office won’t just treat the culprit and send you away, they’ll take a look at how your entire body is moving and help you correct things you didn’t know were wrong. Pain in a certain area doesn’t mean that area is the only problem. If you are in Southern California, PLEASE go see Sports Performance Physical Therapy. If you’re somewhere else, it’s likely that the SP Team could help you get linked up with a quality provider in your area.

Athletes have egos. That is an age-old truth. But please remember that the way your body moves is just a fact. You’ve done nothing wrong to this point to make it move “badly” or “well.” If you’re already an athlete, you’re doing great, but imagine how much better you could perform if you weren’t hindered by little hiccups in your movement. Check your ego and just go see. Ironing out the kinks that you’re not fully aware of could mean complete freedom on the playing field. That's the opportunity that a good PT is living for. They are wonderful people who love sport and only want to help you perform at your very best. If you’ve already been introduced to a clinic through injury, that’s unfortunate, but use that relationship to build on your foundation when you’re reintroduced to sport after the injury rather than turning your back on what’s easy to compartmentalize as a difficult time in your life. Turn that rehab into prehab, and become the best you.

3.       Rest and recovery.

Work work work work work, then RECOVER. Regardless of sport, recovery from activity is essential to avoiding injury. You get nothing from the high quality work you put in if you don’t give your body an opportunity to absorb it. If you deny your body the chance to heal from all of the micro-trauma it goes through in training, eventually it will retaliate.

Recovery days could be anything in my book. If I’m just at home, I’ll do some core and go for a swim after yard work. If I want more adventure or I have something planned with Russ and Maddie, it means paddleboarding, hiking, fishing (sitting in nature’s ice tub while Russ fishes), or other outdoorsy fun. If I’m in Europe and travel days have been particularly frequent, I count that exhaustion (plus always core) as my activity for the day and cut my swimming way down, prioritizing rest otherwise. Active recovery is anything that balances your body back out from the stresses of the sport you do. Bonus points if your chosen method of recovery also relaxes your mind (my outdoors and family focus).

Recovery also includes things like massage therapy, chiropractic work, NormaTec system usage, contrast baths, etc. Again, putting your body back together after hard work and before more hard work happens. You must reset and restore the body before you ask more of it, or you’re just piling on to a stressed system. If I ignore this part, eventually I’ll be feeling pretty good in a lift, and all of a sudden my old friend the back spasm will show up. Recovery is important for good performance, yes, but that’s because it allows quality training to continue.

Rest is something altogether different than recovery. I LOVE me an entire day at home with Madeline, walking when we feel like it, napping, cooking new recipes, maybe pulling a weed outside, playing piano, and binge-watching funny shows. I can be very, very good at an off day. Sometimes the three of us will go out to the farm to play Bridge with Russ’s grandparents and enjoy a gorgeous sunset fetch. Complete rest days are necessary for body and (my) soul.

I was sick last week. I won’t go into too much detail, but GI distress away from home is no fun. I barely left my hotel room for three days and still didn’t quite feel right during warm-ups for the Athletics World Cup. The worst night of my sickness, I was up and down all night from 11pm-on, but slept well when I was down, then slept until 3pm. I had absolutely no trouble sleeping that night either. Come competition day, I was surprised by how good my body felt, even if my stomach was still complaining! The reason is rest. It is so healing. Do it.


My career is not a great example of how to avoid injury (L5 stress fracture 2007, ACL tear 2012, L shoulder labrum and rotator cuff tears 2015), but it is a great example of how to learn from difficult experiences and return to action, and for that I hope you'll heed my words. I wish I’d done more to prevent injury earlier in my career, especially from a prehab standpoint. Be wiser than I was.

Part 2 will revolve around the mental aspects of being injured; preparing for a surgery and the immediate aftermath of that, the first few physical therapy appointments, and getting through the really trying parts of the recovery process. Please let me know if you have specific questions for that blog! I have some saved from my Instagram request for questions on this topic before.

In Part 3 I plan to talk about return to sport. Most of you asked about this, so thanks for your patience!