Redefining Yourself After Injury

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This article was published in this year’s winter issue of The Mark.

 Photograph by Bob Dahlberg

Sports are often a critical aspect of athletes’ lives and identities: with daily practices and weekly games, they take incredible commitment. As a result, many athletes who suffer from an injury lose a significant part of their life. They are forced to ask themselves: Who am I without my sport?

Senior and outside-linebacker Douglas Adams said that football is the thing that “brings me happiness and gives me a reason to want to improve, if that’s academically or on the field.” 

Sophomore soccer and basketball player Abby Ko said, “I was on my soccer team for four years, so we had a really strong team community. We were like a really tight-knit family, we were always there for each other, and we became really close.”

However, Adams explained, “anything can happen at any given time. Just as fast as you were given the ability to play a sport, it can be taken away.” 

Ko tore her ACL in 2019 and subsequent knee injuries followed, preventing  her from playing basketball and soccer. She said, “When I was given the diagnosis, it hit really hard. It was this slow realization that I wouldn’t be able to play my sports for at least a year. Sports were a big part of my life, so I had no idea what I was going to do from then on. ”

 Kieran Kunihiro, a senior and varsity soccer player, had a stress fracture in his elbow in his junior year. Kunihiro played soccer all his life and said,  “Not being able to play felt like a big part of my life was taken away from me.” He said that prior to his injury, “I was pushing my body way too much with no rest and no recovery.” 

High school athletes often have rigorous training schedules because of the competitive atmosphere, causing them to feel pressured when injured. M-A basketball coach Mike Molieri explained, “knowing there’s cuts, athletes push themselves past their limit to improve. They’ll do additional training outside of practice, and it’s just too much wear and tear on their bodies. I’ve especially seen an increase in injuries after the pandemic because kids feel like they need to make up for the time they lost during quarantine. ”

In his sophomore year, Adams suffered a broken tibia, which barred him from playing football for several months.  He said, “My injury affected my mental health terribly. I was at one of the lowest points of my life and I went through a lot of mental health problems.  At that point in my life, sports were my everything, so I was pretty lost when I wasn’t able to play.” 

Kunihiro said, “It was hard watching my friends continue playing and improving knowing that I just had to sit and watch and wasn’t able to participate.”

Whether permanently or temporarily, athletes who have been injured, as well as those who won’t continue playing after high school, must realize that sports will not always be in their  lives. Leo Krupnik, M-A soccer coach of six years said,  “It’s always sad when something ends, right? We want to continue doing what we love, but there’s nothing that’s never-ending. There’s always an end to something good.” He explained,  “we have to realize that there’s more to life than just the game. [Soccer] is a great game—it’s one of the best things that you can do in your life—but at the end of the day, it’s just a game.” 

Ko explained, “Sports can be very important, but there should be a limit to how much you invest into it. If your entire life revolves around a sport, and then you lose that sport, then what are you? Athletes should branch out to other things so that they have multiple things to identify with when their time in sports reaches an end.”

And that’s exactly what Adams, Kunihiro, and Ko did. Their time off for recovery allowed them to reflect and explore other passions. Adams said, “I learned more about myself while I was injured. I know I became mentally stronger. ” Adams mentioned that during his recovery he found an interest in psychology and plans to pursue it in college.

Kunihiro said, “I definitely improved my mental health after I overcame my injury. I knew I had to take steps towards injury prevention and a new mindset. I decided I wasn’t going to take anything for granted.” He said he found a lot of happiness volunteering and drawing while he was injured and plans to continue both hobbies. 

Ko also explored several new interests, such as learning two new coding languages and interviewing local business owners for a new journalism project. Unlike Kunihiro and Adams, Ko’s persistent knee injuries made her unable to return to basketball and soccer, so she decided to join the water polo team. Ko said, “At first water polo was awful—I was terrified. I had never played before and didn’t know many people. But then there was a slow process of learning to love it, and now I want to continue doing it.”

Adams said, “I thought it was over. There were a lot of days where I struggled in physical therapy and wanted to quit. But, with the help of my physical therapist, my coach, and others, I got through it and am back on the football field.” He assures all other injured athletes that “the sun will shine again.”

This is Sarah's third year in journalism. She loves writing in-depth pieces about problems in our community, school, or society and advocating for various solutions. Outside of journalism she enjoys reading, baking, spending time in the outdoors, and playing with her dog.

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