The walls are bare, ghostly white without a single decoration to liven the mood. The sterile sheet of the examining table is scratchy against my thighs. My dad sits in the opal colored chair next to me, looking at the model of the knee the doctor keeps in the patient’s room. As we wait for the entrance of the doctor, my dad explains to me the different ligaments that compose the knee. He shows me which ones he has torn and which ones he has had replaced. My father is familiar with injury and with the disappointment of no longer being able to participate in the activities you love. I had been aware of his struggle most of my life, but I had never come so close to his experience until now. I was terrified. What would the doctor say? What was wrong with my legs that caused the pain? It wouldn’t be serious, would it? I’d recover quickly, right? As my thoughts moved from rational notions to fear-driven nonsense I thought back to my cross country races.
I stand with the rest of our women’s cross country team at the starting line, anxious yet excited for the race that was ever approaching. Sporting my green and white, lightweight uniform, I hear the familiar, “Good luck Chels,” and receive my pat on the head that Coach Holms delivers to each and every one of his runners before a race, addressing us each by our first name and telling us to do our best.
Lined up and ready to go, I mentally prepare myself for the race ahead. I begin to block out and ignore the discomfort that my shins have been bringing me the last few weeks due to shin splints. The trainer had told me there was nothing to be done about them, and it was up to me if I wanted to continue running or not. He said they would be quite painful, but they shouldn’t hinder my body or my race at all. So of course, true to my nature, desiring to succeed and unafraid of pain, I pushed forward throughout the season.
Thinking not of this but of the goal ahead, I get into my stance and wait for the sound of the gunshot that gives me permission to advance; permission to test my limits, permission to challenge my opponents, permission to give it my all. The huge crowd of girls bolts forward at the echoing sound of the gun, and we’re off in a test of wills, in a test of strength, in a fight to the finish.
Running was my joy. I loved the freedom of letting go and pushing forward. I relished in being in “the running zone”. My pace set, my breathing steady, my worries restrained by the boundaries of the course, unable to enter in. I loved coming upon a runner and mentally telling myself I would finish the race in front of that individual. I would quicken myself only slightly, more out of anticipation and a desire to fulfill my goal than anything else. Then, as I drew nearer I would increase my pace again, this time consciously with the intent of pulling forward. Upon achieving my goal I would congratulate myself on this small accomplishment, and as I fell back into my regular pace, my next victim would show up just around the corner.
By far the best part of any race, however, was the last mile. It was this mile that determined the outcome of the race, and it was in this mile that there was no longer any reason to hold back and conserve energy. The last straw, the last shebang, the last chance to give it everything I had left. It was also in this last mile that my real goal reached its fulfillment, and I always had the same goal. I was going to give the race everything I had, I was going to finish in front of as many people as I could, and I was going to cross the finish line knowing that I could not have possibly gone any faster or done any better. It was in running that I always finished feeling accomplished. That last quickened and yet steady mile showed me the fruits of my labor, while that final half mile sprint to the finish gratified all that I worked for throughout practices. This thrill, this sensation, this sense of accomplishment, this was the source of my joy in running, this was why I loved the sport that so many others avoided at all cost.
As I sprinted across the finish line and my joy of running hit its peak, the doctor came in. Suddenly, I was thrust back into panic. I was once again fearfully subjected to the words of the doctor. Average in height, his hair beginning to turn gray with the combination of aging and stress, he was very calm in his demeanor. He politely asked me how my day was going, to which I wanted to scream, “How do you think my day is going! The fate of my high school life is in your hands and you want to know how my day is going! Why don’t you give me the diagnosis and then I’ll decide how my day is going!” but instead I only replied, “I’m fine”. The doctor then proceeded to inform me about the increased pain I had been having in my shins. He told me that the trainer at my school had in fact been incorrect in his guidance. Shin splints, a condition that many athletes undergo as a result of heavy impact and demand on the legs, specifically the shins, was caused when the muscle began to tear away from the bone. The weakness in the legs causes athletes pain along the bone, but, with ice and rest, the leg would heal and the athlete would again be able to partake in their sport. The trainer at school had been incorrect in this circumstance, however, to tell me that I could continue running with no problems or complications other than the pain caused. My continued rigorous daily running in practices and meets had caused additional damage to my shins increasing their weakness and causing the additional pain I had been experiencing. I had unknowingly allowed this to continue to the point where I now had hairline fractures in my bone all along the front of my shin. The condition was called a stress fracture.
“So what exactly does that mean?” I asked, “I mean as far as my ability to run goes.”
“You are going to have to give up running, Chelsie. At least for the time being,” he replied.
“WHAT! For how long? Like a couple of races?”, I asked, though secretly I had already decided, “You can’t tell me what to do I’ll run if I want to run I can handle the pain I’ve already proven that The trainer at school said that I could keep running it was just going to hurt I don’t mind I want to keep running!”
“No, you are finished for the rest of the season if not longer. These are hairline fractures along both of your legs. If you continue to run, your legs will break without question.”
Break without question. Break without question. That was a different story. I didn’t want to deal with a broken leg, or two for that matter. I had never broken a bone, but I was pretty sure that was something I did not want to bring upon myself if at all avoidable. But not able to run anymore, was he insane? I didn’t want to give up running. I loved running. I was good at running. When I ran it was me versus myself. I was able to succeed, I was able to excel, I was able to do well and be proud of my accomplishments.
I was devastated to say the least. I left the doctors office that day quite depressed. My family attempted to cheer me up, but I needed a little time to soak in what had just happened. I did talk to my dad that night, however. I told him that now I understood what is what like to have your body restrain you from performing those activities that your heart really loves the most.
The doctor told me that if I spent an entire year without running, my legs should return in their strength and I would more than likely be able to fully participate in running or whatever sport I chose. I went to a physical therapist who worked with me and gave me stretches to perform to aide me in my recovery. He did an excellent job and explained to me the way that the muscles connect and where my problems lied. I learned which muscles I had to stretch extra well in order to reduce the strain put on the muscles surrounding my shins. I did these stretches diligently and while my legs healed and the pain decreased, they were never fully restored. I am sorry to say that I am still unable to run the way I once did. If I go for a short run once a month or so I am able to do so without pain. Any more, however, and I need to stop. I have had to adapt and wear supportive shoes when going to work, to the mall, or to any activity that is going to require me to be on my feet. Last year, I began my first year of college in which classes are spread out and time is precious. Wearing cute flip flops and sandals to class, I was soon reminded of the pain of my high school days, forcing me to wear only boring clogs, tennis shoes, shoes with support. Though this is my restriction, I still keep those flip flops and sandals around because the road to recovery isn’t over, and even though I’m not quite there yet, sometimes I just can’t resist leaving for class with those cute, unsupportive sandals on my feet.