Sport as a sense of identity

If someone asked me to describe myself in a few sentences, I’d answer immediately. I know exactly who I am. My identify is intricately linked to my biggest passion; I’m a snowboarder. I’m this before being a film-maker, daughter, advertising executive, sister, auntie or friend. Nothing defines my identity more then what I have dedicated my whole life to. I live and breathe everything that snowboarding stands for. Snowboarding is in my blood. If I’m not a snowboarder, then who am I?

 

Injury strikes:

Recently I suffered a pretty serious ligament tear to my ankle. Doctors were frothing to operate on it, being such a rare injury (spring ligament). I had just began to walk again without crutches or a moonboot when I tore the MCL (medial collateral ligament) in my left knee. I just tapped a tree. Yes, I was snowboarding. Yes, maybe it was too soon after my ankle injury but, I couldn’t cancel a trip to Japan with record December snowfalls! It wasn’t like I fell or tore my knee off a jump or anything. I tapped a f**king tree traversing a single track. My heart sunk as I felt that familiar pain (I’ve already had 3 knee surgeries). It was two days into my trip and my season was over. I found myself in Japan, a long way from home with a torn left knee and a torn right ankle. It was Christmas, I was alone and I was devastated. I found solace in alcohol and a few bad decisions.

 

Moments before tearing my MCL in Niseko, Japan:

 

 

Dr. Doom and the downward spiral:

Returning to Australia I saw doctor after doctor, surgeon after surgeon, physio after physio. My bionic torn knee was on the mend. The ankle however, needed an apparent full ligament reconstruction plus an arthroscopy to ‘vacuum’ up the debris mess on the other side. I was beside myself. I had a big trip to Alaska booked in 10 weeks with helicopters, 3500ft chutes and fluted spines that you only see in ski movies (the dream!). I wasn’t insured for surgery. I wasn’t insured to cancel my trip. I couldn’t even fathom being non-weight baring for 3-6 months. I feel into the worst sadness I’ve ever felt.

 

Not being able to stay active, train or hang with my friends surfing, had a profound effect on my physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. Activities, yoga and going on adventures is the majority of what I do in my free time. Being immobile robbed me of my social network and my confidence. At the same time, my family were telling me to quit snowboarding; the doctors were telling me to quit; my colleagues were baffled with my love of something that was so tough on my body. My brother (a doctor), even stopped taking to me. He felt I was a lost cause. I even stopped talking to my dad as the words ‘you can’t’ over and over again were stabbing at my very soul. I always sought refuge from life’s stresses in the ocean with my surfing or in my yoga practice. At this time though, I had nowhere to get away. I was a prisoner of my own body and thoughts. My self-esteem was at an all time low. I just couldn’t see the wood from the trees.

Athlete injury and depression

The opposite of stoked

 

 

Transitioning:

When your athletic successes have always defined who you are, to have his taken away from you is confronting. It left me open and exposed, questioning my purpose in life. Without snowboarding or with the prospect of not snowboarding again for a very long time, I really didn’t know who I was.  It really hit home that I needed something else in my life to drive me other then snowboarding. I wondered how my friends had made the transition from athlete to business owners, mothers, world-wanderers or any other amazing ‘things’ that they do now, so easily. Surely they had also gone through these same emotions? Or maybe they didn’t ‘love’ snowboarding as much as I do. I doubt it.

MCL knee injury rehabilition

Back in the gym and taking it one leg press at a time.

 

 

Open to new experiences:

15 weeks since my ankle injury and 10 weeks since my knee, I am slowly starting to feel myself again. I’m back on my yoga mat, back seeing my friends and slowly doing more in the gym without pain. Alaska is 3 weeks away and I’m feeling confident to be able to ride stable, safe and strong. The last few months have taught me a lot about myself, my body and my mind. I’m yet to find another passion or interest that doesn’t involve using my body but I’m more open to try new things and look for new challenges. I’ve realised that I can be so much more then just a snowboarder and I look forward to what the future brings (finally).

Alexa Hohenberg snowboarding in Alaska

Dreaming of lines like this one in Alaska.

 

 

This post is dedicated to Kaitlyn Farrington, the current Olympic gold halfpipe medalist. In 2014, Kaitlyn was diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis of her spine (something she has had since birth but only recently found out following a fall and MRI scan). This condition forced her to retire from professional snowboarding at 25 years old.  Another fall in the pipe or on her snowboard could leave her paralysed for life. The stakes are just too high. What Kaitlyn is going through puts everything into perspective for me. Though she is still able to snowboard, her whole world has been ripped away. I admire her strength, positive outlook and knowledge that she has so many more experiences ahead of her outside of snowboarding.

 

 

Kaityln Farrington discusses being forced to retire from professional snowboarding:

 

 

About the author

Still Stoked (Alexa)

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream.
I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)

7 Comments

  • Wow, I am so happy this article somehow popped up on my phone. It was just what I needed right now. Thank you!!!! My passion is surfing and bodyboarding. (It has been for the last 41 years, and although I’m not a pro or even a “ripper” I love it so much and it is a key part of my life.) Six weeks ago another surfer accidentally ran over my leg and his fin left a deep gash that required 26 stitches at the ER. It is almost healed up, but I have been wondering if I will have some hesitation and fear when I can finally return to the waves. And I have definitely been feeling like a part of my identity is missing, and depressed because of it. Thanks for showing me that my feelings aren’t trivial or like those of a spoiled kid, and that I am not alone. It really helps! Val

    • Hi Val!
      I’m so sorry that happened to you! Im in a similar sitaution myself, I cut my arm on my surfboard fin a few days ago and am nursing 7 stitches whilst on day 2 of a surf trip to Sri Lanka (obviosuly can’t surf). 26 stitches is unheard of – I can only try to imagine how sad you must be. It is always hard coming back from an injury but I’m 100% confident that you can work through it. Don’t let anything dim your love for the ocean. Remember that your attitude and emotions to the situation are a choice and you can choose to be strong and excited to get in the ocean again. I wish you all the best of luck for your recovery and the amazing surfs ahead of you.

      Thanks for reading, I’m so touched that you found so much help in these words.

      Alexa xxx

  • I injured my lower back pretty bad. Im deciding on not getting surgery and just wanted to know if you got surgery or not? Would love to learn more on what you did to treat your injuries.

    • Hi Jeff,
      Sorry to hear about your back, back injuries can be really tough, I did my SI joint years ago and it was by far the worst pain I ever experienced (I treated it with regular acupuncture & building my core strength through pilates, swimming and yoga).

      I have had many injuries with 3x knee surgeries (lateral meniscus tears) and 1x shoulder reconstruction but with the injuries I wrote about in this article, I did not get surgery (the ankle they were very keen to operate on). I just couldn’t do another surgery. I wanted to explore if I could rehab it back to health. I decided to see a podiatrist for my ankle as they look at foot arches everyday (I had torn the ligament that holds up the arch in your foot), and I worked with a great physio that 100% understood the mechanics of my sport (I sent a variety of physios a brief and asked them to respond on their experience with snowboard athletes).

      I also had regular acupuncture and changed my diet while I was healing (I took ‘Deer Velvet’ which promotes growth of tissue). My physio and podiatrist worked together and I worked really hard in the gym on whatever they told me. I can’t stress acupuncture enough though, It is the first thing I do post injury when I have swelling and when the injury is acute. It really helped me with my back injury although people do respond to acupuncture differently. Hopefully it works for you too.

      Good luck, stay strong and dedicated to your recovery x

  • I am so glad I’ve found this. I’m only 2 weeks post injury (suspected complete MCL rupture with ACL involvement) after one stupid fall on my first day of a week on the slopes. I’m losing my mind already, and feel so lost, so emotional, so worthless and useless, along with being backed into a corner to return to work as I can’t afford to be off. Reading this makes me realise that I’m human to feel like this and that it just highlights my passion for my sports that I’m unable to do right now. The thought of not snowboarding or mountain biking again brings me to tears, and no i’m not being neurotic, I’m being human, and to read your post makes me feel a little better about it. xx

    • Hey Gem, it’s so tough hey but it’s totally the process you go through and it’s healthy to go through it. Stay positive, figure out new fun things to focus on (like yourself and other hobbies you never have time for cos you’re always riding!). You’ll get there.. i did. It took time and a few margaritas but you’ll pull through. Good luck chick, thanks for reading x

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I went through all the same feelings when I broke my leg a few years ago. I wasn’t able to play netball for months and I missed out on all the team functions. I felt really left out and lost. I can totally relate to how you were feeling. Good on you for sharing. I know it is hard but this post will help others. Jenna xox

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