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?
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.
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.
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).
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: