Image: Unsplash – Abigail Keenan
[Aimone Sharif | Sports Manager]
“I felt angry! I was frustrated with everything! Nothing would fill in the hole I had inside of me; I just wanted to get back into the game as soon as possible.” Those are the words Jaide Garcia used when she talked about her sports injury during her time at university.
Being an athlete is rarely a walk in the park with all the potential injuries that glare at you from around the corner. But that doesn’t stop you from participating and continuing what you love, until it hits you hard. Student-athletes are university students with all the challenges and opportunities presented to emerging adults with an additional role. As sports performers, and in many cases campus celebrities, student-athletes wear the colours of their school and to represent the hopes and expectations of their campus and community.
Injuries are commonly perceived to have a physical impact, and more so than not, they are considered visible and temporary. The emotional impact and trauma of an injury on an athlete has been the topic of recent discussion. Studies led by NCAA have shown that more than 50 per cent of the pain felt by injured athletes is emotional, and it is vital to follow a student-athlete throughout the whole process of rehabilitation to ensure health and wellbeing.
The recent Emotional Responses of Athletes to Injury Questionnaire (ERAIQ) showed that the most common emotions and reactions injured athletes feel include depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance use or abuse. Student-athletes experience the same emotions as ‘normal athletes’. The loss of independence can lead to sadness, frustration, anger and irritation amongst others.
Jaide Garcia, Sports Journalist at CNN and graduate at Loyola Marymount University In Los Angeles, explains her pathway as an injured footballer:
“I have been playing since a really young age and always loved it, then went to uni, and I still enjoyed it but the pressure was unimaginable, and when you are on a scholarship you better deliver academically, and sports-wise.”
Jaide tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) three years ago during playing season; she explains she is grateful to have had the help she did on campus from physiotherapists and doctors but admits that the emotional battle has been the hardest.
“When you lose the ability to walk normally without pain, that’s when you feel at your lowest, it’s like you have reached rock bottom” she explains. She follows on to say that she felt low and slightly depressed with a feeling she would never get back up throughout rehab. “Now I play with guys like I did in my prime; I still feel wary but not playing is not an option!”
At the University of Hertfordshire, several students are on scholarship due to their national sporting level, one of them is canoeing Slalom-International (GB Senior Team), Kimberley Woods. Woods tore her ACL on the 31st of January 2015, and she decided to go through the operation in November: “It was the best decision ever,” she exclaims. When asked how she felt being injured and out of her sport she replies “shocked, angry, and frustrated.” The coming back phase was mentally and physically draining; other struggles arose due to the time taken off training and spare time to overthink. She explains that it has had a good impact on her life as she is now aware that her body has limits and has learned not to push it too far.
“The fear is still there, and I get taken aback when I feel sudden pain or do a quick movement, I know I will always have a fear of injuring myself again, but you can’t live in fear, can you?”
ACL injuries are the most common long-term injury, research by The Guardian shows that women suffer nearly eight times more from an injury than men and that one in ten women playing university sports will suffer from an ACL injury. Nevertheless, men are not spared from the infamous injury; UH student, Stuart Cook, talks about his injury and his rollercoaster ride back to shape.
Cook participated in sports for 11 years until he joined the university’s football and futsal teams. “I don’t even remember the injury happening,” says Cook, “apparently I was running and dribbling, and my knee just gave way, all I remember is excruciating pain.” Cook felt that the period after the surgery was the worst; he dealt with sitting on the bench by the sideline while his friends played. When asked about the emotional trauma, Cook replies:
“It has been quite depressing and to come back to playing and not being anywhere as good a player as before the injury, but it has made me mentally a lot stronger.”
ACL injuries and related ligaments injuries are visible and even if there is no definitive time for recovery and no guarantee to ever get back as strong as before, those injuries are common and injured athletes are graced by the amount of help available. But what if your injury was invisible? Or considered less important? Abby Sanderson, footballer, referee, and coach, was hit by a hockey ball at the age of 13 during a PE game. “I got injured while playing hockey. I was hit with the hockey ball which unfortunately hit my rib where it joins my sternum and because of the impact I buckled forward. I tore all my ligaments from my neck to hip on the right-hand side of my body,” Sanderson says she had to quit what she loved the most for a whole year and had to sit tight waiting for the pain to subside, feeling excluded from school sports and frustrated while doing so. Seven years down the line, Sanderson has run a succession of races, half marathons and, in October 2015, made it to the York marathon finish line. She is back into sports. Her injury still hurts daily even when she sits down, and it’s a pain she would not wish even on her enemy.
“I will go through phases when it is manageable and then at times it gets so painful again where I can’t play until it recovers. I feel that even though I do play when I go in for tackles, I am still scared as impact hurts my ribs so much, and I don’t want to be out of the game again.”
Sanderson claims that the emotional trauma will always follow her, yet when she competes in races, she feels normal and more determined than ever to succeed.
The Health and Wellbeing Centre at UH provides students with support throughout their student life. A Student Wellbeing Advisor explains that the inexistence of a sports psychologist is felt as “a lot of injured athletes come to us, and we have to redirect them to specialised help.”
UH Physiotherapy student, Jessica Curtis, explains that while she works as a physiotherapist, she also has to deal with the emotional impact her athletes face as no-one is available to do this at the Sports Village either. “The mental state of the players is key to injury rehabilitation, in order for the player to get better they need to want to get better,” she explains. She continues by confirming the draining and frustrating process of rehabilitation, as part of the Physiotherapy course involves learning about the emotional and psychological trauma to be able to put the athlete at ease when needed. Although the University lacks a sports psychologist, therapists are available to provide guidance if required at the performance sports gym (in the Sports Village).
Injuries will always catch up with you no matter how careful you are, but it is part of the journey of an athlete. The students interviewed did not regret participating in sports despite their injuries and some even claimed that their injuries made them stronger. Cook has now started to play for the UH Futsal Team again, Sanderson is currently a Female Football 2nd team player, Woods is back into training and Garcia, grateful to be back more than ever, is still playing sports even though she is now a graduate.