Second part of my story in the us

I finished the first part of my experience in the USA with my indoor season – which wasn’t exactly as planned as I switched from the 400m to the 800m. But overall the results were promising and I had two new strong PRs after that indoor season, so I was excited to start my outdoor season and finally compete in my event – the 400m hurdles.

However, I still wouldn’t say that I really felt like I fit in with the team environment, nor did I enjoy living in the US in such a small town where you basically can’t do anything. I had made a few good friends by then, so that was a plus, but I just wasn’t able to enjoy it as much because it was a lot overall. So, in addition to the outside pressure to prove that I was the right person to get a scholarship, I also put a lot of pressure on myself to do well – because I was only there to improve my track times, and this environment was the price for that. Because of all that, I became primarily fixated on my performance…

The outdoor season started in March with a track meet in the Bahamas – yeah, that was pretty awesome! – but when I started sprinting again, my hamstring started giving me problems again (what a surprise?!). So, in the first two meets, I ran the 400m hurdles and the relay, but I was thinking about my hamstring problems all the time and was afraid that I would pull a muscle at any moment. I managed to get decent times, but not times that made me or the coaching staff happy because we all wanted more – but my hamstring and my mental state at that point didn’t allow that… So finally, since I couldn’t run without pain anymore, we took a break and let my hamstring rest for two weeks, which finally helped – what rest can do is incredible, and sometimes just what you need… – but of course, it wasn’t perfect for the season, because I missed practices and meets.

So my first competition back wasn’t good, and I cried so much as this was all I focused on… That day was my grandmother’s birthday, and I called to congratulate her. I remember she asked me how I was doing, and I told her about my bad competition and that I was disappointed in myself and my performance. I’ll never forget her answer, how she said that she was sorry to hear that and that she didn’t want me to be sad, but that a bad competition was not the end of the world. She was proud of me and loves me no matter my time I run. She thinks it is excellent that I have the opportunity to have the experience of living in the USA and traveling to so many different places while doing what I love (and enjoyed…)—knowing that at my age, she would never have had those opportunities. This call showed me that at the end of the day, the people who love you care about your happiness and not your results in a competition.

However, that didn’t sink in yet, so when my hamstring was back to normal, I had to catch up – if that truly makes sense, I won’t go into it here (shortly, NO it doesn’t) – and just a few weeks later, I developed pain in my foot… After a week of constant pain, I talked to the ATS and my coach, but at that point, we were about to finish the regular season, and the championship season started… An MRI recommended by a doctor was postponed until after the season was over – and my pain started to get worse every day while I trained on it – what a surprise again…

The week before Regionals (this meet is the meet where you can qualify for NCAA Nationals, which is the biggest meet in the NCAA and a world-class meet!!), my pain became the worst it has ever been. I really could not walk a step without pain, so I was humping outside of practice and trying to walk and run as normal as possible in practice. For my pre-meet workout, I like to do 2-3 hurdles two or three times. To this day, I remember the pain I had after the second rep when I hit the ground after the second hurdle. It was a pain I don’t wish anyone, and after that, I cried: – 1. because of the pain 2 because I knew at that point that my foot was broken, and 3. Because I was afraid that I would not be able to finish the race that was in only two days. I couldn’t even stand properly.

So, I talked to my ATs and my coach separately. Both gave me the same answer: I let the pain get in my head too much, and I need to work on my mindset instead of focusing on the pain I have. Crying isn’t going to help, and I shouldn’t hump as my competitors can see that. Also pain that develops right before a championship season is often just pain that our brains make up because of stress. So the message I got was: Don’t listen to your body; you don’t have that much pain, and I’m just imagining the pain because I’m anxious about the race and looking for an excuse… So, I started asking myself if I really have pain or if I’m overdramatizing it?

At that point, I didn’t feel like I could speak up anymore, and I just sucked the pain in and did what I was asked to do. And that was to run the 400m hurdles preliminaries, the final, and the 4 x 400m, crying after every race because of the pain without anyone seeing me.

At this point, I also feel sorry for my parents, who flew all the way from Germany to the US to watch me run and instead had to see me in pain step by step, race by race. I can just imagine how much that must break every parent’s heart (Sorry!!); thank you for being there for me!

Shortly after that, I had an MRI and was diagnosed with a Grade IV stress fracture in my navicular bone, which required surgery 3 weeks later. Before I get into what happened next, I would like to reflect on what happened to me:

Reflection:

At the point when I developed pain in my foot and knew it was bone pain – because I had experienced it before – I should have stood up for myself and clearly said NO, I am not competing. I did not do that. This is my fault because I wasn’t brave enough to put myself and my health before the pressure and the need to compete for my school because I was afraid of losing my scholarship. It was always in the back of my mind that if I didn’t get the results that were expected of me, I might lose my scholarship – but that shouldn’t happen and shouldn’t be a fear for anyone because I was told that my scholarship was secure for two years. However, a somewhat natural, anxious, overthinking person could have that thought – ME -. So I wasn’t brave enough to say, “Stop, I want to get an MRI,” but I could and should have done that. In retrospect, this is easier said than done.

However, every athlete should know that your body is your body. You know what you feel, and if you feel pain, it is real, and it is not your role to question if it is really pain. It most likely is pain, and whoever you tell that you’re in pain, it’s their job to believe you – because they can’t feel what you’re feeling, right? A coach, doctor, or athletic trainer is never in the role of questioning your pain; this is a big no-go, and everyone has to learn and also respect the bodies of athletes first before thinking of performance. So while I should have set my own boundaries better, this is easier to do in an environment where you feel like you can speak up, and the staff should work on creating a safe environment for athletes!

Unfortunately, we all only have that one body we are given, and even though we want to perform as well as possible, we shouldn’t put our bodys health below our performance. Quite frankly, if you are injured, I can tell you that you will not perform at your best either. So, putting your physical health first is in line with wanting to reach your highest potential and perform the best!

While I was already heartbroken over my injury, I did not know what was to come… Immediately after I was diagnosed with my stress fracture, I started rehabbing and focusing on what I CAN do instead of what I CAN NOT do. But the fact that my injury is not the only challenge in the next month is something I didn’t know yet, and I will tell you more about it in my next post! If you want to read it now, just sign up for my newsletter and you will get it sent to you right away, as well as the audio version narrated by me.

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