Everyone knows I’m resilient. After the cards I’ve been dealt in life and the number of surgeries I’ve undergone in the last few years, I’ve really learned to bounce back from hardship. Resilience, like anything worthwhile, gets easier to do the more you do it… and these are my three keys to success when making a comeback.
1. CHEER FOR YOURSELF: Always acknowledge your achievements
Almost seven months ago, I was hit by a car. I broke my foot, my wrist, my clavicle, my pelvis, and my scapula. I had plastic surgery on my face and orthopedic surgery on my clavicle. For the first three months following the hit and run, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything that I could do physically. I used a walker to get from my bed to the bathroom. I wrote with my non-dominant hand. Even showering was an assisted job (which was awkward, to say the least). I watched a lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime. I read. I colored. I did puzzles. And I ate, gained weight, was completely sedentary, and I felt awful.
Seven months after the accident, I’m still 15 pounds heavier than I was… but now my extra pounds come from solid muscle. My legs are bigger than they’ve ever been. My butt has grown so much that I ripped not one, but TWO skirts trying to squeeze into them. I’ve had to buy all new shorts to fit my new body. And you know what? I feel pretty great… awesome really. But that confidence and muscle development didn’t happen overnight.
2. SET YOUR GOALS SMALL: See the tree, not the forest
See, this past winter, I was supposed to be training to qualify for Nationals in alpine snowboarding (racing). But my accident put a slight kink in my timeline. Beginning in January, I began physical therapy to address the multitude of issues with malfunctioning, strained, or atrophied muscles that surrounded my five broken bones. I’d done physical therapy before with previous injuries, but I didn’t realize quite how physically or mentally taxing starting over would be this time. When your body is inactive, it loses muscle twice as fast as when you work to gain it. I had gained weight but lost every ounce of muscle that had made my body strong. To say it was going to be an uphill battle is an understatement.
Physical therapy was a challenge. I thought it would be like previous injuries– a few weeks in rehab and then I’d be out and back to training. But my first session dramatically shifted my expectations. My physical therapist, Todd, asked me to raise my right hand above my head. It only went halfway to my shoulder. Then Todd tied a band to a door knob and showed me how to trying to pull it toward me. He made it look so easy. But when I tried, it wouldn’t budge. These repeated failures continued for weeks.
Finally, two months into physical therapy and four months after the accident, I was cleared by my orthopedic surgeon to resume “normal” activity (or, as much as my physical therapist said I could do). So after checking with Todd, I joined the gym in my new neighborhood and got a personal trainer. Just like everyone who is motivated by a new year’s resolution to work out, I thought this was going to be the beginning of my new life! I was so excited to start chipping away at my goals!
But when I got back into the gym, things that used to come so easily to me were now massive challenges. I’m not gonna lie. I really hatedgoing. It was so hard to stay positive when there was SO much I couldn’t do. Everyone around me seemed like super athletes, and all I saw was an endlessly long road ahead in just getting back to doing the most basic things things like driving, get dressed, or throwing a ball. Sometimes, it felt like too big of an anthill to climb. Nationals felt impossible. I felt defeated.
Watching others was hardly motivating. It made me sad. I was just as emotionally and mentally weak as I was physically. The first time I stepped on an elliptical, I only made it three minutes before I had to quit. The first time I tried to do a sit up, I flat-out couldn’t. The first time I attempted to hold a medicine ball, I dropped it and my confidence fell to the floor with the ball. I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to put myself through the torture of continuing to fail and feel horrible about myself. It all felt pathetic.
But I was required to go to PT, so I did. And I’d paid for those personal training sessions, so I kept going. If PT or a workout was scheduled on my calendar, I showed up. Even if I reallydidn’t want to go, I showed up. Even if I had the greatest excuse in the world, I showed up. I showed up on time, every time. I showed up for myself. I showed up for my goals.
Showing up gave me the time to work on changing my attitude and perspective. I reminded myself that after what I’d been through, three full minutes on the elliptical was actually a hugemilestone for me even if it may have not been a lot to my old self (or compared to probably anyone else in the gym). And each time I had a “first failure”, I promised myself that it wouldn’t the last time I’d fail because it wouldn’t be the last time I’d try. See, realistically, I had two options. The first was to try again and the second was to quit. And quitting wasn’t really a great option because I really wanted to resume normal activities like vacuuming, reaching the glasses in the kitchen cabinets, or taking off a sweatshirt without pain. So when I realized I didn’t really have a choice, I would make myself to give it a go at least one more time. The next time I tried it got easier. I set my goals really small and felt like a massive weight was lifted off of me each time I reached a new one. When I promised myself to push just a little bit further and try to surpass the last milestone I’d achieved, I made it four minutes on the elliptical. Another milestone. A small one, but it felt huge.
Somehow, a shift occurred. It took about three months, but at some point, I noticed I had became my own biggest cheerleader. Four minutes on the elliptical turned into 10. And then 10 turned into 20. Now 30-60 is not only manageable but also really energizing and fulfilling. The competitor inside me was eagerly emerging, and my inner ZGiRLS-mentor cheered, “You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were yesterday.”
It wasn’t just the little voice in my head that changed, it was my confidence that had returned. I wantedto do better than the last time. My goals were still far away, but I actually enjoyedputting in the work. If Hunter, my trainer, challenged me with a new skill, I may have cursed him through the immediate struggle, but after I tried– even if I failed the first time– I felt proud. And that made me want to try again.
3. SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF: Develop the habit and you’ll become fearless of failure
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk writing a letter to a prospective donor for work, and my mind started drifting. I couldn’t focus. My toes were tapping the floor anxiously, and I realized how eager I was for the day to be over so I could head to the gym. I couldn’t believe it– the place I had once wanted to avoid had now become a safe-space, a pick-me-up space, a place where I’ve made some great friends, and a motivational tool to help me reach my goals and feel amazing about myself.
Yesterday, I completed my workout beaming with pride because I’d just completed 10 band-assisted pull-ups, and I thought back to day one when I couldn’t even raise my hand above my head. I’ve come so far. Each day doesn’t feel like a huge improvement over the last, but when you show up day after day, the difference between the first day and the present is enormous. I still have a long way to go to be prepared for qualifying rounds for Nationals, but it has only been a few months and I can already do 30 lb kettlebell squats with ease, kneeling push ups, 60 pound deadlifts, and so much more. I can’t wait to see how strong I am by January!
Mentally, too, I know that by race season, I’m going to be way tougher than I was before and even tougher than I am now. Once I made the commitment to never give up trying, a lot started to fall into place. I became physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger. My sleep improved. My confidence grew. My fear of failure evaporated. My will to work my hardest increased.