Today this image popped up in my Facebook memories:
Don’t I look happy, proud, and accomplished?! Well, I was! This was the day I joined the elite ranks of only a few hundred StrongFirst Level 2 kettlebell instructors from around the world. This is the top kettlebell certification a coach can get, and it felt really good to earn.
Behind the smile though I knew something was wrong. I experienced a feeling in my body I’d never felt before. Here’s the scenario:
I’m in Houston, TX during an ice storm. We were training three 10 hour days in a large sports arena that happened to have no heat the first two days. I’m naturally cold ALL THE TIME anyway, so I was completely miserable. I remember being so cold I felt actually rigid. And no matter what I did, I couldn’t get warm.
In the first part of the morning we were working on dead cleans (if you don’t know what that is, it’s ok). I was loaded with two 16kg kettlebells (70 pounds total), which was pretty light for me since my deadlift had surpassed 200 pounds by that point. But lifting frozen and rigid did me in. I felt something tweak in my lower back, but immediately my desire to perform took over. I found someone with anti-inflammatories and went for it…for 2.5 more days. I passed every test in pain, but I passed! Despite the fact that I always emphasized to my clients that they listen to their bodies above all else, I didn’t. I came for my SFG II, and I was going to get it.
When I got home, training as I knew it ceased. I was working toward deadlifting 2x my body weight but that stopped. Swinging heavy kettlebells stopped. I’d have good days and weeks where I felt almost normal and then really terrible ones where I could barely do a body weight squat. I sought chiropractic and medical treatment to no avail. Everyone had suggestions for me, but they were just random tactics and nothing worked.
About 14 months after my injury I was feeling ok, so I decided to work on barbell cleans and ended up doing a few too many. I felt that same spot in my back “go.” I limped out of the gym and thought “maybe if I just rest it it’ll be ok.” It wasn’t.
You have to understand – I LOVE lifting. It’s such a huge part of who I am. Accepting that it might have to change wasn’t an option, which is why I didn’t seek real help for so long. It was my identity.
I continued to lift and got REALLY good at pullups because they were one of the only things that didn’t cause pain. And then I’d do things that caused pain (like 24kg/53lb kettlebell jerks) because I couldn’t bear not doing them. Then one day, with a 53 pound kettlebell pressed overhead, the feeling in my feet went out. I could barely walk (after attempting some waiters walks and farmers carries), so I knew it was time to get help.
As I waited for my appointment day, I couldn’t train anymore. I couldn’t stand, and I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t put on shoes or clean my cats’ litter box. And worse than the pain was the feeling that I was losing myself.
After my MRI I found out I had a central annular tear to my L4/L5 disc. I couldn’t believe a tiny spec on an MRI could cause such crippling pain! I didn’t get this diagnosis for 15 months after the original injury. Lesson learned.
I immediately got the help of an amazing Physical Therapist, who I am infinitely grateful for. In three sessions over one week I was 80% out of pain. I was back in the gym shortly after.
That photo was taken three years ago today. Today during my workout I had to go light on my clean and jerks because picking up a heavy barbell is still touch and go. I often modify my movements from what everyone else in my class is doing because I now take risk vs. reward into heavy consideration. If it even feels a little wrong, I stop. I still have bouts of crippling pain (latest being about 3 weeks ago) that cause me to have to spend most of my time reclined.
The point of me sharing this long story with you isn’t so much about overcoming and coping with an injury but rather learning to identify yourself from your mind and your heart rather than your body.
I’m tough, smart, loving, compassionate, generous, an incredibly hard worker, and I change people’s lives… I’m so much more than “the strong girl.” That’s who’d I’d been for years. I’m still strong but in different ways. Letting go of my ego when I was lifting the least of anyone in class took a LONG time. Longer than I’d like to admit. But after so many ups and downs over the past few years, it’s ok. I do what my body allows me to do day by day.
I hope you take something from my story…some lesson you can apply to your own life. In the end, this is a lesson about learning to love yourself when who you think you are fundamentally is altered.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. It means more than you know. <3
PS: When I was getting back into training, I was doing home workouts to get myself moving again. The best part is that they can be modified to be really challenging as well! Just enter your name & email below to grab them!