How Injuries Gave Me a New Life
If injuries and I had a relationship status on Facebook, I would define it as “it’s complicated.”
Injuries are almost guaranteed in high level athletics. But the emotional journey associated with each injury story is unique.
As you can probably guess, this article is going to be my injury story, and how I overcame the hardest part of my injury... myself.
I was a successful high school athlete in the Chicagoland area and chose to go to the University of Illinois and be a part of the rebuilding of the women’s basketball program. I had other interests, but I always intended to make basketball my career and planned on playing professionally in Australia upon my college career ending.
The Start Of It All
I finished my freshman season as a starter and was voted a captain going into my sophomore season. I began taking all my training to the next level and performing at a whole new level. This led to a stress injury that required a 3-inch metal screw being put in my foot days before the season started.
I was back on the court practicing less than 3 weeks off of surgery and back playing about a week after that. However, it didn’t heal correctly and I needed another surgery that took me out the rest of the season. I redshirted that season and remained in relatively good spirits; this was going to be a setback for an epic comeback.
My now redshirt sophomore year was going well. I was competing and performing at a high level. January 8th, 2012 was one of the best games of my college career and would turn out to be the game that would completely change the trajectory of my life.
I was a tough player. I was typically the one with the most bruises and the first on the floor. I didn’t have the superstar mentality, that the dirty work wasn’t for me. I thrived in heated competition. I hated losing more than I loved winning. Unfortunately, that mentality would lead to an injury that would change everything.
The Invisible Injury
On that night, I had 17 points in the first half and was “in the zone.” It was one of those nights where the rim seemed as wide as the ocean. In the second half, I was running the baseline to jump back in the action and get the defensive rebound and... ‘Pop.’ I remember falling down and for the first time, ever, not being able to will myself back up.
This was my first concussion.
My second diagnosed concussion came about 4 weeks later. I came back for the last 2 games of the season. After this season, the coaches that recruited me were fired and a new staff came in. Along with the uncertainty of recovering from two concussions, came the uncertainty of a new coaching staff.
My third diagnosed concussion came in preseason the next year, my redshirt junior season.
My mental processing began to significantly slow down. I was always a step behind and had trouble processing information. I was slow to reacting on a defensive play and dislocated my shoulder resulting in a tear in my shoulder capsule. This was the second game of the season.
I returned to play 2 weeks after that injury, just to get my final diagnosed concussion 6 weeks later.
Was I Just Being Soft?
At this point, I tried to hide how much I was suffering. I spent any time outside of class and practice in a dark room with no noise. I called it the “bat cave.”
I had coaches that thought concussions weren’t a real injury and I was being a victim to my situation. This was the first time I had ever had a coach question my commitment and my mentality. Was I just being soft? Do I have a victim mentality? I mean you can’t see a concussion on medical imaging so, yeah, I just need to suck it up and prove them wrong.
I tried to suck it up for awhile until I almost fainted in front of my parents. My mom noticed I was having an increasingly difficult time holding a coherent conversation. My mom stepped in and called the athletic trainer and told her I wasn’t right.
In response, I was ordered to see our team doctor and he deemed me “medically disqualified.” At that point I was mortified and almost relieved at the same time. I couldn’t quit and I needed someone to have my back and tell me I wasn’t crazy and that there was something wrong with me. The long healing journey could begin.
This invisible injury ended my career. I know I am not particularly special with this fact, but it felt unique to me when I was going through it. I felt alone, cheated, and angry. I had all the promise, talent, and most importantly work ethic to be an elite player, but my body wouldn’t allow me to reach my potential. It wasn’t fair.
Who Am I Now?
I wish I could say as soon as I left everything got better. It didn’t. I struggled with, “Who am I?” Am I the victim my coaches thought I was? Am I quitter? Did I take the easy way out? These questions are some of the things that I struggled over for weeks, months, and even years.
Fast forward to 4 years post undergrad; I am married and back at the University of Illinois finishing my master’s degree in Kinesiology and have everyday filled with various responsibilities. On the surface, I am beyond my playing days and fully integrated into the real world. But I still struggled with the same self-defeating questions that haunted me four years earlier: “Am I a quitter?” “Did I play the victim?”
A New Start
At this point I decided I was going to leave everything behind and chase my childhood dream. I needed to be the hero of my story. I wanted my future child(ren) to have an example of following your dreams even if they seem silly and dangerous.
I started training again and got a contract to play overseas ironically in Australia. I can shamelessly say for a lady who hasn’t played in 4 years, I balled out. The season had ups and downs, but I got to finish team MVP, and top 5 in the league in scoring, rebounding, and MVP voting. In pure Kersten fashion, I left my last game in the 3rd quarter with a separated shoulder. Even though I didn’t get to leave the court in victorious fashion, I got an opportunity to prove to myself that I wasn’t a victim. I was the hero of my life story.
I don’t play basketball anymore. I just recently touched a basketball to teach my 11-month old daughter how to dribble. So how did my injuries give me a new life? It gave me resilience, gratitude, peace, and the ability to grow as a more complete person.
In order to make it through injuries, you have to have a “stupid” amount of faith. I say “stupid” because it should be belief with no proof and logic that you will conquer your situation. I didn’t get the college career I worked for, but I endured, and I kept moving forward. Coming back from injuries and overcoming adversity in life, is adopting the mentality that ‘I will keep moving and believing that I am the hero of my story even if the current circumstance tell me otherwise.’
I was beyond blessed to get the opportunity to get to finish my career on my terms. Not many people get that opportunity. I don’t think this extreme measure is necessary nor appropriate for everyone, everyone has their own balance and the lesson remains the same. Only you decide if you are the victim or the hero. No matter what injury you have endured, will endure, or how your career has ended or will end, your story doesn’t end, just that chapter.
You can choose to be the hero of your story no matter what it looks like. Just keep moving forward and make yourself the hero.