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Over the past several years, I’ve had my heart set on competing in an MMA fight. Scared, anxious, full of doubts, but fueled by those feelings to train harder and never give up. I did what my coaches said. MMA was always my desire, but I competed in Muay Thai bouts, Jiu Jitsu tournaments, on the path towards my goal. I started late in a sport that values youth, speed and athleticism. I said fuck it. I may be almost 40, but I feel young, spry, determined, stubborn and ready.
After lots of waiting, training, tears, losses, and unrelenting fire, I finally had my first MMA fight scheduled. Utterly terrified and exhilarated in the same moment. Two months out, I was ready to tuck my chin, and throw myself into the physcial, mental and emotional preparation.
I was pumped. On a roll. Huge momentum. Top notch coaches and teammates surrounding me.
And then the unfortunate day. A Jiu Jitsu class, where my body went one way and my knee went the other. The deafening pop, reverberating through my entire body. The butt scoot off the mat, chanting “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’ll be okay.” A visit to the orthopedic doctor, in hopes of cortisone, turned into a heart breaking sentence. “I think you tore your ACL, strained your MCL and possibly tore your meniscus.” I would have argued with him, but he explained everything thoroughly and really seemed to know what he was talking about.
Every fighter/ athlete has or will have to deal with this reality. Below are a few helpful tips that have got me through thus far.
1. At the beginning, take time to weep bitterly, gnash your teeth, rage your fists, and be a depressive ball of self pity.
Squeeze it all out and then get up off the floor, proudly hobbling forward into your glorious new life. This is how it is now, who do you want to be in it? (Knowing the feelings will come and go like waves, so get a board, a friend, and good beer.)
2. Keep doing the internal work of “who am I?”
You have been given an opportunity to strip away identities of being a “well-bodied” person, self sufficient, rugged individual, always “fine”, an athlete, a fighter, a badass, a field identified with your body. Life is a little different now. You can’t do all the things you did before. DJ Khaled’s chorus, “All I do is Win,” has become a distant memory. Your body seems like it’s failed you, but it needs your kindness to heal. There are still ways to fight. It doesn’t have to be in a ring or the cage or on the mats. There is an everyday fight for everyday warriors and now you have the extra time to access those inner resources and become a serious indomitable force.
3. Welcome the extra attention, awkward small talk, general concern with a wink and cackle-like freedom.
As someone who does not like to be the center of attention, walking down the streets in DC with crutches, a sun dress and big ass knee brace, is eye catching to say the least. Cat calling has lessened, as I think it just feels wrong to heckle a gal hobbling on crutches. No one dares honk at you for being slow crossing the street. A few people may lag behind you on the sidewalk, as they feel bad passing you. Everyone that knows you (even a little bit) will ask what happened…. some are generally concerned and some are just uncomfortable, but they all mean well. People will strike up more random conversations, usually pertaining to their past similar injuries. (this is always extremely helpful) As one of my Buddhist teachers says, “Welcome everything, push away nothing.” Just like in a ring or a cage, you can’t hide. All eyes are on you. Get comfortable sticking out and have fun flying your freak flag!
4. Ask yourself the question what are you fighting for? Don’t let a day go by without finding ways to access your fighting spirit.
You may not be able to “fight” or “move” in the way you want to, but goddamit, you always have a fight within you. This may be the fight to “do nothing.” To slow down. To sit with your restlessness until you want to scream. It’s a big jump from three intense training hours a day, biking for transportation, and bounding up stairs in between, to your physical regimine now consisting of walking a one block radius, on crutches, stabilizing your core, and developing coordination to move your body and crutches simultaneously. Every day you can do something. Every day you have a choice. It may not seem like the case, but it’s true. You will have good and bad days, but there is always a way through.
5. Keep learning your craft from a different perspective, explore other passions, take advantage of the time to do nice things for others, meditate, trust the process, and let yourself feel it all!
If you spent a good portion of your time, energy, resources on physical training, you now have a lot of free time to focus on other endeavors. It won’t feel good every moment and let that be okay. Feel the feels, and give yourself the permission and gentleness to be where you are in each moment. Accept the generosity and kindness of others, and pay it forward. What do you want to do with this newfound freedom? You may not be able to express yourself through your physical body, but there are other ways of expression and constant growth. What about writing, drawing, painting, talking, listening, reading, singing, being quiet? Watch videos of your craft, Find something you can pour your heart into, with the same vigor you gave your physical training. Trust life. There’s no other choice. This is how it is now, how will you rise? You get to create your outcome. A fighter always rises and inspires others on the way up from the ashes. If one of use chooses to rise we all rise.