Last weekend I “celebrated” the one year anniversary of my first concussion. In the last twelve months, I fought hard in my rehabilitation, addressed my body alignment issues, learned to skate again, and trained to be strong once more. Then it all came crashing down with a second concussion and a still unresolved ankle cyst. That is more than enough material to inspire some soul searching.
When I started inline speed skating in 2006, my life revolved around daily workouts, annual racing calendars, and multi-year long term training goals. I was not aware of it at the time, but somewhere along the way, I transformed from physically active individual to highly disciplined athlete. Oddly enough, I did not see myself as the latter. I only thought I exercised a bit more than most people so that I could do well at races (and enjoy hearty meals yet not turning into a whale). Being competitive is fun. Achieving goals is fulfilling. I love that feeling of wanting something so badly that I force myself through fatigue and disappointment to ultimately triumph. In hindsight, that obsession is a quality shared by many athletes.
Wiser friends often advise me to relax and enjoy the journey. Some retired from competing on their own terms while others were cut short due to career ending injuries. I still have a tough time grasping this idea. How to strike a balance between the hunger to succeed but still relax enough to smile through the experience? How to step back just enough to declare “I want it! p.s. but not too much”? Can both attitudes coexist effectively instead of watering each other down?
I wish I have an answer to that. The jury is still out if my latest title ought to include former athlete or I am only slogging through a particularly dim stretch of my journey. Thankfully, angst and self-pity faded away months ago. Of course I am upset—a large part of my identity has been lost or at least put on hold. How can I consider myself an athlete if there is no estimate of when I will return to training with a purpose?
At the same time, I have little reasons to complain. I am blessed with relatively good health. I do not live with chronic pain. I am not suffering from terminal, debilitating, or incurable disease. Just because I cannot travel down the pavement with unbridled freedom and speed does not give me a license to whine.
I gained much in the last year as well. Friends and family swaddled me with love and support. They showed me in no uncertain terms that they care. I challenged myself with workouts I previously shunned. I broadened my culinary horizon by experimenting with dieting and attending more food-related events in my city. My life has been enriched in different ways, not unlike the dish of “fettuccine" “alfredo” you see here.
There was no pasta nor cheese even though it looked the part. This appetizing dinner was in fact a nest of roasted spaghetti squash, cashew cream seasoned with nutritional yeast, smoked salmon, and dill. I learned that cutting a spaghetti squash in half length-wise was the shortcut to choppy little strands. I finally discovered why vegetarians rave about cashew cream for so long. I found out nutritional yeast tasted much better than its name would suggest. Fettuccine alfredo it was not but I appreciated the beauty of this anti-inflammatory friendly dinner in its own way.
I am not an athlete right now and I am okay with it.