Nina’s injury; A set back or a set up for opportunity?

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sail.” – William A Ward. 

We’ve all been there, sometimes sh#t happens. One day your feeling fit and stronger than ever before and something as simple as lifting an empty barbell awkwardly can put you out of sorts for weeks. Sh#t happens. Every day. To everyone. You cannot control everything that happens to you. You can only control the way you respond to what happens.

Adversity is served up to us every single day at CrossFit; Be it the 50 double unders programmed in the WOD that you know your going to struggle at or the 1RM back squat, or the 20 minute AMRAP… We get tested every single day in the gym and once you’ve been participating in CrossFit for long enough, you come to expect adversity knowing the timer will eventually finish and you will overcome it. Mental toughness is something we unconsciously train throughout every single workout. How we respond when it get’s hard in the gym has a clear correlation to how we overcome challenging situations out side of the gym and in everyday life. By increasing our tolerance to discomfort in workouts we are developing a strong mindset to help us better adapt and overcome shitty situations. Our mind is our most powerful tool.

As Nina reflects on her injury, she learns that being the optimist and taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a total disaster, it’s more like a cha-cha! 

For a long time I was the youngest. The youngest sibling, the youngest in the team, the youngest in my year. With this came a sense of invincibility. I have had some minor injuries, but I always bounced back without much hassle. People often make a big deal about turning thirty, but as an active and ambitious person I wasn’t worried, particularly with many amazing female role models in my life, all older than me, who achieved some incredible things in their thirties.
In May this year, six months after my thirtieth birthday, I hurt myself in the gym. While doing deadlifts, a simple exercise I had done a thousand times, I did the thing everyone always warns us to never do: I lifted with my back, not my legs; I lost form because I was tired; I found myself on the ground thinking ‘you stupid girl’.

Lower back injuries are never fun. When you have one and you start talking about it with people, you find out just how common they are too. Hopefully sharing how I dealt with my injury might help others.

At the start I was hopeful, thinking it would be the same as all the injuries before: 4 weeks and I’d be back on track. A reality check from my osteopath, and my body refusing to bounce back, had me reeling: I was looking at a 6 month recovery.
It was incredibly difficult to find the positives. I had planned to play footy this year. I had decided not to be in a musical (I’d played a lead role the past two years), and commit that time to sport. I was going to do a half Ironman in September. I’d been leading up to this for months, planning my training and my life around these goals. An now I knew that I would have to give up on them.
Giving up isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not particularly good at anything, but my main attribute in sport is probably that I am a work horse: I keep going when others can’t and I put in the extra effort to support my team mates. I was feeling incredibly defeated, and on top of that I was constantly in pain. It hurt to sleep, to drive, to sit at my desk at work. All of my social activities and networks are sports related, so I was feeling isolated and alone.

I was lucky that early on I acknowledged the resources around me to help me get back on track.

The first step was to sit down with my Cross Fit coach, Charlotte, and write down some achievable goals and a plan. Char was amazing. She gave me the confidence I needed to get over myself and get on with it. She also recommended I keep a diary, which was a life saver. It allowed to me tangibly see the progress I was making, even if it was small. It also gave me a space to jot down my frustrations, and through acknowledging them I found I was able to find a solution, or simply get over them, much quicker.

I made the decision early to continue going to Cross Fit 3-4 times a week during my rehab. I would stay in the stretching corner, doing my physio and core exercises. It wasn’t easy, but at least I still felt connected to my gym, and my body. Early on, there were a few times when I came close to tears after the ‘how’s your back going?’ question. I wanted nothing more than to be hitting it hard, getting my heart rate racing. It was hard to answer this question because I was jealous and frustrated, I wanted to tell them that I hated it and them – I would say thing’s like ‘it’s going slowly’ or ‘it’s okay’. After sitting down with Char, I made a decision to change my mindset. Once I did this there was a snow ball effect, the positive thinking was definitely contributing to my physical healing. Now, I was able to answer that question with a genuine, honest and positive response. Those positive, public affirmations definitely had an impact on my recovery. When you can say out loud that you’re happy with your progress and you’re on track, it brings a truth to it that somehow makes it more real. It was also challenging to see other, younger, people with similar injuries recovering faster than me.

At the end of the day, comparing ourselves to others is never a good idea. It’s also time to start facing the fact that I’m not the youngest anymore, and I need to start treating my thirty year old body with a bit more respect.

After a few months of consolidated, consistent and structured rehab I was able to start participating in class again, scaling things back to suit my injury. Once I was back on the gym floor I began to rethink my goals. While footy season was well and truly over – there was still the half iron man. Four months after my injury I reached out to a triathlon coach to give me some structured injury rehab and prepare me for an Olympic Distance triathlon. The first four weeks were all about glute strengthening and slowly getting my running fitness back. Before my injury I could go out and run a half marathon at a comfortable 5.15km pace. I started back running with 30secs jogging, 60secs walking. It was brutal. Getting back on the bike took the longest, and this was hard as I have a really strong cycling community and I could feel the distance growing between us. As easy as it would have been to cut myself off, I kept in touch.

Thanks to my persistence in the gym with all of my core and physio exercises, my running improved quickly – I could run 5km at about a 5.20 pace by the end of 6 weeks.
In November (6 months after the injury), I participated in my first Olympic Distance Triathlon and came second in my age group. I was stoked. The half iron man is on the agenda for March 2019. In two weeks, I am going to be competing alongside some amazing athletes from across the world in the Bali Hope Swimrun. I’m nervous about swimming and running with a bunch of Olympians, Iron Men and Women and world champions, but I’m also incredibly grateful that I physically able to be involved in the event.

  My back still pulls up sore and I have to keep on top of managing it. If I miss a stretching session or don’t cool down, I pay the price.

What have I learnt?

You don’t have to do it on your own. Use your friends, coaches and networks to help keep you on track and stay connected. Use a diary to keep yourself accountable, and track your progress. Be holistic, don’t separate the physical from the mental when it comes to rehab and improvement. Look after your body and it will look after you.

Nina showing off her strong core that she worked hard to develop whilst overcoming her back injury.

Nina fundraising for her next big event- Bali Hope.