How to Manage Injury Recovery Like a Professional Athlete

Seems like more and more of my friends are taking a big injury hit these days, and not all of them are crazy triathletes who are used to it. Experiencing a fall or physical setback is no joke -- it impacts almost every facet of your life, some areas more visible than others (shower anyone?). But while it might feel like the end of life as you know it, thinking like a professional athlete can help you move beyond surviving this time, perhaps even thriving. Let's get to it.

Reframe the Setback

I learned many, many crashes ago to reframe my injury time as an opportunity than a problem. Could be my obsessive need for control. Could be I am crazy. Regardless of what you might think, know this -- I am not a victim in this situation. Save the pity party for someone else. Not being able to run means I can ride. Busted hip? Time to focus on my nutrition. Physical therapy? Time to build those abdominal muscles that everyone's talking about. You get the idea. But before we get all empowered, let's get the basics right.

Find the Right Support Team

No matter what happens, know this -- you are your number one advocate in this situation. You control the records. You ask the questions, you get the results. Healthcare isn't that different than the garage you take your car to these days -- you might take it in for an oil change, but unless you point out that the engine is making some strange noise, or the wheels are pulling to the right, the mechanic won't investigate. 

Triage -- The first step is stopping the pain / damage. This is what the emergency room is great for...but while you leave focused on getting better, they don't care. They only want to make sure you won't die until you see the next person. This is where your obsessive research should begin, immediately after fulfilling your pain med prescription, to find the right health care provider and notify your primary care. 

Diagnosis -- Make sure you are comfortable with the person you have selected, as they are the primary driver in your recovery process. Not only should you have rapport with them, you should either respect them, like them and ideally both. Ask around and find out who you know and if anyone has any recommendations. Literally interview these don't HAVE TO take the first person you meet. 

Rehab -- You don't want some namby-pamby person who shows you a new exercise each week, makes sure you can do it and sends you on your way. You want some sadistic sonuvabitch who will manipulate your injury side, massage it, force it to move, bang on you, cause pain...challenge you. 

Despite the messages your brain will be sending you in ALL CAPS during these sessions, your body will seriously respond. And faster. Sessions could be as frequent as 3x a week early on, diminishing to once a week or once every two weeks until you are done.

Do Your "Homework" Like an "A" Student

The hardest part of the process is doing the work to get better. Once you are triaged and diagnosed, you have Physical Therapy. The hardest part of physical therapy? Having the time in your life to actually get to / from all of the sessions you need to attend. 

After that? Finding the time and willpower to continue doing the exercises even though you are sick of your rubber bands, 1-pound weights and breathing drills. 

But you have to. You have to do this the professional baseball player who's lifetime income potential depends on his elbow. Because your life will suck if you wake up in five years to find out that your INSERT INJURED APPENDAGE means you can't climb Kilimanjaro. Or you can't take up sailing. Or you can't play catch with your kids.

Find a New Mental Challenge

We are all so maxed out across work, home, relationships, hobbies, etc., connected to the Internet 24/7, that this situation actually frees you up to do something different. In the case of an athlete, not working out for two hours a day means she has an extra 14 hours a week to do something else. You can get a ton of shit done in 14 hours, believe me I know. 

While you are physically limited, remember that we are a complete organism designed to adapt. Any time your body suffers, your brain becomes instead of surfing Facebook at 2am, let's use this energy for a much better outcome. This is the perfect time to pick up something new that you have been meaning to do. 

For me, I cooked a new meal each night, adding those recipes to my cookbook. I also did a 30-day cleanse -- no caffeine! -- to get clean when my body was most likely to put on weight. I wrote a book. I even headed over to Coursera ( and browsed some lectures to get smarter. 

Ask yourself: if you aren't commuting to work, what can you do? If you can't drive to work, but are a passenger during rehab, how can you leverage that time? If you can't type, and have to dictate, what else can you record?

They Can Slow You Down but They Can't Stop You

This setback, as big as it is now, will be a distant memory in several months. But you don't get to that point by sitting on your broken ass lamenting your misfortune. Get to have awesome things to achieve. 

As motivation, here is the video from me in 2010 when I cracked my pelvis in California in a bike crash. Since then I have completed 8 more Ironman races, 5 more marathons and remain -- for the time being -- one step ahead of my girls.

If you have a second, please be sure to check in and let me know what your recovery plans look like in the comments below...good luck!