Letting the Race Horse out of the Start Gate

18 Sep

Are you inspired yet?  Haha.  Well as you have probably heard, I am constantly inspired by the people in my life, especially my sisters.

This post is interesting, one, for athletes recovering from an injury, and two, for my friends and family who are a little curious about this handsome Gutsy Guy I’ve dated for over four years now. 🙂

Isn’t Gutsy Guy handsome?

The Injury

Gutsy Guy has had a few different injuries that have sidelined him in a total of three and half ski seasons.  Perhaps the most significant, though, was in July of 2005.  Being his typical gutsy-self, he was warming up for a motocross race, and went over the handle bars on a pretty big table top.  He tried to roll out of it, but landed on the back of his head and got crunched.  He fractured 5 vertebrae in his Thoracic spine (T 7, T 8, T 9, T 10, and T 12).  For you visual people out there, like myself, here is a picture of your spine:

same as Image:Gray 111 - Vertebral column.png ...

same as Image:Gray 111 – Vertebral column.png but coloured (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fractured vertebrae, which as you can see are usually shaped like marshmallows, got pinched on the front edge to look more like triangles.  They also cracked through and the wings on the side of the vertebrae broke off as well.

Gutsy Guy was in the hospital for 2 weeks following his crash.  The first hospital he went to, the doctor told his family he absolutely needed to get his vertebrae fused.  Without this surgery, he was risking his vertebrae continuing to collapse forward, and eventually risking the possibility of severing his spinal cord.  Getting his vertebrae fused would mean he would need 2 rods down the sides of his spine and 2 pins on each vertebra, a total of 14 pins.  The risk with the surgery was that each pin came within a millimeter of the spinal cord, so there was a 1% chance of paralysis per pin, adding up to a 14% chance the surgery would have paralyzed him.  Not only that, but fusing the vertebrae would make his back completely rigid for the rest of his life, which would have kept him from doing any of the sports he loved, particularly ski racing.

Thankfully, Gutsy Guy’s parents decided to get a second opinion, and took him to the University of Utah hospital, where a more progressive doctor told them that while abstaining from the surgery was risky, there was a possibility of his spine healing itself in a way that was safe and stable.  So for the next 9 months, Gutsy Guy had to wear a body cast that pushed down on his hip bones and up under his armpits to unweight his spine and hold him up straight.  Once a month, for 6 month test period, he would go back to the doctor and get a new set of x-rays so they could measure his kyphosis (the forward lean in his upper back).  If it continued to collapse, then surgery would be the only option.

The next nine months of recovery were brutal.  For any person, let alone an adrenaline junkie, spending 90% of their days for three months in bed is torture.  The doctor monitored how his back was reacting to the body cast treatment.  The first couple months it did continue to collapse forward.  By the grace of God it stopped collapsing after that, so he didn’t need to get the surgery.  With diligence and faith, miraculously, Gutsy Guy’s back healed better than the doctor, or anyone else, could have ever imagined.

Gutsy Guy just bein’ himself

Letting the race horse out of the gate

Gutsy Guy returned to snow after 10 months, and was training at 11 months.

The season after his injury, he skied better than he had before the injury.  He was frequently the top junior in FIS races and the 2nd junior at the US nationals Super-G, behind current US Ski Team member Travis Ganong.

When I asked him what kept him motivated during those months of recovery, this is what he said:

“The injury was really good for my mental state, motivation and drive.  For a long time during the recovery I needed help just to get out of bed.  Walking to the kitchen to eat lunch and sit upright for 10 minutes was brutal.  Even after 6 months, I spent more time laying down then standing up.  Having that much time laying in bed and being dependent on people and not being able to do any of the physical activities that I wanted to do just made me miss it that much more.”

“My appreciation grew for what it’s like to be healthy and be able to do that stuff so much, that when I was healthy again and able to do it I took advantage of it a lot more.  I missed skiing so much during that period that when I started skiing again it was like an antsy race horse getting let out of the start gate and I was 10 times more motivated than I was before the injury.  It was actually a good thing for my mental state.”

I asked him if he visualized himself skiing while he was hurt.  He said he would daydream, and run courses, and think about skiing racing. It gave him time to think of what he could do differently when he could ski again, if he could ski again.

I asked him if he had any advice for me, or anyone else returning from an injury.  He said, “Stay confident and imagine yourself as what you are going to be once you are let out of the start gate.  But don’t return to full-bore before you are ready to start to ski again.  I think that’s a major mistake a lot of athletes make is to try to get back into it before their body is totally ready.  For one it’s dangerous, and for two, it’s counter productive because when you are thinking about an injury or feeling it, it makes you ski less confidently and it changes your skiing for the worse.  If you get back on snow three weeks earlier, but you aren’t completely ready, you think it will help because you are training.  Really it will be a lot more valuable to wait that extra time and wait until you are really confident about how your body is feeling so that you can ski without thinking about the injury at all. That would be my biggest advice.”

Gutsy Guy racing in Park City two years ago

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from Gutsy Guy is using the deep passion you have for your sport as your biggest motivator.  No matter what, we love what we do, through rough training days, through tough seasons, or through trying injuries.  As he explained, when you ignite that passion within you, you are like a race horse bolting out of the start gate.  Nothing can stop you from getting to the finish line as fast as you possibly can. Thanks for the inspiration Gutsy Guy! 🙂

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One Response to “Letting the Race Horse out of the Start Gate”

  1. Brian Dorfman October 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Bad Ass!!!

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