I’m about to admit something that will make my parents smile.
I was dumb and I was wrong.
There, I said it. Now I’m going to explain why and in doing so, ultimately throw myself under the proverbial bus. But, I also hope that maybe my story and my lesson from it will help some of the athletes that I cover on a daily basis.
Everyone knows how hard it is to play a sport at a high level. At some high schools it’s even hard because John Boy might be just a little better than you and he makes the cut while you have to wait until next year. Then there’s college. Only a fraction of students get to go on to college and play the sport they love, and even then you’re fighting tooth and nail with the guy/girl beside you for playing time. And, for those sports that have a professional league to move on to, a fraction of a fraction get to move on to play in front of thousands. And again, it’s even more dog-eat-dog than it was in college.
The point being, any minor set back with your health or physical well-being can be a major blow to your sports future.
It was the summer of 2010 and, in my opinion, I was at the peak of my pitching performance. I was throwing harder than I had ever thrown before in my life. I was playing summer ball in Florida. My arm felt amazing, and I had been placed into the role as a closing pitcher. It was a role that I felt was perfect for me.
Then one day while warming up I felt a slight twinge in my arm. Nothing serious, but I knew at that moment that something was off. But, like I said above, it was the peak of my career and all that. So, I did what most 21-year-old athletes do: I brushed it off.
As the summer went on, the twinge turned into a discomfort and by the end of the summer had turned into pain.
Now, what I should have been done was speak up, tell someone, and go and get my arm looked at. I knew something wasn’t right, but I was heading into my senior year having already used a redshirt and had no years of eligibility left. And at that point, the pain hadn’t cause my pitching to suffer, so I decided to keep quiet so I could pitch my final year of college and not sit it out.
The first part of my season went well, but as the season went on, the pain got worse. Me, being a guy who stayed away from pain medicine and only iced my arm if I put in some serious innings, was taking ibuprofen during games so I could pitch and icing after every game whether I made an appearance at all. By the end of the season, my top speed had dropped almost 10 mph and it was a struggle to lift my arm after throwing.
Finally, after the season was over, I decided to tell my parents because at this point, I could barely lift my arm over my head. You’d be correct in assuming they were none too pleased to just be finding out at that point. And dumb me tried to argue with them and explain it away.
I ended up having a surgery, which basically reconstructed my shoulder. It was a surgery that I was told would fix the pain and allow me to function normally. I was also told that I probably wouldn’t be able to pitch ever again – a huge blow to a guy who’s pitched his whole life and playing baseball was his life.
Fast forward to now.
At this point, I still can’t throw a ball and still have pain sometimes doing certain day-to-day activities. I regret weekly not telling someone and at least having my arm looked at.
Now, why did I tell this whole story and make myself sound really dumb? Because hopefully an athlete somewhere will read it and think about going out and playing with whatever ails them.
Sports are more competitive than ever and kids put their bodies through the ringer trying to get that top spot to be better than the person they’re going up against. We have athletes hiding concussions, playing with torn muscles, and pushing themselves to the breaking point. I’m here to tell you that it’s not worth it.
Yeah, there is a difference in playing through some muscle soreness and playing through an injury. “No pain, no gain” only applies to a certain extent. If you’re unsure, it doesn’t make you weak to go to a trainer and get it looked at. The worse that happens is they tell you it’s nothing and you have a little embarrassment. The alternative is something that could end your career and make you question your decision for the rest of your life.
One day, that sport you love so much will be over. You won’t be able to play like you used to anymore. But if you play through something you shouldn’t, it could be the difference in being able to function in everyday life and barely being able to roll out of bed when you’re 30.
My whole life, I rushed back from injuries, pushed myself harder than my body could handle, and kept things to myself that should have been shared. Now, I’m only 26 years old with the knees of a 60 year-old, a shoulder that doesn’t function, and a bad back. All because I wanted to get that one more minute or one more batter of playing time.
I’m not saying be passive and play like you’re made of glass, but you know your body and it’s limits. It’s OK to test those limits and push to get stronger, faster, better. What’s not OK is to test those limits when you’re injured or not at your best.
If you have something that’s ailing you and you think might not be right, go have it looked at. Don’t give in to peer pressure to be the tough guy. Sports make up maybe one-third of your life. If you mess up your body or your brain, what are you going to do for the other two-thirds?
Reach Robert Stegbauer at 937-393-3456 ext. 1679 or on Twitter @RStegbauer.