Starting Over

by | March 17, 2015, 10:00am 5

I was lying in a comfy bed, surrounded by fluffy pillows and thick blankets, when I heard my husband climb up the ladder in our tiny rental loft in Wales. He asked if I wanted to go watch the sunset. I mumbled something incoherent and turned over to go back to sleep.

“Seriously?” My husband sounded concerned. “We’re on vacation, it’s a beautiful evening, and you’ve been lying in bed all day. Why don’t you want to come out?”

I scrunched my nose. “I don’t feel like it.”

“Well, you’re being a grump,” he bluntly stated. I stuck my tongue out at him as he walked away.

What is wrong with me? I’m not usually this cranky. Something was bothering me enough to keep me from enjoying my trip in the UK. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I started thinking about my post-vacation plans. When I finished with all this gallivanting, I had very little time to start training again for the upcoming club season. I thought I would be far more motivated at this point, but I just don’t know if I can pick up all the pieces and start over again.

One year ago today, I had already finished two months of intense weight-lifting and a month of climbing through Yosemite and Zion National Parks with one of my best friends. I had just finished unpacking after my big move to Tucson to continue training. I felt strong, fast, and focused. I was at the peak of my game, keeping up with girls who normally smoke me on the field and throwing hucks farther than I ever had before. If I kept this up, maybe I really could make one of the best teams in the world.

Then it all came crashing down. During tryouts, I started to feel waves of pain thrash through my leg every time I tried to run. As much as I tried to put the pain aside, it drastically impacted the way I could play, and I ended up spending one of my last tryout days with Fury on the sideline. After being cut, I desperately held onto the idea that I was healthy and skilled enough to tryout for Nightlock, but I was wrong. When I went in for a MRI, the results showed I had a stress fracture in my right hip. My doctor told me I needed to rest for at least six weeks to let it heal properly: no running, no throwing, and definitely no ultimate. After that I would need intense physical therapy; any deviation from this plan and I could end up with long-term structural damage. As I walked away, feeling pain shooting down my leg with every step, all I could focus on was how my entire preseason training was such a waste. I was too damaged to play before I even made a spot on a team.

Every day, I continued to lie to myself, arguing that I was some how superhuman and would heal faster than expected – just in time to play the club season. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and at no point did my injury magically fix itself. At my first appointment with the physical therapist, I did a series of tests to assess the extent of my injury. I thought I was doing pretty well, until one move where I felt a huge snap in my hip and cringed in pain.

“That’s it, the session is over!” He cried. “We have to take this slow!” I frowned, wondering why everything was suddenly over because of a little pain. He tried to reassure me, reflecting on his own reckless behavior when he was younger. I just sat there, sulking.

Each day I would lie on the floor and do the exercises my physical therapist wrote down for me. Some days I felt great and other days it just felt painful. At my PT appointments I tried to push myself more and more, assuming I would progress in some perfectly linear way. There were days I couldn’t even beat a stupid pixelated computer bicyclist that monotonously maintained the same speed on the electronic bike I used. That stupid pixilated bicyclist. I hated him sometimes. He seemed so happy going the same speed, while I sat there, panting and sweating, trying to keep up. Finally, after two long months of torture, my physical therapist reassessed me and proudly proclaimed that my hip was healed.

“This is great news!” he said. “You can start playing again!” The season was already over.

Photo credit: Matt Manzi

At this point, all I could focus on was next year. I thought about starting to train again, I really did. But instead, I focused on other things: work, the new puppy, baking. I’ll start after vacation. It’s now the beginning of the New Year and I’m seriously beginning to wonder if I can do this again. I spent hundreds of hours training last year all for what? A horrible injury that took an entire season to recover from? What if it happens again? I don’t know if I can put myself through the torture of all this work, only to have everything collapse under me and miss another season. With every little lurking pain in my back, shoulder, or hamstring, I freak out thinking that I won’t be able to step onto a field again. I feel like I haven’t played ultimate in so long – have I forgotten what it’s like to be competitive? Would I even make a team if I tried? I felt so strong walking into tryouts last year, and the thought of being anything less than that seems so…unacceptable.

As I sit here writing, holding a cup of tea and a chocolate covered biscuit, looking at my slightly larger belly and my shrinking muscles, I wonder if it’s worth it. I could very easily call it quits, admit that I am a mediocre player at best, and move on with my life. I could save hours and hours of sweating, stiff muscles, and fatigue. I could call an early retirement and stick to tournaments like Lei-Out, Potlatch, or Kaimana and laugh when I get burned by a much younger, more athletic player.

But I don’t really want to. I don’t want to give up and admit defeat. I want to keep trying and see how far I can get in this ridiculous sport of ours, for the second time. I know it’s going to be difficult. Especially when I can’t run away this winter to warm and sunny Arizona to spend  all day, every day obsessing about ultimate. But I should at least try. I should at least push myself. Right?

Of course I should. I’ll start tomorrow…or the next day. Promise.

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  • Sara

    Thanks for this article. I broke my throwing arm pretty badly during my junior year college season right when I felt like I was in the peak of my game and about ready to try out for some club teams. I ended up needing two surgeries. Although I am back and playing, it hard to go back into the competitive circuit. I keep wondering if I am good enough and hesitating more than I really should when signing up for tryouts. I think I am going to switch it up and become a cutter now instead of a handler in hopes that a change will help me push myself and start over. Good luck to you and thank you. I’m with you.

  • Lulu

    I’m currently suffering some ankle issues and I’m wondering if it’s a sign from the universe to give up, this sport isn’t the right one for me. Good to know there are some other crazy-passionate people out there who aren’t willing to let go.

  • maddog

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed handling with you at tryouts. I hope to see you playing women’s again sometime soon.

    • Jen Pashley

      Thanks Maddog! I had a blast at tryouts with you too. I’ll be back, promise :)
      And congrats on bringing back gold from Dubai!

  • K Westerfield

    I’ve been reading a lot of articles about injuries and over-training. I can’t help but feel that some are losing the “spirit of the game” Ultimate isn’t about winning and losing it’s about having fun. If you win while having fun, that’s cool, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. The goal should be the fun of the play, not the outcome.