For the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting with some friends about what it was like playing ultimate when we were 18 years old. We recalled ourselves as young, new players who loved to run around, toss the disc, and enjoy the freedom away from classes and homework. We reminisced over spending hours driving to tournaments, practicing or playing in leagues. But when the topic of warm ups and injuries came around, no one remembered taking either one very seriously.
Now, our routine is much different. We spend a lot of time warming up with stretching, plyos, and sprint intervals, to name a few. Our bags are full of ibuprofen, wraps, foam rollers, and topical heat rubs because we will do anything to prevent an injury. If we had the chance to talk to our 18-year-old selves about the seriousness of warming up and proper recovery, maybe we would have avoided that “nagging injury” we sustained when we were younger. But there was always a story behind it: the game to go to Nationals, universe point, or League Finals. We drove ourselves to injury because we cherished the victory above our bodies.
My first serious injury was in 2008, the first year I played on Scorch. It was Trouble in Vegas and by the end of Saturday I started feeling pain in my quad. I shook it off and hastily wrapped it on Sunday morning. Then, late in the day, our coach arranged a third and final game against Oregon. After losing the first four points due to various mental mistakes, she called a timeout, visibly frustrated with our poor performance. I felt so guilty that I didn’t have the courage to tell her that extreme pain was radiating from my quad down to my knee. At one point, covering a hard dump cut, I heard a “pop” noise. But my coach kept calling me onto the field and I was too stubborn to tell her how I was feeling. Because I didn’t, I ended up with a 2nd degree strain in my quad, and it took over eight months to recover and run without pain. When it’s cold, I can still feel the scar tissue under my skin.
After playing nine years of ultimate, I can say that although victory really is sweet, it’s not worth getting a long-term injury over. It’s not worth all the time, money, and energy it takes to get your body back to normal. And it’s certainly not worth that voice inside your head saying, “If only I had taken better care of myself.”
In some way, I wish someone had told me how much of an idiot I was. But in reality, someone probably did, and I should have known better. I did this to myself. Only one of my past injuries was from a freak accident. The rest were from the selfish idea that I could shake it off, play through the pain, and deal with the consequences tomorrow.
Training changed all of that. I finally understood that while I can’t afford to take time off for an injury, that doesn’t mean simply pushing through pain. I started putting more time and energy into warming up, cooling down, and recovering. I make sure to focus on how each element of my warm up is helping my body prepare to play at 100%, which includes foam rolling, stretching, plyos and short sprints. It takes a fair amount of time, but I feel more prepared and loose than I have with other warm ups. Yoga has also helped so much in stretching out my muscles from constant hard use. As much as my brain keeps yelling “Go, go, go!” I try to listen to what the rest of my body is saying. Can I push through this and be fine? Or will I have to take a day off because something hurts too much?
If there was one thing I could have told myself at 18, I would have said to warm up properly and take the time to adequately recover. Put in the extra work to make sure your body is safe. I wonder if I would have listened.