An unathletic athlete’s take on injuries.
I would never really consider myself an athlete in the traditional sense of the word. I live for sports. I want to pursue a career in the sports world. But I have never been particularly good at any of them. Upon arriving at Harvard, it appeared that my athletic career was almost definitely over. That was not exactly true, however. After a year of college, I realized I missed the team attitude—the idea that a bunch of people had my back on a field or court, the bus rides to opponent schools, the feeling of victory, and even the pain of defeat. I joined the Harvard Rugby Football Club as an answer.
This article is about health in sports. My second game of rugby, I slammed head to head with an opposing player and fractured my nasal bone and medial orbital, putting me out for the season. In my first week of practice in my second season, I separated my AC joint, putting me out for the first two weeks. And in the last preseason scrimmage of my third season, I hyperextended my knee, putting me out for the first two weeks once again. Rugby, like many sports, takes a beating on your body. I have never left a game without feeling sore, and often find myself struggling to move my neck and back.
My roommates and friends have seen me with a swollen eye, a sling, and a leg brace. They’ve watched me struggle to get homework done in long sittings because of headaches. And they have asked so many times: Why do you still do this to your body? I have even found myself asking this same question to plenty of my friends who are (actual) athletes. I wonder why they stay with an activity that takes up so much of their time, causing the pressure of mental stress along with physical ailments.
But I try to catch myself when I ask this question. I know the answer to this question. I have been asked it enough times that I have trite, contrived answers that mean nothing while simultaneously meaning almost — but not quite — everything. I say, oh I love the sport or it’s actually a great break from work and stress. Sure, these things are true. I love rugby, just as I loved basketball and soccer before it. And sometimes running, hitting, and passing are just what I need when the pressures of school and job searching have me feeling stressed.
The real reason behind accepting and even embracing the pain, though, is because the love of sports transcends some sort of simple pleasure derived from the sports itself or the benefits it provides. I love stepping onto a field, dressed in Harvard colors, with fourteen men that I know are willing to take a beating for me and for the win. I love the feeling that comes when I’m running full speed into a ruck, knowing that no pain is great enough to offset the joy that is playing alongside a bunch of teammates for the same cause. I love working every day to get better.
Plenty of students spend vast amounts of times with their extra-curricular activities. Some people spend every weekend away for mock trial or debate. Others are up all hours of the night rehearsing for shows and performances. And some still are spending every waking moment campaigning for a just cause or social movement. These people understand the mental stress that comes from these activities, but they do so because they love it and they refuse to let their teammates down.
Sports are no different. A broken bone may be inconvenient, but it’s not a reason to stop playing when the mindset is one of total sacrifice for the betterment of the team.
With this mindset, however, does come some consequences. There are mental health concerns — especially when concussions and head injuries are involved. Student athletes, just like students with outstanding club or job commitments, are under pressure to do too much in too little time. These concerns are far from negligible, but they are not exactly the point of this article. Sure, I said the point is health in sports. Health in sports is slightly more nuanced, however, once you have been the injured person playing a sport.
The concerns become slightly smaller. The love of the game, the love of your teammates, and the love of competition alter the perception of your own personal love for your body. I have been concerned about people who rush back from injuries, but I also understand where they are coming from. For most of us, whether club or varsity, these are the last years of organized, competitive sports. Missed time is lost time and lost time is scary.
One day, I will stop pretending to be able to play rugby. On that day, my back will be a little less sore. My legs will be a little less bruised. My head will feel a little more secure. But I fear that I will feel some sort of emptiness. Saturdays will have a little less meaning. And the more time I spend out with injuries, the less time those Saturdays will truly mean something.
If I’m down, I’m not working for my teammates. If I’m down, I’m not getting better each and every minute on the pitch. If I’m down, I can’t contribute in practice and games to the extent that I really want to.
So getting back up is the only option.
Sean Frazzette’16 ([email protected]) would prefer not to break his face again.