No matter how well we try to take care of ourselves, injuries happen. Accidents, overuse, and the natural progression of aging all contribute to wear and tear. Ultimately, after injury, we have two choices: Give up or overcome. Fortunately, swimmers are a tough bunch. Instead of thinking, “Does this mean I’m done?” we instinctively think, “Well, what can I do instead?” Being mentally strong can help carry us through when we’re not at the top of our game physically.
I started swimming at the age of nine. Over the last 16 years I’ve probably only taken a cumulative nine months off from swimming. As a result, the other 183 months of laps, weights and cross training have taken their toll. My litany of unfortunate injuries includes three stress fractures, a broken fibula, a cyst that had to be surgically removed and severe recurring groin pulls. These injuries have taught me to overcome and stay active in my sport and how to remain happy and healthy in general.
I’ve learned there are a few things necessary to remain pain free and, if you enjoy racing, compete comfortably.
Take Scheduled Time Off – I have fallen victim to this in the past, going straight from one season into the next. I was always afraid I would lose my conditioning if I didn’t. I have also had coaches who made me feel like I wasn’t working hard enough if I wasn’t doing 100,000 meters a week. But it’s just not true! Conditioning comes back quickly, and the mental and physical benefits you get from taking time off here and there allow you to come back better than you were before.
Don’t Over-train – Most Masters swimmers are shining examples of healthy living. Many are active outside of the pool, competing in triathlons, bike races, even marathons. But be sure when preparing for these things, and your meets, you’re doing so at a comfortable pace. If you’ve just come back from an extended layoff, don’t jump into twice-daily pool workouts, gym training and an extra run in the evening. Gradually build into it. Your bones, muscles and joints will thank you for it.
Never Get Discouraged – As athletes, our mental strength can help us maintain our edge when we physically break down. Never allow yourself to think, “I can’t.” Instead, get creative – think of new things you can try to stay fit and active. You may even find this is a blessing in disguise; I know I have. Going into my team’s last phase of training for the 2008 Olympic Trials, I suffered a severe groin pull—an unfortunate recurring injury for me—that left me entirely unable to kick breaststroke, my best stroke. But my coach and I didn’t dwell on it. Instead we came up with new drills to improve my pull, which had been the weakest part of my stroke. By focusing on what I could do, and not what I couldn’t, I was recovered in time for Trials and, in the end, was blessed with making the team.
Injuries Happen – Even when we do all of the right things, injuries can happen. They don’t, however, have to hold us back. We can proactively move to heal them and continue forward when they do occur by altering our approach. Remember: A strong mind promotes a strong body. Remain focused on your goals and stay positive and you will always be a cut above the rest. We do what we do because we love being active and healthy. A sedentary lifestyle just isn’t for us. When we have to adjust due to an unexpected obstacle in our path, don’t look at it as the end – look at it as the beginning of a new phase of training.
Megan Jendrick is a two-time U.S. Olympian with three Olympic medals (two gold, one silver) and a fitness columnist. She is co-author of the swimming for fitness book “Get Wet, Get Fit” and is featured on this year's Fitter & Faster Tour. To learn more from Megan and other Olympians check out the Master clinics offered by the Fitter and Faster Tour at www.swimchampions.com.