I’m Back! A Reflection on Injury and How it Affects Everything…

This year is off to a great start. I just returned from my first race of the year and my second time out on the river since last August. Why you ask?

All I can say is that it was an extraordinarily long fall and a tough 2011 all around. But, I made it; I’m still here and I’m still strong!! Sorry for the bad Antwone Fisher reference, but to say the least, I am stoked that my body has given me a second chance to return to what it is about which I am most passionate, and I am extremely grateful for an opportunity at a second chance and getting things in order for 2012. I truly feel this is going to be a great year!

A little back story first. Year after year, I usually find myself in a bit of a predictable routine where the year starts strong with paddling, training and happy life in general and quickly leads to me going back to the security of seasonal work teaching kayaking. First, let me make this clear: I live to teach. Other than kayaking for myself, there is nothing I enjoy more. This, however, was my 7th year teaching professionally for a paddling school and the daily grind finally caught up with me physically and mentally. Working long days in the heat of Charlotte, NC at the USNWC has been exhausting, and though I made a lot of very positive lifestyle changes this year, the heat, labor and lack of rest and variety broke me, literally.

Back in August I started to experience swelling and pain in my sternoclavicular joint, the joint that joins your clavicle to your sternum. Also known as the “forgotten joint” this area is the last stop structurally in the shoulder girdle before shocks, load, etc. enter into your core. Typical trauma to this joint usually occurs from car accidents or football injuries. In this case, my injury was caused purely by overuse. Supporting people for 8 hours a day teaching rolling, “hands of god,” paddling while teaching and trying to maintain my level of personal paddling was all too much for it; it finally gave. After two weeks of painful swelling, the joint finally became unstable during a lesson and the clavicle popped out while I was rolling up a guest. Slumped over and feeling ultimately defeated, I realized I had to stop.

The first examinations were pretty inconclusive of what kind of damage was done; x-rays showed the joint in good shape but there was still clearly something wrong as I had lost all strength and lacked confidence in its stability. Despite any amount of rest time, the joint would sublux and I would experience a painful burning sensation ultimately landing me back at sqaure one. I was finally referred to an orthopedic and it was concluded that rest and stabilization was the only thing to do. At this point, I realized my whole fall season was over; I would be lucky if I would be ready for the Christmas tree season I partake in every year to bring in extra income for the next season. After four weeks of no improvement and at times worse pain, I was finally scheduled for an MRI.

Ultimately, the MRI showed that I had torn the joint capsule (frontal ligaments) away from my sternum; essentially, the soft tissue that allows theclavicle to sit nicely on the sternum had been removed entirely. This was the reason I was experiencing anterior (outward) subluxations. The positive news I received, however, was that scar tissue was present and the joint was showing properties indidcating healing. The prognosis was that surgery would not be necessary and after a few more weeks of rest, I would be able to start physical therapy. Considering that most surgical procedures on this joint are fairly unfounded and not guaranteed, this was great news. At this point, I had been down for about 6 weeks. That was time that I was not only not paddling, but I was also completely sidelined from any activity for the joint. To get a good picture of this, place your fingers on the end of the clavicle near your sternum and breathe deeply. Now try walking with your arms swinging or simply bend your elbow, raise your arm slightly, etc; you get the picture. What is amazing about this joint is that any movement from your head through your shoulder girdle will cause subsequent movement in the joint.

This can have quite the effect on one’s personal disposition in life. No, I was not thinking of jumping from a bridge, but it did effect my daily attitude, relationships, work ethic, and most of all, my overall outlook on where I am at in life. Reflection on your life is good, but sitting around with nothing but time on your hands dwelling on how miserable you feel… well, let us just say it is not good for anyone. Fortunately for me, I had some pretty outstanding people in my life who gave me their shoulders. I was weight, undoubtedly, for those closest to me. And when I saw the toll it was taking on those closest, I realized it was time to buck up.

I have always been creative but I usually sacrifice my pursuit for creative endeavors for financial security or sometimes even immediate gratification. During this time I noticed that I still have a lot of unrealized dreams and goals and, at the age of 31, I better get on them while I still have youth to my advantage. Getting hurt and having setbacks are a part of life, but I would rather have those setbacks during the pursuit of my goals and my pursuit of happiness through work, play and my family and friends. I want to make an investment in my life  and not just find what gives me a feeling of security. I believe the stronger I get with the practice of this philosophy, the more secure I will become anyway.

There are some really cool things happening in life right now. I am seeing an overwhelming wealth of love and support. I am also seeing the beginnings of a major transition in my life. I feel that when it comes to the things in life about which I am most passionate, I am very goal driven. Goals- both short term and long term- will still very much be a part of my life, but now I am also making some core principles the cornerstones of my life. Number one is to love passionately and to share that love. Those that dwell on negative things are not worth your time and rob you of that love. Second is to pursue my goals wholeheartedly and take steps that keep forward momentum towards those goals. Third is to have patience, and understand that things outside of myself are out of my control; adjustments will always have to be made. I know that if I stick to those principles only good things will come.

I have said this in years past and I will say it again: this year is going to be a big year. I am currently taking it just as I take my footsteps: one foot in front of another and I am always trying to do the next right thing in my life. So what’s up in the near future? H2o Dreams will make a full launch this year as an instructional school and resource for whitewater paddlers. After a pretty vicious hack this past fall, the website is rebuilt at its new home. I will be teaming up with Wavesport once again and visiting many east coast dealers as well as offering instructional clinics. Wavesport has had my back with this vision since I joined them almost 3 years ago and I feel it is only going to grow. My business partnerships with friends have also grown stronger; Sam Fulbright and Pilot Collective Media has committed to some of the best whitewater media our sport has seen. With some brilliant media in our sport already, I think we are about to shake things up dramatically this year. We have already exhibited pure commitment with the Green Race Coverage last year, and with a huge depth of experience on our circle of creative minds, our projects in 2012 will surely turn some heads.

I have been hard at work in my notebook, behind my computer and sitting with friends brainstorming; things will be coming to a head very soon. All I can say is that not only am I back, but I feel renewed and stronger willed than I ever have before.  Looking forward to seeing you on a river soon!