June 23, 2024

There is nothing scarier than the thought of losing a part of yourself. The idea that you could lose something you love scares us all. But what happens when those fears are realized, and you have to live without something that has been a part of you for so long? Many athletes experience this when they are injured. An injury can mean permanent change and with that change, a blow to mental health. But how does one rise above the pain of losing — perhaps forever — the game that they have dedicated so much of their life to?

“This athlete is not on the field anymore, and so they’re going to struggle with that having lived their whole life on the field,” said Dr. Ed Garrett, professor of sports psychology.

After an injury, an athlete is faced with difficult changes. An injury can mean a role change on the team or being off the field (or court) for the rest of the season.

“Things are changing,” Garrett said. “Nobody likes change, but in many situations with injured athletes, it’s that force to change that’s probably one of the biggest hurdles they have to overcome. That forced change takes some work. We have to counsel through that. They can’t change what happened — they have to control the controllable.”

These changes can lead to mental health obstacles that may be hard to overcome.

“An athlete is going to go through a grieving process, and they go through a gambit of stuff until they get to acceptance,” Garrett said. “And every athlete will get to a level of acceptance at some point but intermixed is anger and denial and possibly depression.”

Injuries are constantly on the mind of an athlete. They have to consider the fact the nature of sports could lead to injuries.

“For me, the thought of injuries has always been a huge fear, as I was never aware of how they may impact my life,” said Makenna Dashiell, sophomore early childhood development major and first baseman for the women’s softball team. “However, injuries are bound to happen. As we know as athletes, we put countless hours physically into our sports, and our bodies break down daily.”

Any injury from mild to serious can affect an athlete and present unwelcome circumstances.

“I personally have never had an injury before like a torn ACL, but I had bad back pain throughout my career here at CBU,” said Erin Gallagher, business graduate student and player for the women’s soccer team. “These two injuries were perfect examples of how these injuries correlate directly to mental health.

When your body is in pain, it can be difficult to play to your full potential in games whether it is fear or frustration holding you back.”

The rehabilitation process recognizes the mental health problems that may come after an injury.

“As many would say, mental health is one of the most influential or debilitating parts of the rehabilitation process,” Gallagher said. “While I know I am just in the beginning of my nine- to 12-month healing process, I know that the mental health battle will continue to get harder. There are really hard days, but the good days make them all worth it.”

While mental health is recognized in the process of rehabilitation, it may still have negative effects, even long after the physical injury has healed.

“An injury can be extremely detrimental toward an athlete’s mental health,” Gallagher said. “There are so many athletes out there, famous or not, that have gone through an injury and rehab process but still never played the same again because of their mental health. Injuries can bring up a lot of things like overthinking, fear and uncertainty.”

Fortunately for the athletes at CBU, they have easy access to counselors and psychologists who open their eyes to new opportunities and hope for the future.

“We want to have a cognitive gameplan for what’s taken place,” Garrett said. “Of course, the athlete is going to experience fear a lot of the time pre-surgery, and then we want to focus on simple things like goal setting.”

Dashiell tore her meniscus and had to sit out on most of the season this fall. This was her first injury and came with some difficulty for her. But with help from counseling, she is moving forward with purpose.

“It has been hard for me to sit back and watch my team playing games and practicing and knowing that I could not participate,” Dashiell said. “I will say this injury has put a new perspective into my head.”

“Instead of sitting back in my sadness of not being able to participate, Dr. G (Dr. Garrett) opened my eyes to learning more about the game. He told me to watch my position and hitting aspects intentionally and find things that will better my game for when I have the chance to come back after my recovery.”

Another unique feature of rehabilitation at CBU is an incorporation of faith in the healing process.

“(When) the athlete is from a spiritual background, regardless of what their faith is or religious background, understanding that God is in control, he has a plan, you want to lean on him through this,”

Garrett said. “And utilizing one’s faith is a coping technique that can be really powerful — something we are really blessed to have here at CBU.”

Being able to sit under counsel and work through emotions is vital, especially if an injury leads to never being able to play again.

“I think that an athlete’s biggest fear is not being able to play their sport,” Gallagher said. “I am extremely grateful that I will be able to return to my sport even if it may take a year. I would remind anyone that this is something we can’t control and that we can only react to.”

Injuries can lead to unforeseen situations that can be extremely uncomfortable for an athlete. But the solutions provided here at CBU can help an athlete change their mindset and provide a bright future, on and off the field.

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