It’s fair to assume that the longer you spend in sports the more likely you are to sustain some form of injury. I’ve had my fair share of bumps and bruises just like anyone else, and up until the last couple of years nothing too serious comparatively.
Unfortunately I’ve also had two collapsed lungs which some would consider a tad worse. For the sake of this introspective piece I’ll focus briefly on both times I was forced to deal with the injury itself, both physically and mentally. I’ve tried to break it down into separate points for ease of understanding (mostly for myself because I’m a meathead), I’ve also looked at the difference physically and mentally between the first and second time around.
Point of reference
There’s been a couple of points of reference for me over the course of my injuries. At the time of both collapses I was a competitive strongman, both times I was training for upcoming comps, and both times my left lung blew out I was doing light weight higher rep work. The first time I thought I’d pulled something in my back due to the pain, the second time I had a point of reference for that pain.
But to focus on the subject of coming back from injury “point of reference” can be important, for myself personally I needed a point of reference to know where I was in terms of my own progress. I had friends and fellow competitors that had come back from injuries but nothing similar to this, so being that I had no immediate external point of reference I was forced to create an internal one.
After being cleared to start training post first blow out I knew what my personal results were and I was easily able to gauge comeback progress based off of that. At the time of my first blowout I’d only been training & competing in lower level strongman for around a year, my competitive point of reference at that point was fairly limited, I’d competed 4 times and had some success local level but nothing extensive to gauge myself against.
Between the collapses is where I had my best strongman success, competing 6 times in 3 different states (the first of which was around 3 months post collapse), I managed 5 1st places ( 3 of which were state title wins) a 3rd place internationally, and got my invite the Arnold strongman competition. Competition and training wise everything had surpassed my previous points of reference, which meant that I had a whole new set of points of reference for when my lung went again. The second time around though my mentality had changed which I’ll touch on in the following points.
Point of aim
Point of aim is probably the most important thing from a competitive stand point, I’ve always made sure to have a point of aim for whatever I was competing in/training for, whether that be a particular competitor I was going to face, a particular competition I wanted to enter/be invited to, or even as simple as particular number I wanted to hit on a lift.
First blowout my points of aim were simple, I wanted to get invited to Arnolds, and everything else at that point was going to be gravy. For every comp I signed up for I had a different point of aim, whether that was a particular lift or a particular placing there was always something to strive for.
I was lucky, I managed to do comparatively well and had a blast doing it, and for the most part I surpassed all the short term goals I had set myself. At the time of my second blowout I had clear and discernable points of aim, but I had a major shift in perspective which I’ll have a look at in the next “P”.
When my lung went the second time I had a light bulb moment where I knew instantly I was done with Strongman. My initial thoughts were only cemented when my surgeon told me that the chance of another blow out were high if I kept doing what I was doing. Being a family man I knew that I couldn’t risk putting my family through that again, the send time had been especially hard on my family, and seeing me in the hospital bed can’t have been easy for any of them. I ended up spending 10 days in hospital with tubes hanging out of my chest and lost 7kgs due to not eating.
Now this didn’t mean I didn’t want to compete in something, less lung didn’t equate to less competitive spirit. It did how ever give me new points of aim, the first of which was competing at the King Kong international grip challenge. So 6 weeks after lung collapse, 5 weeks after getting home from hospital, and after losing around 13kgs I jumped at the opportunity to compete. At this point my point of aim was purely to compete (and not reinjure myself and annoy my loving wife further), I was lucky enough to come away uninjured, win best lifter locally and place 5th internationally.
All of my subsequent points of aim have been combat sport related, it’s felt refreshing to get back to my first love, but I have delved into new terrain.
I have started training BJJ as my primary form of grappling which has opened new competitive and personal points of aim, and I’ve also been selected for the Victorian Sumo wrestling team which offers more points of aim entirely, all of which are exciting.
The following point was probably the deciding factor for my re-evaluation;
Price to pay
This is where I can probably get a little abstract. Each time I was faced with the injury I was forced to define what I was willing to give in order to take part in strongman. I like to think I’m a fairly self-aware person, and as such h I’m aware of my own deficiencies mentally and physically. The second I felt my lung go the second time I knew in my heart I wasn’t willing to risk a third time, I knew then as I know now that I wasn’t going to win Arnolds or worlds strongest, there were better athletes than me, willing to give more in order to reach that goal and I couldn’t say I was willing to give my all in order to compete with those guys. Like I said earlier my competitive desire never left, I just knew deep down I was never going to push to the level needed with the risk of my lung going out again. Even without the risk of the lung there were things I couldn’t give that in the long term the sport would probably require of me.
I started strongman in the first place because I was able to train by myself at home, the positive aspect being that I could spend more time at home with my family and choose when I trained, due to this one of the limiting factors was access to equipment. In the majority of competitions I entered I was using equipment I hadn’t trained with putting myself at a disadvantage. The price to play in regards to this could be buying more equipment (monetary price) or travelling to gyms that had the
equipment. I couldn’t justify spending large amounts of money on extra equipment, and spending time away from home seemed counterproductive to the reason I started strongman in the first place.
Another price I wasn’t willing to pay was using PED’s. I’ve been a lifetime natural athlete and I wasn’t willing to take the jump across to the dark side. This isn’t to knock anyone that does use Mexican supplements, I can see the obvious benefits, and it’s not to say that the only reason the top guys would beat me is because of using gear, in fact being that strongman is an untested sport meant that I was choosing to put myself at a disadvantage. At the end of the day there are strongmen who are all natural who would still beat me due to skill and work ethic and it’s ignorant of me to think otherwise. Either way staying natural was an important personal choice, probably due to my time spent in combat sports where PED’s are both banned and derided within the sports themselves.
The largest and most important price to weigh up for myself though was the chance of reinjuring my lung. The difference between both occurrences was my willingness to risk the chance of a 3rd blowout, the first time around I was willing to roll the dice and see what my body would let me do, the second time around I couldn’t bring myself to pay that price again. I love competing and as an extension training for competition, the vessel for competition is secondary to competing itself. Like I wrote earlier, the instant my lung collapsed the second time I knew I was done with strength sports, but I’ll never be done with training and competing in general.
This little piece was more of a way to get some of my thoughts on paper and examine my own journey a little bit more in depth, hopefully it helps someone else put their own recovery into perspective. In going forward I have been constantly trying to assess the 3 P’s, what or who is my point of reference, what or who is my point of aim, and in the end what am I willing to pay to play the game in question & if I’m not willing to play maybe I need to pick a new game to play all together.
Ideally you can assess all of this before an injury, but in the end if you can treat an injury, no matter how big or small, as an opportunity for some mental growth then that’s a win in itself.
Now here’s a quote I’ve stolen from a much better writer than myself that probably contradict everything I’ve just written.
“Find what you love and let it kill you.
Let it drain you of your all.
Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness.
Let it kill you and devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover”.