Three weeks ago, with the assistance of my knee brace and tape, I walked up the 463 stone steps to the top of the Duomo in Florence, Italy. Three months ago, I couldn’t have made it up even half those steps. Over the past three years, I have suffered from knee pain which my doctors have yet to determine a diagnosis. I used to love hiking, swimming, skiing, and dancing, but have since been limited in my ability to participate in these activities. In the seven months that I was fortunate enough to work at Townsend Bertram & Company, it was difficult for me to help people plan their adventures to hike and bike and ski, as I was not longer able to adventure pain-free. The knee brace or compression sleeve that I wore each day at the shop reminded me of this.
During the time that I worked at TB&C, the most common conversation I shared with customers was about my knee. Often when they noticed my knee brace, they would lift up their own pant leg to show me theirs and asked me what happened. Most that I spoke to had been injured in a sports accident, which was corrected by a surgery followed by physical therapy. I sympathized with the customers as they explained how frustrating it was to do what they loved. Despite my happiness for anyone who had healed from an injury, I also felt envious of their recovery.
I know that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but I no longer view my injury as a weakness. I have come to realize my injury is an obstacle to work around, an obstacle that continues to build my strength and resilience.
I want to share with you all what I have learned over the past few years. Take my advice with a grain of salt, but know that you are taking it from someone who helps people plan activities that she, herself, may never be able to participate in again. Push yourself mentally, but do not strain yourself physically.
There are products designed to help those with injuries and/or disabilities: trekking poles, orthotix, special sneakers- use them! You won’t look weak for needing assistance; take pride in the fact that you are taking care of yourself. When hiking, take a dog and a friend and hike slowly, soak up the sunrays, and the views. Do not stress when you try something new: it may be difficult, but that is okay.
Learn to enjoy observing nature. Try photography instead of trail running if running is painful. Again: take it slow! It is not always a race to the top of the mountain. Jealousy does not help: just because someone else can run four miles without being in pain and you cannot, everything is ok! Sulking and self pity does not help. Own your injury and keep trekking, figuratively and literally! Pain can be a mental game as much as a physical one, so practice self care. And last but not least (and my personal favorite): forget the mentality of: ‘my life is trail running or nothing,’ but rather adopt the mentality of ‘my life is trail running or anything else’ There may be an activity that you’ll love, but you will never know unless you try!
I have to constantly remind myself to take my own advice. I am set to go on a light hiking trip in the Swiss Alps in April, and this will be the first hiking trip I have participated in in a few years. I am both excited, and nervous to explore these unfamiliar mountains. The cobblestone sidewalks that line the streets of Italy are harsh on my knee, but I make sure to wear the best shoes and continue my physical therapy as if I was back in Chapel Hill.