We all have a few things that are special to us. For some, it’s reading, hiking, swimming, golfing, woodworking…

For me, running was one of the things that I held closest to my heart.

I felt free and strong. Racing became a way for me to clear my mind. It made me feel healthy physically and emotionally. I felt like it was something I was good at – something I could always, without fail, rely on. Besides, at my school, if you want to be validated, play a sport. I was feeling confident for my first year of cross country and high school track when the unexpected happened: I tore my Achilles’ tendon in half.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Achilles’, it’s the thick yet pliable tendon just above your heel that attaches to your calf. It’s crucial to how you walk, jump, and yes – run.

 

recovery to Achilles tendon

 

I got surgery the following week after that unforgettable basketball practice. I could not really get out of bed without a lot of help from my mom for a few days due to my medication and pain level. All the while, I kept thinking about being able to play basketball or cross country or track. But the average amount of time to heal this sort of injury takes about a year. I was still hopeful, though, because the doctors reassured me that I would undoubtedly be an exception to this tendency (or TENDONcy… ha). They were optimistic that I could easily heal in much less time since I was so young and healthy. And I believed them. I really did.

Struggling with Recovery

Brimming with hope and determination, I began physical therapy after only eight weeks. I did what my physical therapist told me to do. It was weird for me to only be able to do things in moderation – I was always taught while playing basketball or running in track and field that the way to success was to push your limits and work as hard as you can. That’s just not how recovery from something like this works.

So soon enough, the pain came. And it didn’t get better as I continued with my rehabilitation sessions. Every time I ran a certain amount or did plyometrics, it erupted sharply in my heel and tendon. Even when I took it a little more easy, the pain persisted. I felt betrayed by my own body and wondered why, even when I tried my best, I failed. Sometimes, even walking caused pain. I ended up not being able to race at all the entire cross country season, although I did manage to run a little during practice and physical therapy. The very thing that made me feel so free and liberated before became my constant ball and chain.

My uneasy parents and I decided against track and field that year to avoid the same disappointment as cross country brought. That way, hopefully, I could rest it and prepare for cross country next year. After months of this unexplained pain and an MRI, my surgeon advised me to take it easy for awhile, because I had bursitis and a small bone growth on my heel. She told me that it would go away eventually. But it really didn’t.

Year Two

I got a second surgery to remove the bone growth and bursitis about a year out from the first, hoping this would mean a clean slate with a happy ending. I was so desperate to do it before cross country, I got the debridement just weeks before I was to begin play practice as Ariel in The Little Mermaid (and the best experience of my life was playing that role). Maybe, just maybe, this would fix it.

The play gained a lot of positive attention, summer rolled on. I took things slow with an at-home physical therapy protocol. I enjoyed having much less pain than I had before. Summer ended more quickly than it had begun, and I saw the upcoming cross country season with determination and an open mind.

My coach was very optimistic and kind throughout the whole process. His dedication means the world to me. With the help of my mom, my coach, and friends, I managed to complete a couple of races, but I was forced by my pain level to walk the hills. I felt a little discouraged because once again, I watched others succeed and do the things I know I could have done before I was injured. Why did my own life disappoint me? Couldn’t I control some aspect of this? Why did it have to be me? All I wanted was the same simple freedom of running. I could still remember those nighttime runs, the clean, cool air singing through my hair, silence enveloping me except for my own breath.

Why couldn’t I just have that back?

Questioning Myself

After cross country ended, I was relieved. I had stressed myself and my family out more than ever. I still ran, of course, but only very small intervals at first to avoid pain. That way, I could slowly build myself up, little by little, to run several miles. As always, I participated in the winter performance for our local theater. White Christmas was a major hit in my area. I had so much fun with so many amazing people, doing something that I loved wholeheartedly. The post-show blues were real, but I kept busy with a new gym membership and the endless flow of homework. It felt better to have a little break, because I needed to start preparing for track and field.

Ugh.

Then, in the car one day, my mom had a chat with me. We talked about all the other things that I loved to do: writing, theater, singing. I didn’t have to continue this vicious cycle of hope, disappointment, and resentment. But I was so unsure. I didn’t want to give up running. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who expected me to participate in track.

Was this grueling process worth it, though?

I contemplated this over the next few weeks, continuing to run and gradually increasing my distance. Then, one day while running at the gym, the pain came back. I was upset, I suppose, but I came to a solid conclusion. I told my parents that I didn’t want this anymore. They agreed with me when I said that I felt like I was constantly hurting myself emotionally for a lost cause, and I had the rest of my life to worry about. They were very understanding and probably more relieved than I was. As things became more clear, it felt like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders.

New Opportunities

It took me so long to realize that I am more than a torn-up ankle. I’m glad I did come to these terms, because even just a short week or so after, I’ve been seizing and creating new opportunities.

As I’ve mentioned, sports are overly glorified in my school. There aren’t really many options for those who aren’t athletic or don’t necessarily like them. I always complained about how our school didn’t offer much in performing arts.

Theater is such an important part of my life. It shapes who I am today and has been a great source of my happiness and confidence. You have the chance to meet so many incredible and open-minded people. So I began to brainstorm ways I could incorporate this into the school, and I came up with an idea – what if our school had a performing arts club?

With this club, I imagined a student-powered organization where we host open mic nights at the school, conduct and partake in plays, have clinics for the elementary kids, and more. I mulled these ideas over in my head and mustered up my courage to present this idea to my principal a couple of days ago, and she was thrilled with the idea. She eagerly gave me her full permission to go through with this, and told me she would help as our advisor. She gave me permission to incorporate some help from my friends from our local theater board.

Also, I got a job, so that’s cool!

Conclusion

To tell you the truth, I don’t really believe that things happen for a reason. But I do believe that you can find really good things in bad experiences. I didn’t work hard for no reason at all. Through this journey to recovery, I’ve gained more than just a higher pain tolerance. I’ve opened up to committing to things not because I feel like I’m pressured to, but because I love them. I realized that it wasn’t my ankle that needed the most to be in good health, it was my mind and heart. I’ve learned how to identify what’s most important to me.

This isn’t necessarily the end of my running career. I hope one day to run again, but let’s not worry about that now. This is the beginning of doing the right thing for myself and the lives of others. After all that’s happened, I finally feel like I can control my own life. And that’s true freedom.