A teared-up look on my Instagram feed this past Saturday mirrored a recent memory. I was looking at a sad face of Emelie Forsberg, one of the world’s top female endurance athletes and a fellow Chamoniarde, who has just torn her knee ligament during a race. The post read ‘my season is over’… Oh boy, how much did I want to reach out to this brave yet now so very fragile 27-year old and give her a big sisterly hug in the world.
I recalled my own dark moment a few weeks ago when all I could feel was anguish, fear, pain and anger. I have just committed to challenging a female record on Explorers Grand Slam and five days later, during a routine descent, I managed to trash my wrist… It was New Year’s eve with clinics shut and emergency rooms overflowing. Not to mention, a superstitious Russian saying that one’s year would be mirrored by the way one celebrates this auspicious occasion.
A friend comforted me by saying: ‘It will be a great chapter in your book’ … hm, the book was not in my plans and hence the vision was far from being desirable. That morning I could not put on my socks let alone lace up my boots.
My mood on the days that followed oscillated between despair and hope. I felt seriously bipolar. I could not accept being weak and so I went into an overdrive trying to snowshoe every hill in sight. What I did not know is how taxing bone healing was on one’s body. I would come back from a two-hour walk uphill and pass out on a coach. And there I was planning a 5 months long marathon of climbing a breathless combination of Aconcagua, Carstensz, Elbrus, North Pole, Everest and Denali.
A week later, I fainted at a French hospital when a nurse removed a temporary cast to reveal a placid yellowish resemblance of a limb that used to be my arm. It looked corps-ish and only then did I realise how profoundly screwed I was. I was brought back to life by a lump of sugar and a motherly hug from otherwise terribly Gaellic nurse.
For someone like me, who grew accustomed to being strong, accepting help meant accepting the reality of my injury. And for my own sanity, I was deeply in denial. So soon enough my family forgot that I had a broken wrist as I hoovered enthusiastically and tried to cook up the world. That fed resentment and self-pity. In truth, my family was nothing but loving.
Add to that everyone’s expert opinion informed by their own experience. Most were negative but one stands out as the most helpful and for that I am forever grateful. Two weeks into my injury, I walked into a London pub to meet Russell Brice, my friend and Himalayan guide par excellence. Russ was leading my March climb to Carstensz Pyramid. Out of Grand Slam challenges this one stands out as a pure rock climb. I was expecting Russ to show me a door and tell me not to show up in Jakarta. Instead, he asked me to resist pulling his hand. When I just about managed, he looked at me, smiled and said ‘you will be fine’.
So, back to Emelie, my few cents of advice for you are:
- don’t allow anyone to contaminate your sense of optimism about recovery or your training plans
- time passes faster than you fear
- one can and should train. If anything, for the endorphins that you will so need during this down period
- …and, yeah, do accept help. It actually feels good… something a strong women may never otherwise experience 🙂
Today I was given a clean bill of health by my surgeon… I feel blessed and elated. It’s now truly onwards and upwards!