MY CAREER-ENDING INJURY
On December 11, 2015, I looked up at the clock hanging on the wall of my hospital room in Vechta, Germany. It was 2:02 am. My hands clung tight to my left knee as it throbbed so profusely that I thought my leg would explode. I rang the bell for the nurse. She didn't come.
Hours earlier, I had undergone surgery to repair the severe damage to the cartilage in that knee. By this time in the night, the pain was excruciating, and my anesthesia had completely worn off. It was almost unbearable, but it still didn't compare to the pain I felt when doctors, only days prior, warned me that this injury had most likely ended my career. I'd been playing basketball competitively since I was nine years old (I was 27). I couldn't imagine it ending like this. What would I do without the game? Basketball had been my entire world, and from one day to the next, my dream had turned into a nightmare.
To deal with the discomfort, I started speaking to myself, "This is temporary, the pain will be over soon." It was a full hour before the nurse finally reached me. Trust me when I say it felt like an eternity. As she entered the room, she immediately noticed the sheer agony in my eyes as I held on to my knee for dear life. Although the response to my ring was delayed, that night, she was my lifesaver.
The doctors suggested that I stay in the hospital for a few nights. With nowhere to go, I had a lot of time to think about how I would respond to the situation at hand. The truth is when I first heard the news that my "career was ending," I was devastated. At that moment, I didn't see hope, I wasn't optimistic, and I immediately came into agreement with what had been spoken about my career. On top of that, I didn't have a backup plan in life.
But there is something to be said about taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. I'd always been one to compete at a high level. This situation would require me to compete at that same level, but with a different opponent. This time, I would be competing within myself, to push like never before, to stand on faith, without knowing if what I desired would even be possible. However, I made up my mind that if I never played competitively again, it wouldn't be because I didn't give everything I had to make it happen. The only reason would be because God himself had other plans. Otherwise, I was going to do what almost everyone believed to be impossible – I would play professional basketball again.
With new-found energy and a transformed mindset, I prepared myself for my greatest competition yet. Doctors told me that it would be at least one year before I would have the slightest chance to try to play. When I walked (with crutches) out of that hospital, I stepped into the first day of what would be the longest journey of my life until that point. Fueled by a hunger to succeed, I immediately got to work. I devoted every single day for the next year of my life to my goal. I exercised my leg as I was instructed. I changed my eating habits. I also changed my environment by enrolling in a sports rehab center. I wanted to be around people who were also on a similar journey, as well as work with experts specific to my injury. The days I didn't feel like showing up, I reminded myself of my why. I wanted to play again. Deep down, I knew I would.
With every passing day, I was building stronger confidence in that belief. My daily commitment was fueling my life with momentum for getting healthy again. After four months of dedication, the doctor at my center informed me that the cartilage had already healed together! Even though the cartilage was looking good, that didn't confirm how it would respond to the stress of high-impact sports. It would be another six months before I would even step foot on a basketball court. With ten months behind me, I slowly made my way into light basketball workouts. I felt good, but I was still cautious. Coming back too early from injuries is something with which many athletes (including me) are all too familiar. I couldn't afford to make that mistake.
By late December of 2016, I felt ready. My workouts were going well but more importantly, my knee felt GREAT. Because I stayed ready, 'the call' finally came from a former coach of mine. He needed a guard and was willing to take the chance with me. So, on December 30, 2016, I returned to a basketball court in Hamburg, Germany, and took part in my first pro game in over a year. My comeback was a thriller, 22pts, 7rebs, and the game-winner! The feeling was indescribable.
I write this blog post today having just finished up my 11th season. My injury in 2015 was a minor setback that ultimately launched me forward in my career. There is so much more to this story, much of which I will describe in one of the books. But here are a few things I want to impress on you.
There is no such thing as defeat until it's accepted as reality. How we think and what we believe, ultimately shapes our world. With every setback in life comes an opportunity for growth. We must be committed to the process of obtaining our goals. Life is happening for us, not to us!
Silver Lining: In November of 2016, my oldest sister Jennifer got married. Since most of my year is spent playing overseas, I typically miss all special events – holidays, birthdays, even weddings. But because I was recovering from an injury, I was still in America when it was time for her BIG day (I normally leave in August). I was so happy and proud to be there for her on that day! And the reason I was able to be there…... because I got injured.
I say that to say this. Sometimes we don't always see the big picture from the beginning. But just trust that even if you can't see it, all things are somehow working together for your good. Search for the lesson in everything. Oftentimes when we are moving too fast, life has a way of slowing us down.
Without my injury, I wouldn't have this story to tell you today. Be encouraged, pain is temporary, and you get to decide what you want your life to be, regardless of what obstacles might come your way. Many people will give their opinions, but what you believe will be the determining factor in your outcomes.
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