January 3, 2010
I hope all of you had a restful and healthy christmas and new years. I spent some time on new year’s eve thinking about what 2009 meant to me and what I wanted for 2010, and I thought I’d share with all of you:
Lessons from 2009:
1. You can’t plan your life. I entered 2009 after recently getting over a month of mononucleosis and a consequently horrible semester at MIT. The only thing driving me was wanting to make up for missing a semester of taekwondo by winning every match I could. At the first tournament of the year, I got kicked in the face - hard. Since I forfeited that match, my team wasn’t able to advance in that division and I was pissed off. I argued with the medical staff until they agreed that it would be ok for me to participate in the next match (you can spar in 2 divisions). I entered that match angry, annoyed, and ready to kick some ass. About 30 seconds later my left achilles tendon snapped. I didn’t have to be in that ring - I chose to be in that ring. I didn’t choose what happened 30 seconds later.
2. Life is what you make of it. I could always look back on this injury as a horrible and painful time in my life, and whenever confronted with a difficult situation I could laugh to myself and say “hah, I’ve seen worse”. But I realize now that this was not the lesson I gained from this year. When confronted with new difficult situations, I don’t look back at this year and say that I’ve seen worse. I remember a time in my life when my body was weakest but I found that my mind and my spirit were stronger than ever. I will always remember 2009 as the year I learned that I can do anything.
3. Sometimes you need to ask for help. I learned something very important in the 5 weeks when I couldn’t carry my own food tray, lift my 20 lb. lab kit, or make it to class on foot. For the longest time, I had been all about personal will power and the ability to overcome obstacles on my own. But living in one’s own world can get very lonely! There is something beautiful about being weak - it shows you how kind people innately are. I made so many friends while on crutches, whether it was the MIT cops who drove me to class, the kind EE Lab attendant who would carry my lab kit the 20 feet from the locker to my lab desk and cheer me on, or my fraternity brothers who put my roommate’s couch on a 10 foot loft and put my bed on the ground so I could sleep in it and gave me a slow clap every time I made it up the 48 steps from ground floor to my room. People are amazing - ask someone for help and you’ll see what I mean.
Goals for 2010:
1. Awareness. My roommate Tim always says “if you can’t measure it, you can’t change it”. I have gained a ton of weight and I can physically sense the weakness of my body. Usually when I’ve lost weight it has been uncontrolled and random, but this is not sustainable. But weight and fitness are a function of exercise and nutrition. I have no idea about the nutritional content of what I eat, and I have no regular exercise outside of taekwondo practice. That’s about to change. 2010 will be all about measuring important physical parameters of my life and changing them. And as a nerd, this will naturally be fun
2. Strength. Weakness is not a bad thing, as I’ve learned and written above. But I want to see what the other end of the spectrum looks like. In 2009 I was the weakest I have ever been. In 2010 I want to be the strongest, both mentally and physically, that I have ever been. How will I do this? I hereby commit myself to doing at least one thing per day that strengthens my mind and my body.
3. Results. Most of my education thus far has been theoretical knowledge about how things work and how to take apart and build useful systems. But one of the biggest things irking me right now is that I have not done something to give back to the world in a tangible way. That changes this year. I want to build something, however big or small, that reaches out to the world and helps improve people’s lives, in however small a way. So by the end of 2010, I want to build something I can be proud of. Oh, and I’m getting my black belt this year, and nothing is going to stop me.
So there you have it - new year’s resolutions. I hope all of you, regardless of where you are in your recovery, can take the time to reflect on 2009 and set your own goals for 2010 - whether it’s to walk again, to run again, or to run a marathon. You can do anything if you put your mind to it!
December 10, 2009
Goal #1 achieved. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t smash through a board after tearing your achilles. More to come after final exams and winter break - that’s when the REAL training begins!
December 8, 2009
I’m taking my belt test to begin my black belt training period tomorrow, and if I could tell you in one word how I feel right now, that word would be “fear”.
It’s not so much fear of what is on the test or of looking bad. I’ve trained hard in the last few weeks to get to where I am with forms, breaking techniques, etc. Now it’s just a matter of whether this body, which has seen its fair share of disease and injury, can stay in one piece through this test. Sometimes I visualize myself going through the test, kicking and screaming and leaving it all out on the mat, and then feeling that all-too-familiar “pop” and realizing what the next year of my life would be. The pain, the drugs, the cast, the pity. And yes, this makes me feel fear.
But I don’t think we should run away from this fear. It’s not so much an indicator of bad things to come as it is nature’s way of giving us heightened awareness. You could even say that fear, whether manifested in an insect about to be swatted or an army officer entering battle, is not something that tells us that we are doing something that we shouldn’t do - in many cases it is telling us that we are about to do something great, something we have to do. And so every time I visualize myself tearing my left tendon again, or tearing my now tight right tendon, I visualize something new. I picture myself feeling pain, feeling tension, and asking the instructor if I may stop and stretch for a moment. And then I come back, kicking, screaming, and loose, and I power through that board with every ounce of energy I have.
Last week, my right calf cramped up to the point where I felt physical pain when walking - I could literally feel it tugging at my right achilles tendon. A friend told me that I needed to stop taekwondo until it was loosened again, and this time I listened. I stopped going to practice and instead heated and stretched on my own until my leg felt completely normal again, which it did after a couple of days. The Vijay of 1 year ago would not have done this. He would have said “psh, suck it up and train!” and gone to practice. Many of you are in some stage of hurting, whether its physical pain or not being able to run as fast as your friends. Know your limits. Don’t let fear control you - let it give you a heightened sense of awareness.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this injury happened to me, as I am sure many of you have, regardless of your particular faith or spirituality. Many people told me that “this is what I get ” for doing such a full contact sport that pushes the body so much. But I disagree. I think this happened to me because while I had passion and energy, I lacked a mature awareness of myself and my limits. I am a full believer in infinite human potential, but I see now that we need to know our limits today to push them to become the limits of tomorrow. That is the lesson I take from the last year of my life. So yes, I am afraid. Yes, I fear that if I tear my right achilles it will ruin my sister’s wedding which begins the next day. Yes, I fear that I’ll spend another semester on crutches. But I also trust in myself far more than before. I trust that I have gained newfound awareness of myself. I trust that I know my own limits and I will not sacrifice my health. I trust that this fear has made me ready.
Hopefully after tomorrow I’ll have good news to post - until then, keep kicking back!
November 22, 2009
This post is going to be less about the physical battle with recovery and more about the mental battle. The last few months have been a time of deep reflection in many ways for me, both as a student thinking about entering the world, as a person thinking about who I want to leave and what mark I want to leave in this world, and as an athlete thinking about whether or not this is the end of my Taekwondo career.
I told myself that I would go back to practice in November, and keeping in my tradition of headstrong reckless action, I went to a practice in early October. Overall, it was a pretty horrible experience - I had lost the spring in my step, I couldn’t support my right leg kicks with my left leg and I couldn’t spring off the ground to execute my left leg kicks. Combine that with possibly the stiffest, sorest ankle possible the next day, and I was pretty convinced that this was the end of taekwondo for me.
Around the same time, I had been reflecting on graduate school decisions, the value of my education at MIT, and what I wanted to change about the world. I pretty much shut down for two months, spending most of my time thinking and being frustrated about who I was and wondering if I’d ever be able to meet any of the goals I set out to accomplish in life. I missed the corporate recruiting period, started slacking in classes, and spent most of my time getting to know a person who grew to become one of my best friends. In one of my deep conversations with her, I realized that something was missing in my life and it wasn’t just kicking things. I was missing the discipline, the commitment, the drive to improve myself and give everything I had, kicking and screaming, to accomplish my goal. I was missing Taekwondo.
Now for those of you who are reading this and are injured, about to have surgery, or looking for inspiration after your surgery, this is the part I want you to read more than anything else. There is absolutely nothing on this earth that the human spirit cannot conquer, and if you are sitting there in your boot and don’t believe me, keep reading this and watch me prove you wrong.
I decided after that conversation that I was going to bring TKD back into my life, but this time I was going to have a plan.
Step 1: set a goal to get back to TKD in a month - long enough away to make a change but close enough to get moving NOW
Step 2: every day, until it hurts or the muscle is tired, do ankle lifts (double leg if necessary, then single leg)
Step 3: do not let yourself even THINK of kicking until you can hop on the weak leg consistently
Step 4: Get a friend to rope you into coming to practice and make sure you make it. Admit to yourself that the only thing holding you back is fear and not soreness.
Step 5: Meet your goal, be proud of yourself, and then do it again. and again. and again.
I followed these steps over the last month, standing on my left leg in subway trains, doing P90X leg workouts in my room to build leg strength, and keeping my eye on the calendar to meet my goal.
I went to practice last monday, and it was amazing. Yes, I was out of shape and slower than most, but it dawned on me in the middle of practice as I stood there, muscles tired and drenched in sweat - this was a mental battle, and I just started winning.
I will be testing in a few weeks to begin my black belt training period, the first milestone towards meeting my goal and showing martial artists with injured achilles tendons everywhere that this can be done. I will have to hold myself to higher and higher standards as that time approaches, and it is only going to get harder. Eventually I will have to ramp up from 2 practices a week to 4, and eventually I will have to spar people again. But I am approaching these new steps with an attitude of conviction, not aggression. If there is once piece of advice I can impart, it is that when we combine patience with perseverance, we can do anything. Be passionate but beware of going too far - it is important to always keep your goal ahead of you and take steps in the right direction, however small they are.
I hope to post again soon as I learn more on this journey, but until then, keep on fighting in your own way and believe that you can and will be stronger than ever before.
May 29, 2009
Now that the school year is over (thank GOD) and summer is here, I should be posting much more often as and when I make progress / learn new interesting things.
I just went jogging for the first time in months today - granted, it was more of a walk-run for a couple of miles, but hey, its a start. Running feels so different now - its so much more empowering than it was before. I used to hate running and think about how tired my heart was getting (usually running was in the context of trying to get back into shape, as it is for most people). But today, all I could think about was how much wind was in my face and how I was generating that speed - no bike, no car, no nothing.
That said, I highly recommend against an achilles tendon rupture as a means to enjoying running more.
Medically, here is where I stand: my doctor says that I can walk / run / do any activity as long as it doesn’t hurt - pain is going to be my indicator for when to stop an activity. I am in the process of designing a workout plan for the summer, most of which depends on what is available to me in the Apple gym, how much pain running and other such activities cause, and how fast muscle grows back on my calf. It seems like buying a road bike for long trails is out (a decent one seems to run at least $900-$1000, and if anyone knows a cheap way of getting one, I’m all ears).
Here’s a pic of day 1 of the battle against muscle atrophy:
If anyone has any tips on recovery in this stage - rebuilding the calf muscle, avoiding re-injury while resuming regular physical activity, etc., they are much appreciated.
Wherever you are, whatever your state of injury is - keep training, keep fighting, and never give up.
April 19, 2009
Sorry for not updating sooner - it has been one hell of a week at MIT, with midterm exams in almost every class and our campus preview weekend, which is full of grilling, partying, and general mayhem.
First of all, I am now full weight bearing while on the boot (and I will be for three more weeks at least), and I must say that walking is an amazing thing. It happened to be a beautiful day out when I first lost my crutches, and that made it all the more amazing. As a guy who hates being pitied, it was great to not have old ladies hold doors open for me, and when I tuck the boot under my jeans most people don’t notice it at all! Now begins another phase of patience, but its definitely a lot nicer than being on crutches.
I am full of hope right now, and full of ideas for what to do with this newfound ability to get around. This past Friday I went out party hopping with a bunch of pre-frosh, and finally danced for the first time in months - it felt great. The next day, I went to the gym for the first time in months as well - I think it’s the beginning of the part of my life where I start treating my body better. It felt good to be sore the next day, but not so sore that I knew I had exerted myself. This time, getting in shape is about control, patience, and discipline.
I hope all of you out there with injuries are doing well, and for those who are having a tough time - just take a deep breath and keep on crutching. You will get through this faster than you realize.
April 1, 2009
So a really beautiful thing happened today… the protective strips that were covering my ankle fell off (they’re supposed to naturally ). But the nice thing was that it was the first time in a month that I’ve seen my ankle without staples or other crap in it, and it doesn’t look half bad! Ok, realistically its pretty gross, but its a step in the right direction. Check it out below:
1.5 weeks and counting until I can walk again (Hopefully that day is next Friday, April 10th - wish me luck)!
April 1, 2009
I’m sure many of you knew about my blossoming prospects as a calf model, but sadly that has come to an end. See below a post-op pic. This is after about 2-3 weeks. The first one shows the difference in calf size. My left calf is much skinnier, and what is there is pretty much all fat. But you’d be surprised at how fast that muscle will grow back. I felt it again a week later and its tangibly there now, which is comforting. Needless to say, my right leg is getting ripped
For those of you out there who are reading this , I have learned a lot of things in the past few weeks…most of all are two things I have never been able to do - be patient about something and be willing to ask people for help. It’s really hard to bring myself to ask guys (in a frat house at that) to help me with laundry, but sometimes you just need to lean on people. I’m sure many of you (especially the martial arts types) are hard-asses like me who believe that everything in life can be done on your own. I do hope that it takes something less rough than an achilles tear to teach you that this is not the case.
The key now is to stay positive! Here are a few reasons that I came up with that hopefully you’ll appreciate:
1. Chicks dig scars.
2. Crutching is possibly the best upper body work out…..ever.
3. If you’re in college, you get to ride around in the back of a cop car without the jail time
4. At first I might feel bad for myself, but then I think about the first person I’m going to spar in 6 months…and I feel better. And really bad for him.
5. You look bad-ass when you drop-kick doors open
6. It could be worse…you’ll walk again, and when that day comes, it’s going to be beautiful.
March 24, 2009
My name is Vijay and I recently fully tore my left achilles tendon at a collegiate Taekwondo tournament. This blog is the ongoing story of my recovery, ultimate return to competition and someday, earning my black belt at MIT Sport Taekwondo.
I’m a pretty big guy, and for some reason I have a bad tendency to get injured pretty often. I have sprained my ankles more times than I can remember, pulled my hamstring, and probably have other little chronic injuries all over my legs. But this injury is different. For starters it was a much bigger injury (one that required surgery and now will take months of rehabilitation). But it also forces me to drastically change my athletic lifestyle and gives me a chance to reflect, grow, and get stronger before returning to the sport that I love.
As I write this, I am 2.5 weeks post-op, and I am still resting my leg. Pretty much all the muscle on my left calf has atrophied, and I am currently non-weight-bearing (NWB). I’ll keep posting on this blog as I discover new challenges, reach new milestones, and achieve my goals. My hope is that any other athletes out there who read this blog will find information, inspiration, or at least a friend as you power through this setback.