Can We Cry While We Swim?

Can We Cry While We Swim?

by Coach Sarah

Can we cry while we swim?  I wouldn’t have thought so, prior to tonight.  But I did.  Tonight I swam for the 3rd time after my nasty bike crash in August, and I cried halfway through my workout.  The sheer gratitude that I felt to God for giving me a chance to swim again just took over, and as I started grinning from ear-to-ear on about my 30th lap, the tears just came.

For the past four months I’ve been struggling with a dullness and void from the notion that I might not ever be able to swim again…or at least not be able to swim without significant pain and compromise to my shoulder musculature.   There are just so many various emotions I’ve felt since August 6th, that it’s hard to sum it all up.  But at the low end, there’s been an almost selfish, egocentric sense of despair.  And at the high end, there’s been a realization that my athletic journey is about so much more than me.

There were days in the first few weeks after my injury where I literally didn’t want to get out of bed, and where I just wanted to lay there and feel sorry for myself until I’d fall asleep again.  In the grand scheme of life, it seems selfish and silly to have felt so much despair, as my injuries were literally nothing compared to so many other struggles people face and live with on a daily basis.  But I was a hard-core athlete who lived and breathed triathlon and who never missed a day of workouts.  I’d already had what I thought was more than my fair share of injuries and things to recover from.  This injury wasn’t in my plan!  What was I supposed to do with that??!

I guess that’s where life is funny.  Because as a triathlete, I really liked predictability and the feeling of being in control of obstacles and hurdles.   It was nice knowing what my body was capable of doing, and knowing that I would somehow get through whatever workout Coach Suzy prescribed my way.  But I think that maybe life wanted to teach me a lesson, and have me rearrange my priorities, and re-frame my perspective.  I believe life wanted me to take a step back, and take the constant emphasis off the goal, and put it on the experience and journey instead.  It wanted me to remove myself from the equation, and teach me to stop trying to control what wasn’t mine to control in the first place.  Let go and simply flow… just be, for the sake of being.  I found myself picturing life as a mountain stream, myself just a drop of water in it…never really knowing where the drop would go, but that as long as it didn’t cling to anything, it would keep tumbling forward.

And my seemingly life-stopping injury suddenly took on new form, becoming instead a powerful life-changing occurrence.  As my body began the healing process (so slowly at first that I hardly noticed), I began to appreciate shoulder and neck injuries in a way I’d never had the ability to before.   As a student of massage, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the day that I could begin work on athletes to help them in their own athletic endeavors, trying to facilitate healing in aching, sore muscles.  My back injuries of the past have granted me an insight to hip pain and back pain that I believe will enable me to feel what an athlete is feeling when they suffer from lower body soreness.  This will hopefully help guide me as I work on sore, tired lower body musculature for athletes that lay on my table.  But shoulder and neck pain was something I couldn’t grasp with 100% conviction, as I’d never felt chronic pain there before.

So now, with my bike injuries, I began to feel blessed.  Blessed that I could begin to appreciate the sense of what people may be feeling when they lay on the massage table looking for help with pain and fatigue in their shoulders, necks or arms.  I could begin to see how I could hopefully help bring relief to people when they find that activities are limited because of injuries to their upper body.  This wasn’t something I could truly connect with before.  I may have “learned” it in class, but feeling it is like having a key to a door that opens wide to a whole other world.

And while the sadness of possibly not being able to swim again still hovered over me, it didn’t dampen my spirits anymore.  New meaning came out of my injury, and a new hope of what lay ahead took form.  But this time my hope for the future was less contained by my need to control it, and there was a sense of freedom in that.

Today I am a different athlete, a different cycling coach, a different massage therapist, than I was prior to my accident.  I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say here, other than that fact that it is SO impossibly exhilarating to be back, and to have my passion of triathlon finally being handed to me as a gift again.  I don’t ever want to squander it, not even a day’s worth of workouts.  The lessons I’ve learned over the past four months have tinted the color of my glasses with a sky’s-the-limit brilliance, and it is with sheer excitement that I look ahead to how I can help others as a massage therapist and Experience Triathlon cycling coach.

I’ve recently had the amazing opportunity to spend time massaging patients at RIC (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago) while completing my externship hours for clinical massage therapy school. There’s that initial sense of…not pity, but almost sadness….that I’d feel when I’d meet each of the patients I was assigned to for the afternoon.  And then I’d quickly realize that these were not the emotions that gave due credit to these patients.  Because each of these patients had optimism in them, and a sense of perseverance… almost a sense of gratitude that they were there, present in the moment, alive and able to soak life in.

I met a cyclist at RIC—probably one of the strongest time-trialists and triathletes I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet—who’d recently crashed in a criterium race, such as I’d done.  His injuries were… are… extensive, to the point where he only had a 50/50 chance of living after his crash.  There was emergency brain surgery, loss of motor function, loss of speech and memory.  I visited him the first time about a month after his crash.  The last time I visited him was a few days before he was released to go home.  The cyclist on the hospital bed the first time, versus the cyclist on the bed the last time, was a miraculous transformation.  Here was an athlete who was literally on the verge of death, yet he overcame so many odds to grasp hold of life by its coattails, not letting himself dangle idly in the wind, but pulling himself up with determination seemingly every step of the way.  The gratefulness and sheer joy I saw on his face when I last visited him was palpable—here was someone who recognized his gift, and was clearly going to make the very most of it with every moment going forward.

This is the gift I felt tonight, the gift that made me cry in the water.  That gift of another chance.  It is so, so, SO good to be back!

Sarah Farsalas is a USA Cycling Level III certified coach with Experience Triathlon. As a cycling coach, Sarah helps athletes improve riding skills, body strength, training performance and race day speed using time-tested scientific training methods. She has a special interest in helping new riders enter the wonderful world of cycling.  Learn more about Coach Sarah and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com

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  • What a profound story!  A wonderful reminder to all of us to make every day count.  Thank you Sarah for sharing your journey with us.  It touched me deeply.

  • Anonymous

    WOW!!! Thanks Coach Sarah for sharing this…. It served as a reminder to be present in every moment and stop trying to control everything!! I am glad you are back and I’m looking forward to your help in becoming a stronger cyclist!!

  • Chilly Pepper

    Sarah, I’m so glad you’re back!!  And I think things happen in life for a reason, good or bad, happy or sad.  Whatever it is, it seems to make one stronger and you’ve proven that you’re stronger both mentally and physically.  Way to overcome!!!

  • Jim Riga

    Sarah, I had tears in my eyes as I read your “from the heart” story. Thanks for putting life, triathlon, and what’s important all in perspective. I too am absolutely happy to see you back stronger than ever and to be able to call you my friend.

  • Wow, Sarah!  What a pouring out of emotions as well as a piece that really makes you think about how powerful ones perspective and conviction can be!  Thank you SO much for sharing this with us ~ it has been an honor to work with you, and I look forward to our future!!

  • Drew Repoza

    Sarah, what a great story – thanks for having the courage to share with us how you felt during your long recovery. We are all proud of your determination and focus, and excited to have you back to share your passion with us.

  • Sarah F

    Thanks so much for all of your kind words, guys!  They mean a lot to me.  And thank you also for keeping me inspired to keep moving forward, while I was in the toughest parts of recovery.  It seems we are always encouraging each other along, just by doing what we do with positive attitudes…thank you!!