In each one of my fitness articles, I’ve mentioned the importance of listening to your body, finding balance within your exercise routine, and most importantly, finding something that you love to do. This is a lesson I’ve personally had to learn and take to heart. It’s a story I don’t share easily, but sometimes I find it necessary to be open and help others.
My entire life, I was a multi-sport athlete. When I entered high school, I chose soccer as my sole sport, committing my heart, energy and, body to training. During high school, I felt great and had boundless energy. I was training with two teams, traveling for tournaments, and maintaining an A average. My senior year of high school was a turning point in my life. Playing in a collegiate show case game, I went for a save and collided with the forward on the opposing team. I distinctly remember hearing my knee pop three times as I fell, and trying so hard not to get sick on the field due to the excruciating pain. It still makes me nauseated thinking about it! Weeks later, my diagnosis was a torn ACL, LCL, MCL, and both meniscus. I tried to play again without surgery, but my knee gave out after one practice. I knew then I would need to have surgery that would keep me out for at least 6 months. During this time, colleges who were ready to offer me their scholarships rescinded their offers.
After a difficult and slow rehab program with my knee, I chose to play club soccer at a small school in Washington DC, with the opportunity to join the school team after the fall semester. Training for the team kept me busy and included long runs, 2 -hour practice sessions, and weight lifting sessions, in addition to traveling for tournaments. At 5’9, I lost almost 50 pounds despite eating regular, appropriate, meals. I had so much stomach pain that it felt like someone was cutting into me with a razor; I also couldn’t keep down any food. I felt like I had “brain fog” all the time and I was walking in a haze. Despite having no energy, I continued going to class and playing soccer, ignoring the signs and symptoms that my body was in distress.
Two weeks into my second semester, I moved back to Texas to continue my sophomore year and see a Naturopathic doctor. My Naturopath diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disease; irritable bowel syndrome; and adrenal burnout. Together with the naturopath, we figured out what foods and supplements were best for me. Over time, food tests and blood work showed that everything was normal. Yet, I still felt the same: run down and in a haze. The only improvement I noticed was that I was able to eat more foods with less pain. I started to accept that this was my new “normal” and I had to simply push through.
My junior year of college, I moved to California to finish my degree and continued working with a Naturopath. I still wasn’t feeling any better but was convinced that I had to push myself to train harder, despite my illness. I exercised intensely, going for long runs and lifting for over an hour 6 days a week. Despite these training sessions, my strength and stamina became worse. Furthermore I was perpetually hungry and tired all the time. I remember spending the entire weekend on the couch after particularly long training sessions, only getting up to eat, because I had pushed my limits and never felt full. Because I was testing my physical limits, I also had three more knee surgeries on the same knee, due to overuse and overtraining. I couldn’t even bend my knee walking to class because of massive scar tissue built up behind my kneecap. I was told if I kept going, I would need a replacement before I turned 30. My body was always in pain. I missed out on a lot of fun events with friends and family, simply because I was too tired. I soon realized that spending the rest of the day on the couch fatigued, irritable and famished, despite just eating, were not the signs of a good workout. These were the signs of my body in distress, craving rest. Up until this point, my greatest passion in life was soccer. I craved the thrill that came from making a difficult save, from knowing that my conditioned body was able to move with incredible speed to protect the goal, these were my reasons for getting up and pushing my body each morning. To compete at the college level and come back from injury, I had to train. It was only with extreme reluctance that I admitted that my body may not be capable of competing at an intense level with extreme demands. I decided to decrease my training and only then began to see improvements in my health.
It took a lot of self-discipline; but I learned to slow down and reduce my workout intensity, lift properly, breathe and, most importantly, greatly reduce the amount of time in the gym. 10 years and countless doctors, medications, supplements, and tears later, I’ve realized that changing my exercise routine has contributed the most to my recovery. The competitive spirit is still in me and once in a while, I test my limits and pay the price. I’m always learning about balance, trying to incorporate more yoga, and now enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a simple long walk or hike instead of a run. I take great pride in managing my health each day by eating right, learning to relax, and engaging in training appropriate for me. Although it’s not perfect, I feel better than I have in the last ten years. I have my eyes set on a duathlon in the near future; but right now, I know my body would not be able to handle the stress. I focus on what I can do and the progress I’ve made instead of what I can’t do.
I tell my story to encourage others to sincerely listen to their bodies. Don’t push past your limits. Set your own realistic expectations for your exercise regimen and don’t compare yourself to others -- each person is different. Learn to distinguish the pain from a particularly hard workout, or the discomfort of testing your limits from the signs and symptoms that you may be overtraining. As always, listen to your body and love your workouts.
By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach
This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.