Powering through recovery: Why student-athletes return from injuries

Senior Tyler Glosson was soaring through the air. He realized he was flipping over with his bike above him. If he didn’t do something soon, the bike would land on top of him. He had broken ribs before that way, so he jumped. One short second later, he landed on the ground, feet first. Two bones in his left leg shattered.

“I couldn’t move my legs when I broke them,” Glosson said. “My brain couldn’t control them.”

Seven months in a leg brace awaited him. It was the most painful and, because of medical bills, expensive moment of his life. Glosson has been hurt during a motocross race “easily 10 times.” Still, he plans on returning to motocross the instant he is cleared, just as he has every other time. Why?

There remains the danger that the very next time an athlete returning from an injury steps back on the field, court, or track, he or she will hurt him or herself all over again. For some athletes, like Glosson, that doesn’t matter.

“I’ve been riding since I was four. The first [motocross] race I went to, a kid broke his arm and it was up on the big monitor. I guess at a young age I accepted I was going to get hurt,” Glosson said.

The injuries that athletes face can be especially serious. Torn ACLs and meniscuses, concussions, broken and sprained legs, arms and collarbones are all common injuries that athletes risk being afflicted with when participating in sports. These kinds of injuries can keep athletes from competition, let alone physical activity, for months.

“I’m still in physical therapy, trying to get muscle strength back.… Originally, I wasn’t even supposed to be walking yet, so [the doctors] said I got super lucky,” Glosson said.

For some, it is the seemingly endless waiting that is the true pain, not the injury.

“It was terrible. Everybody would always ask, ‘When are you going to get better,’ and I really had no idea, so I would always have to say ‘soon’, or ‘in a few months’ or ‘a few weeks’, or something like that,” said senior Thomas Reynolds, who hurt his shoulder playing football, then dislocated it playing rugby. “I didn’t really like just sitting in the shade in August and watching all my friends die outside during football practice.”

Athletes are one unlucky moment from sitting on a bench in a cast for the rest of the season.

“It was kick-off in the second game of the season and I was running to make the tackle, and as I wrapped the dude up, another one of our teammates pushed him from behind and I tore my ACL,” senior Trevor Hackney said.

That play and injury were the reasons that Hackney made the decision to quit playing football.

“The day after it happened, [I quit]. I mean, I liked it and I was good at it, but not more than baseball, which is my main sport,” Hackney said.

Hackney is going to play baseball at Pfeiffer University next year.

“Sometimes [I regret it] because I feel like I could have been really good [at football], but then again… I’m moving on to better places with baseball.”

Why would any athlete go back to playing their sport then? If serious injury potentially awaits them the very moment they go back, why not stay away?

Non-senior athletes have their own socially motivated reasons for continuing to play.

“I have fun doing it. I have a lot of friends on the teams and also, if I don’t, I’d probably just sit at my house playing video games, so it helps me stay in better shape,” said junior Jack Dalton, who broke the growth plate in his ankle and his tibia during a football game.

Some seniors said, ‘Why not?’

“It’s not like it’s my sophomore year or my junior year; it’s my senior year,” said senior Tyeshia Baldwin, who tore her ACL playing basketball and tore the meniscus in her right knee trying out for cheerleading. “It’s my last time playing high school basketball; it’s like I have nothing left to lose.”

— Jack Teague