I made it through my entire childhood and teen years without a single broken bone. Then, at age 21, I fractured my ankle in a darkened laser-tag stadium while illegally running for cover behind a boulder. What can I say; I play an aggressive game of laser tag.
The break wasn't too bad, but it was enough to still require a removable boot, physical therapy, and crutches. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and crying as I wondered how I would be able to keep up with my workouts. I had an extreme attachment to exercise. That’s because it was never a chore for me; it was something I actually looked forward to. It was my emotional outlet when I needed to work through sorority drama, breakups, or approaching finals. Now, as I entered my final semester of college, I was terrified to have my emotional crutch replaced by actual crutches.
Until then, my exercise routine had remained the same since high school: I’d hop on the elliptical or treadmill for 30 minutes, then hit the weight room for some basic dumbbell exercises. This was a few years ago, before interval training, CrossFit, and functional bodyweight training had gone mainstream — and before gyms had TRX equipment or kettlebells. It was before SoulCycle made indoor cycling cool, and when group fitness classes (at least in Florida) were something your mother did. In college, you just went to the gym wearing Soffe shorts (with the band rolled down) and a unisex cotton shirt. You did your thing, and you left. And, for some reason, I loved it.
Without my daily training sessions, I suddenly had an influx of free time. So, I slept in (guilt-free) instead of waking up early to rush through a cardio session. I started cooking more often, and I made more plans with friends. But, I still missed exercising, and I wasn't willing to give it up entirely. So, in the beginning, I used a resistance band to do upper-body exercises while seated. And, once given the all-clear by a physical therapist (who also happens to be my mother), I hobbled into the gym with my boot, sans crutches.
It was a strange feeling. I walked into this place that normally felt like home, but with my boot on, I didn't know what to do. While I had some mobility, I couldn’t hop on the treadmill and go for a run. So, my mom suggested I give the indoor rower a try; it increases your heart rate and engages the muscles of your legs, core, arms, and back, all while keeping your ankle relatively stable. It was my workout compromise. Of course, it's important to note that re-incorporating fitness into your life post-injury should only be done under the watchful eyes of your doctor and physical therapist.
After years of breezing through my elliptical workout, five minutes on the row machine was a humbling and difficult experience. That’s when I accepted my own challenge: not only to continue training on the machine (even after my ankle healed), but also to continue exploring and evolving my exercise routine. To this day, I still saddle into the indoor-rowing machine for a workout at least once a week (I was a few years ahead of the rowing trend).
Being injured was my fitness wake-up call. It gave me a break from my daily gym-grind and forced me to explore other modalities and activities. Now, when I'm sidelined by shoulder pain, I work on my squats. And, when plantar fasciitis kicks in, my push-ups get a little extra love. Staying fit for life is the goal, and that requires constant compromise, always listening to my body, and playing by the rules — in laser tag, at least.