"It was more of a challenge than I can ever describe, because we initially couldn’t figure out what was going on."
Olympic Sized Injury
In 2012, shortly after qualifying for my first Olympic team, I began to feel a pop in my collar bone area while wrestling. Training at that point was specific and tailored to the olympic team. I was constantly aware of this injury, but didn't have the luxury of taking time to address the problem. It eventually went from discomfort to sharp pain. I would drill with someone much lighter than me, and just grabbing my normal standing single, I would literally see red. It wasn’t really a time to panic and true to my nature, I really didn’t discuss it outside of Terry Steiner, Kim Martori of Sunkist, and my physical trainers at the Training Center.
It was more of a challenge than I can ever describe, because we initially couldn’t figure out what was going on. The physical pain, the element of not knowing, and the timing made for a tough circumstance. A sternal clavicular tear has become more common and readily identified, but in 2012 you couldn’t find a single piece of literature on it. Trust me, I looked. At the time, there were maybe 3 surgeons in the entire USA, who I relentlessly pursued, that performed any type of reconstructive surgery for it. After a series of injections, I competed with it. After the games, against the advice of most, I decided to have the surgery.
Through a series of events, I somehow crossed paths with an incredible surgeon in New York who not only agreed to perform the reconstructive surgery, but was confident I’d get back to almost 100%. It was a career altering moment. I truly believe without Dr Scott Rodeo, I would have been done with wrestling in 2012. Certainly never able to really compete at the highest level. Recently I had surgery on my wrist. It was another unorthodox injury with an even more unorthodox come back. Injuries have a way of making you quit or making you better. They’ve made me better.
Because of my background, but I’m stingy about everything, including who I surround myself with. When I injured my collar bone, there were MANY bad days, I’m sad to say. I’d entrusted myself to people like Coach Steiner, Kim Martori of Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, and my sports psychologist at the time, and I credit them so much for lifting me up. Terry Steiner especially. I can’t even say it enough- there were many lows. But you just make a decision about what your goal are and you plan accordingly. I clung heavily to my faith, too. I read books about people who’d faced similar experiences. I’d watched my roommate at the time, Adeline Grey, win MULTIPLE world medals and I don’t think she stepped on the mat with two good knees for years. That inspired me. Some days I had to look inward, some days I looked outward. But I’d look at those that really had been there, I humbled myself in my situation- a rough Olympics and a rough year of rehab- and I just tried to grow through it.
Plus, as I mentioned, There is a stubbornness and a stinginess within me that I don’t think I was ever taught. I just wasn’t done with the sport and I hadn't accomplished what I had set out to, so I continued. If the injury had ended my career, and surgery had not been an option, I could’ve been surrendered and moved on. But that wasn’t the case. I try to make the most of my situations. Belief has been really important in all of this. Faith and belief.
"Get healthy, really get healthy- do it right with patience and with self-motivation- and then get back to work."
As a younger athlete, injuries have taught me patience because young athletes are initially impatient. It’s just the nature of things. As I’ve grown as an athlete, injuries have given me wisdom. Coach Izzy Izboinikov and I have had a lot of conversations about this as I have continued. He’s taught me that as I get better, and as I continue, I have to become more committed. And the same is true with injuries. You have to show up earlier, you have to warm up longer. You have to do the exercises that your trainer tells you to do. The band work, the annoying and tedious reps that seem pointless. I tore my sc joint just being a gritty athlete. I had done everything right and the wear and tear still caught me- and in return- changed my perspective completely.
I’ve seen athletes do it a lot of different ways. A lot of older and even maybe more accomplished athletes than myself back off of training. They feel they need to take it easier on them selves. That’s the way for some people. That’s not me. That’s not the way I’m wired. For years I have been a training partner for Clarissa Chun, and I saw her never let up. Even through surgeries, wins, and sometimes losses. Her wrestling always evolved. I was there when she hurt her shoulder a couple years before medaling in London. I saw many athletes retire because they couldn’t come back from a shoulder injury. But Clarissa was a different breed and I tried to imitate that aspect of her game. Get healthy, really get healthy- do it right with patience and with self-motivation- and then get back to work.
I still train the way I know I need to train. I still go as hard as I feel like I need to go. If I think I need an extra work out, I do an extra work out. If I decide to back off, my coaches know me well enough to know it’s needed. You have to know yourself. You have to be true to yourself. But the main thing is wisdom. Like I said, showing up earlier, warming up longer, stretching, cooling down. It’s not rocket science. But you have to put the knowledge into practice. And for me, if I don’t put it into practice that’s it. I lose a week of training because I didn’t want to give an extra 30 minutes to warm up. It’s my new reality. And it’s fine, I’m OK with that because I know my goals. And like I said, I just plan accordingly.
My advice for wrestlers
Reaching out to seek input and advice from people you trust is huge. I didn’t have a lot of resources early on but I constantly sought out people I trusted who knew others who could help me. I had extremely humble beginnings and learned a lot about staying healthy through trial and error. Through a combination of focus, work ethic, and surrounding myself with the right people, I eventually was in a position to work with high level experts, even if only a little.
As young athletes mature, you want to keep an open mind (but again, with the element of wisdom) about who you train with. Variety in partners is what allows your wrestling to constantly evolve. However, don’t be afraid to draw the line if you feel like you’re not quite in a place with your physical health to train with just anyone and everyone. Right now I’m fortunate that my coaches guide me a lot with who I should train with. There are people I like to roll with, but sometimes they aren’t the best for me if I’m recovering. Get the most out of that particular workout by sparring with the best partner for that day. With the increase in camps and clinics run by elite men and women, young women these days have more direct opportunities (especially with social media), to connect with athletes and coaches with sport specific questions.
I’m grateful and happy that young athletes I’ve coached at camps and clinics have reached out to me through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with questions about weight management, injuries and training. I’m always more than happy to share my knowledge and experiences.
Connect with Kelsey: