Kelsey Campbell: The Injuries Have Made Me Stronger Part 2

"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.

The mentality 

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."

The lessons

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:

Facebook Fan Page

Instagram: @KelseyCamp

Twitter: @worldchanger55

Olympian Kelsey Campbell: Be Resilient in the Face of Injuries Part 1

By Kelsey Campbell

Kelsey Campbell has been a pillar in the sport of women's wrestling. From famously beginning her wrestling career late in high school, becoming ASU's first female wrestler ever, and making the 2012 Olympic team in historic fashion, Kelsey has had a long and full career. But it hasn't been without setbacks. She has continued to find a way to make it look easy to someone on the outside, but is able to reveal the hard work and resiliency that is the backbone of her career. Kelsey brings us up close and personal with her injuries in sport and how they have made her tougher. 

"Some days I couldn’t walk without a limp, but I’d be taking a 45 minute bus ride to practice"

A Career of Resiliency 

I don’t think I’m unique in saying I’ve definitely faced my share of injuries, especially since making the switch to ‘full-time’ athlete. For almost 8 years I’ve trained anywhere from 2-3 times a day. That’s not including extra work, rehab, or training done off the mat. You have two options as an athlete: you can get to point where you are hurt and need to adjust things, or you are truly injured. At that point more drastic measures are taken like rehab sessions, major training modifications, and in some cases surgery. This is normal for athletes, and I haven’t necessarily had more than the average high level wrestler. However, I’ve certainly had some unique ones. I landed wrong while demonstrating a throw my second year in the sport and have struggled with back ‘problems’ my entire career.

For my first 5-6 Years, before I ever made a national team or had real resources, I would have major flare-ups with my lower back. Excruciating. Some days I couldn’t walk without a limp, but I’d be taking a 45 minute bus ride to practice. Not knowing any better, I just chalked it up as nothing more than normal stiffness, would pop a few Tylenol and push through it. It was much more than that, but I wouldn't find out until later. But being a young athlete (I actually started at 17 so I was basically an adult) and ignorant about sport-related injuries, I rarely sat out because of it. In high school I was a four sport athlete. The major injuries I faced were stress fractures, as I was a regular runner. This primed me for my later athletic years by planting a seed of wisdom to be smart, know what I could and couldn't handle, and the balance of trusting my gut and the professionals around me. However, it really wasn’t until I was almost 24 that I was treated for the back problems I had accepted for years as part of the ‘daily.’

Following my move to the Olympic Training Center in 2009, the volume of training increased significantly, but so did my recovery, so my bumps and bruises weren’t anything extraordinary. I started having neck pain that’s now graduated into something degenerative but also manageable, I would eventually tear both LCL’s, mildly sprain my mcl, a couple jarring bone spurs in my hands, injure both shoulders, and on a few occasions I had to give extra attention to my lower back, but it was all fairly structured protocol as far as rehab.

Comeback kid

I feel like my entire career is saturated with comeback stories. Every major team- world and olympic- that I made was as an underdog. Prior to both Olympic Trial wins I had a couple of injuries that forced me out of training for a significant amount of time. Before making the 2012 Team, I lost in the first round at the World Championships at a non-Olympic weight. My back had a severe flare up that took me out of training for nearly three months in 2016. My story isn’t over and I feel like the best chapter is yet to come.

A new game plan

As my career has continued, I've increased my commitment. When I was a young athlete, I had less knowledge but I was still extremely motivated. I didn’t have access to the best physicians in the country, and I’ll say this next part with caution: I found a way to understand things. I wouldn’t typically recommend random internet searches to find out ‘why does my knee hurt?' I represent a lot of athletes that don’t have a club, school or parent to vouch for them. Yet. Because of this, you use the resources you have. You find ways to treat what’s hurting and you ask a lot of questions. I no longer fall into the inexperienced category, but I still remain coachable in order to work closely with my strength coach and physical therapists. I still ask a million questions. I spend more time preparing myself physically and mentally. Everything I do with my nutrition, strength training and on the mat is with purpose. I’ve worked with a few of the same medical professionals for a while now, coupled with an amazing strength coach- Joe Micela- I feel like even if I’m not 100%, I can still evolve and improve every day.

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!

Connect with Kelsey:

Facebook Fan Page

Instagram: @KelseyCamp

Twitter: @worldchanger55