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How I Can Play an Intense Sport When I Have Trouble Walking

I had Perthes disease, a hip condition where the femoral (hip) head crumbles, and if you’re young, (I don’t know too much about others, I was told I was lucky) it grows back but in such a way it doesn’t fit anymore. This creates friction, a slow decay of the hip head and just plainly, lots of pain. Some people have a difference in length of their legs, so it is more apparent. Me? Oh, I’ve hid it well. You must be an alert specialized doctor to see me walking on the street and be able to see something is not right. So yes, I can walk.

I also sport: water polo. I simply love it. I remember girls during PE saying they’re jealous I didn’t have to partake. But trust me, you would rather do sport with school than have (had) this. When I was 5, my doctor gave me two options: rowing or playing water polo. Everything else that involved any kind of shock would potentially increase wear. People don’t realize this is why playing water polo is OK for me, even though it seems pretty intense. It is, in a way.

Exercising was supposed to stimulate a more or less equal growth of muscle so the muscles around my hip would support the weak part beneath it. And note: this is very different for everyone, some people have it in one hip, some have it in both. Some people lost 25 percent of the hip head. I lost 94 percent before it grew back. I was 5 and used a wheelchair till the age of 6, followed by a year on crutches. Lots of my childhood seems lost because my parents were so concerned with the consequences (reasonably: they didn’t know shit about this disease when they first heard of it), and I wasn’t allowed to do lots of stuff little children do. I have got to say though, with the crutches I was faster than any other child. I made a race out of everything, and that part was awesome.

Knowing this, it is not weird that my arms grew a lot stronger than my legs. This is not necessarily a bad thing in water polo. It helped me get really fast. But because of all the things I wasn’t allowed to do, I’d almost never run in my whole life. I cried the first time I ran all out (it was not even 10 meters) because I’d always held back. I think I was 16 or 17 at the time. Someone who doesn’t know this self-inflicted restriction because you know it is better for you even though you are not physically unable to do it, might find this reaction hard to understand.

I was told at the age of 8 that basically I couldn’t have surgery until I was in such a pain that it was inevitable (this goes beyond the premise of having a full-grown body). That’s not a nice prospect to have at that age, nor to always think about in the back of your mind with every step I take. Furthermore, I cannot deal with this emotionally. I have yet to find the balance between a complete poker face and a constantly sobbing woman. Even as I’m writing this, my face is cold and hard, as I’m not “realizing” (feeling) what it means what I’m writing. This is a distinction between me using my head and me feeling with my heart and soul (I say soul because those feelings go that deep).

Thank you for bearing with me in this post. There is a lot more to it, but now you know why it is very well possible to have had a hip disease and have trouble walking but no trouble playing sports. Focus especially on the “actually being able to” and “but if I do it, it will be harmful” logic.

And then I’ll conclude with boundaries, as I’m curious. I always overstep my boundaries because I actually can do everything I would want to. There is also this fear of people saying I should “man up.” I have, throughout my whole life, always told myself when I have negative thoughts, “it’s not that bad, don’t exaggerate.” And I’ve grown tired of explaining this exact story (“How can you play sport with that?”) over and over again. I’m patient with people, as I understand that is completely logical and not their fault not to know. But I’d like you to answer this question: How would you deal with something you can’t deal with?

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Thinkstock photo by boggy22