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Why I Can’t Stop Watching Competitive Sports as Someone With Chronic Pain

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They stick the landing. They touch the pool wall edging out their competition. They spike the ball. I watch with anticipation and feel a sense of relief as I watch their dreams come true.

I tear up knowing the hard work, sacrifice, determination, and luck it took to get them there. Nearly every athlete is bandaged, taped up, or sporting some type of injury. They fight through the pain and at the end of the day, their dreams come true.

I can’t stop watching competitive sports because for a small while, I’m able to deny the fact that my body betrayed me. I live vicariously through these bright and shiny youngsters with perfect routines and well-tuned bodies. For 20 minutes, I am able to deny I’m in pain from chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

According to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA), CRPS/RSD “occurs when the nervous system and the immune system malfunction as they respond to tissue damage from trauma.” In my case, my foot, and later, my back “responded” to the trauma inflicted by competitive figure skating. For 13 years, I beat the hell out of my body in the pursuit of that gold medal moment, and now every two years (between the Summer and Winter Olympics) I watch awestruck as others experience that moment.

Why do I do it?

Plain and simple, I love the high of competitive sports. I get off on the pressure that comes from a do-or-die routine. I watch these high stakes events and remember combination jumps, flying camel spin combos, and how it feels to gasp for air at the end of a Senior Freestyle. I remember the joy of competitive sports and can imagine that my dreams might have come true.

This brief interlude allows me to ignore the fact that my nerves are constantly misfiring and sending pain signals to my brain.

I can forget my handicap sticker, which earns me dirty looks at the grocery store.

I can pretend that my inability to run, jump, or engage in any overly physical activity, doesn’t exist.

Though these memories make me sad, the unending joy I witness reminds me that perhaps my CRPS/RSD was worth it. Joy is what overcomes the pain. Though the relief is temporary, it is real.

Therefore, despite the fact that it causes heartache, I will likely keep watching competitive sports. I’ll continue to hope that the joy will provide relief.

Originally published: September 14, 2016
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