The Mighty Logo

The Cognitive Dissonance I Experience as a Disabled Athlete

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

One day I was leaning back in my recliner, icing my knee after a recent knee surgery. A commercial for a sports drink came on my TV. Pictured were people running, jumping, tackling and playing sports. As I sat in my chair, my adrenaline kicked in. I could feel my blood pumping and my heart starting to race. I wanted to jump up and run outside, hop on a bike and race someone, anything so I could feel the thrill of rigorous exercise.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
• What Are Common Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Symptoms?

Instead, I slowly got up and hobbled on my good knee, since the other knee was swollen to twice its normal size. Even though I have lived with chronic pain for over four years, some days my mind likes to forget that.

As a child, I loved martial arts. I practiced combat karate for years until I got my black belt at the age of 14. After that, I grew a little bored and wanted to try something new, so I joined my high school rowing team. I would practice with them six days a week, year-round, for my entire high school career.

Shortly after high school, I began to develop more serious symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and I was no longer allowed to do high impact sports. But I still practiced yoga and did regular spinning classes. I frequently went to the gym. I got a golden retriever as a service dog, in part to help encourage me to be more active. Together, Rory and I take daily walks, go to the park and go swimming.

I’m pretty active compared to the average American adult, but it’s still hard for me to accept that I can’t run anymore (not that I ever really liked it). Sometimes I just want to get up and move but my body is too weak. If I’m up and active one day, I’ll typically need an extra long nap the next day.

And the injuries! Don’t get me started! One time I dislocated my thumb cutting chicken. Cutting chicken for god’s sake! One time a blood pressure cuff bruised me. I had bruises around the circumference of my left arm for a week and a half. Band-aids have been known to rip entire chunks of my skin off. I could go on and on about the little daily things that have left me injured. Now it seems I can be injured if someone merely looks at me funny.

It’s a tough pill for me to swallow. I was once this strong, resilient person who loved to compete. I still love to compete, but I’m no longer as strong as I once was. I’m 25 but I have to act like I’m 65 to avoid injuries. Many of my high school buddies are now marathon runners and triathlon competitors. It’s hard not to get jealous of them sometimes.

As the saying goes, “the mind is willing but the body is weak.” Sometimes I feel this to my very core, especially when I’m restless after knee surgery or recovering from whatever my latest injury may be. I hope I never lose the spirit of an athlete, and I’m always hopeful my body will learn to cooperate.

Getty image by Stockbyte.

Originally published: September 16, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home