The Mighty Logo

You Aren't Weak If You Have an Athletic 'Comeback' After an Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I see this a lot on Instagram and Twitter, “Don’t call it a comeback.”

I am a runner, and I follow a lot of runners and endurance athletes as a result. When someone goes through an injury, illness or anything that forces them to pause their athletic endeavors, it’s never a “comeback” when they rejoin the sport. People rally around it, supporting the message that they aren’t “coming back” from anything; it was just a break, I guess. Is it because a comeback might suggest a moment of weakness, where your body did have to bounce back from something? Maybe, and of course, being weak is such a horrible thing…except you can’t have strength without weakness.

What if it isn’t weakness though, and glorifying this “don’t call it a comeback” mentality is missing the mark? What if comebacks actually come from strength? You get knocked down 10 times, get up 11. What’s weak about that?

Let me tell you a true story. I have proctitis, a “mild” form of ulcerative colitis, a disease I’ve had since I was 14 years old. I’m 31 now, and let me tell you – there’s nothing mild about what I’ve been dealing with for the past several months. Maybe the physical symptoms are a bit less than my last pancolitis flare – but the emotional? The mental? What a cluster. I had to halt my running completely, stay close to a toilet, chained to my house, chained to my thoughts, chained to my own self-doubt and sadness of thinking, what if this, too, doesn’t pass?

Most days, it has been a lonely journey of finding my strong self hiding behind the weak feelings. I often wonder if I will ever run the way I did again. If I’ll quality for another Boston Marathon. If I’ll run double digits again…hell, even single digits. If I’ll trust my body enough again. If I’ll ever stop being exhausted from trying to dissect what this all really means.

I wonder if I’ll ever get my comeback.

And then there it is…the tiny beacon of light I see when I say that word to myself: Comeback. Because of course there will be a comeback. There was the last time I was sick. There was when I doubted I could even run a whole marathon with colitis. There was when I bonked a workout and questioned my whole identity. There are comebacks every single day in my life, and in everyone’s lives. So why are they a bad thing? Comebacks are the 11th time we get up off the ground. Comebacks are why we are all here. To learn life’s lessons, and come back stronger, wiser and ready for the next one.

I enjoy watching those inspiring stories from people on competition shows, sharing with viewers just how much they went through to get on that stage and live their dream. I cry every time, because I see a small part of me in their words. Anyone who has ever faced adversity of any type and shows up to do the work the next day – that’s a comeback. That’s something to be damn proud of, no matter how big or small your next day feels. It doesn’t mean you left anything; maybe you took a long bathroom break and came back and finish what you started.

Getty Image by mihtiander

Originally published: June 20, 2018
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