Sports-related injuries are a common occurrence among Cal Poly intercollegiate athletes, leading to gutted teams and painstaking rehab, but the mental burden of an athlete injury is often more pressing than the immediate physical effects.
Many injured athletes suffer from post-injury depression, and are possibly at an increased risk for suicide, according to an article featured by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Injury’s part of the game. But it can range from the day-to-day to career-ending,” men’s soccer head coach Paul Holocher said.
For athletes dealing with moderate to severe injuries and longer recoveries, the challenge is manifold. Many of them oriented their lives around physical proficiency, and now have difficulty with day-to-day tasks. Others miss the camaraderie of a team, or have difficulty taking the time off to recover.
“There’s a big emotional component to injuries usually,” women’s tennis coach Hugh Bream said. “As an athlete you put about 20 hours a week into your sport.”
During the recovery process from a disabling injury, many players deal with a sense of loss that can quickly slip into depression.
“I want to be playing still,” senior defender Josh Didion said. “I feel like a chunk of my life is missing.”
Didion, the oldest player on the men’s soccer team, underwent hip surgery this summer, in hopes of continuing to compete at Cal Poly.
Many athletes are so used to competing and training it’s hard to step out of that mentality.
“I’ve been playing tennis my whole life,” 2009 Big West Freshman of the Year Andre Dome said. “I’ve never really taken a break. I played almost every single day. Now it’s depressing because I can’t be out there.”
Dome injured his hip last fall while competing in a tournament in Las Vegas, and will possibly have to undergo surgery in the near-future.
“I’m prepared to go under the knife to get this fixed,” Dome said. “I’ve been injured since I got to college. I just want to feel healthy. That’s the number one thing.”
Another factor that injured athletes deal with is the reality that many might never return to their pre-injury ability.
“The weird thing about doing surgery is you don’t know if it will turn out OK,” Didion said. “And the sad thing is that once you get surgery, you’re never going to be the player you once were.”
Many athletes, accustomed to an active lifestyle, have difficulty taking the time to heal fully, and so find themselves injured over and over.
“The hardest thing to do is take the time off to get healthy. I’ve never done it. I know a lot of guys who never do it,” Didion said.
To go from a tight-knit team to watching from the sidelines challenges many athletes.
“The biggest problem for players is that when they’re injured they don’t feel like they’re contributing to the team,” said assistant soccer coach Ziggy Korytoski.
“When you’re looked at as one of the main guys on the team, if you can’t play, it’s very stressful. I’d even say depressing. You go to the training room, you do whatever you can to get back out there,” Didion said.
Athletic injuries tend to fall into two categories, according to James Eggen, assistant athletic trainer in the Cal Poly training room. Contact sports such as soccer and football see more “definitive,” or acute injuries. Sports such as swimming, running and tennis on the other hand, tend to deal with over-use issues such as stress fractures or tendinitis.
When one of Cal Poly’s intercollegiate athletes gets hurt, they head to the training room in Mott’s Gym. The training center is acutely aware of the mental aspect of injury.
“We see them daily. We see how they’re doing emotionally as well as physically. We treat the whole athlete,” head trainer Kristal Slover said, adding that they work closely in conjunction with the counseling, as well as the Health Center.
ASI club sports athletes, on the other hand, generally go to the Health Center, or off-campus providers such as San Luis Club Therapy.
While there is no strict protocol for deciding if a player will be benched, “We’re always going to opt for what is safest for the athlete,” said David Harris M.D., head of medical services at the Cal Poly Health Center. “We leave a lot of these decisions to the training room.”
Financial consideration does not change on account of being unable to play.
“You don’t lose scholarship for being injured. That’s not the fault of the athlete,” Korytoski said.