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Destroyed but not defeated: bouncing back from injuries and losses

Although all Stanford students have their ups and downs in life during their college experiences, student-athletes live out their wins and losses at an entirely different level of publicity. When they take a fall, be it physical or psychological, there’s a lot of pressure from not just their teammates and coaches, but also their fans, to dust themselves off and get back up.

(BOB DREBIN/stanfordphoto.com)

Fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Gardner (right) had his season and Stanford career come to an untimely early end when he tore his pectoral muscle in an October contest at Oregon State.      (BOB DREBIN/stanfordphoto.com)

Injuries

Injured athletes are faced with a difficult problem — as much as they might want to get back into their sport as quickly as possible, their bodies won’t let them compete, or even practice.

Junior soccer player Haley Rosen knows what it means to be an injured student-athlete all too well: She has been injured during each of her seasons at Stanford. The first time she was injured was freshman year, forcing her to redshirt her first season on the Farm.“My world turned upside down,” she said. “My priorities completely shifted, I was not a happy person and I almost transferred.”

Her experiences following the incident weren’t any better. It was difficult to stay motivated to train while not being able to contribute on the field in games or keep her game sharp through practices.

“Every year, with every injury, presents new challenges,” she said. “You realize that you’re kind of alone and that you are a commodity.”

(Courtesy of Tate Murray)

Senior Tate Murray sustained a stress fracture in her femur during her freshman year that forced her to miss both the indoor and outdoor track seasons. She was also injured during her sophomore and junior years but battled back to run in the Pac-12 Championships. (Courtesy of Tate Murray)

Like Rosen, senior runner Tate Murray sustained injuries during each of her first three seasons as a Stanford athlete, beginning with a stress fracture in her femur her freshman year that forced her to miss the indoor and outdoor track seasons. Sophomore year brought more stress fractures that kept her out for the majority of cross country and track. Finally, during spring of her junior year, Murray battled back from a hernia and another stress fracture from the cross country season to race in the Pac-12 Championships. This is her one-year anniversary of returning from injury.

Both Rosen and Murray agreed that the lasting effects from the injuries were mostly psychological in spite of the initial physical causes.

“There comes a point when you’re getting close to running again, but you’re not quite there or you’re still only cross-training,” Murray said. “You just feel very over it and very apathetic and uncaring…It’s so hard to watch your teammates get to run and do so well and you’re happy for them. But it’s just heartbreaking that your body won’t let you [compete].”

Like many of her fellow athletes, Murray has found that the journey back from injury was ultimately more important than the final goal of returning to the field.

“[The] lesson is that it’s all about the process. It can’t be about the end result because you don’t always have control of it,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that all of the trying to get there wasn’t worth it.” 

Losses on the field

While on a winning streak, players gain confidence by building momentum and enjoying success. On the other hand, the pressure to continue performing at a high caliber only increases.

“For me, I don’t think about streaks,” said senior soccer player Kendall Romine. “But when you hear it from the media and from coaches and from random people who read about it, then you internalize it and it sucks.”

As a result, a break in the streak can come as a relief to the athletes. Such was the case for some members of the women’s soccer team, which suffered its first home loss since 2007 last season.

“Honestly, I think it felt great for me,” Rosen said. “It was like bam, pressure and record all gone, it was like a clean slate to move forward.”

However, student-athletes will often have to recover from the resulting blow to their confidence in the immediate aftermath of suffering such a loss.

“Confidence is so important in itself, and it’s a cycle,” Murray said. “If you are confident, then you’ll run better, and then you’ll get more confident and run even better. And if you’re lacking in confidence it’s really hard to run well because it’s hard to believe in yourself and then you won’t do it.”

“You just have to believe in your ability when no one else does,” she continued. “You have to believe that you are good.”

Contact Niuniu Teo at niuteo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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