Spring is in the air. The weather is warming up and players are running to the field, cleats untied, too ready to hop the line to be bothered. Careful you don’t trip. While the mercury is rising, the thermometer is far from reading balmy. It might even keep some players indoors a little longer. In those cases you might be tempted to play out of your position to make sure there are enough guys for a pick up game.
Youthful exuberance can get the best of you at any age. With a full squad you’d never randomly decide to practice with the pitchers if you’re a shortstop but in spring, for some reason, it makes complete sense to just jump on in at a position for which you either have zero training or haven’t played since youth.
Thumper put it best when he said spring twitterpates ya and, for players, the mistress is the game. Before you know it you’ve skipped the warm-up and are trying to throw and run with cold muscles in colder weather in positions for which you muscles have zero memory. If you’re lucky, you’ll skirt the disabled list (DL). If coach catches you, and you’ve got a good one, they’ll give you an earful, deservedly so.
For those unlucky enough not to get caught in the act, your rehab is going to be lesson enough. While you’re waiting it out though, we thought it might be helpful to hear from others who have been in your spot.
We spoke with two players who spent full seasons on the DL recovering from injury and surgery. Verča [Veronika] Klimplová is on the junior and senior women’s national softball teams for the Czech Republic. She was injured last spring while playing out of position.
Name: Verča Klimplová
Team: Joudrs Praha
Year of Injury: 2016
Injury: Torn ligament in the ankle
Length of recovery: Two months each time
Tell us about your injury?
The first time the injury showed up was in winter 2015. I thought it was just a sprained ankle and let it heal but it happened again last April. I usually play 2nd base but we were playing a game and I was in right field. There was a fly ball and when I was running straight in to catch it my ankle gave in and I sprained it again so I didn’t finish the game. The next day I went to the doctor. They did an MRI and said I had a torn ligament. It wasn’t completely torn, but a bit, and I got a cast. I had it for three weeks and then my coach from the national team gave me the information of a good doctor in Prague. I went there for physical therapy. He took another MRI and confirmed the diagnosis. After four weeks it was still unchanged. I didn’t have any surgery but he gave me some injections and for the first two weeks I couldn’t walk on it. It was in a brace and I was on crutches.
It was kind of a tough time because I live in Bruno and twice a week I had to go to Prague, which is two hours each way, for rehabilitation. My mother really helped me with it because she drove. I’m still going to school so every Tuesday and Thursday, right after school, we drove to Prague and I had my rehab and then we went back.
I had my rehab for two months and I started training in June. After that I started playing. It was just some small training. I didn’t push it very hard because I knew that my ankle was still not as stable as I wanted. So I just ran and so on. Then I started playing, I think it was the end of June, during Prague Softball Week.
In August, I participated in the European Championship in Barcelona. My ankle was okay. I played with a brace. It’s kind of a funny story. When we were in the tournament we were just walking on the sidewalk and I didn’t have my brace on, because we were just walking, and my ankle got sprained again because there was a hole in the sidewalk. It was like, ‘Oh no. Is it going to be okay?’
It was hurt and I knew it but I finished the tournament. After that, when we came back to the Czech Republic, I went to the doctor again and it was like the beginning, when it happened in April. This time, I didn’t get the cast because I said I didn’t want it anymore and this time I didn’t go to Prague for rehab. I found some good physical therapists in Brno but I still went to Prague for the injections. It started getting better at the end of the season but I talked to my coach and we decided it would be best if I didn’t play the season and let the ankle stabilize, then spent the winter preparing for spring.
Now I’m playing with the brace all the time and I don’t have any problems with it now so I hope it will be good.
If it doesn’t heal over time will they do surgery?
We talked about it but they said if it’s not torn apart I don’t need any surgery but, I think, if it keeps happening again and again we will do it.
You’re cleared to play?
Yes, I’m playing.
Last year I was the first 2nd baseman on the Jr. national team. On the women’s national team, because it was my first year, I should play outfield but when I sprained my ankle the first time playing in right it was with my local team. It was my first year on the Extraliga team too, so I was their backup to the backup 2nd baseman. It was one of the first games of the year so when I was in outfield I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was just running looking at the ball and didn’t really know where it was going.
This year, one girl ended her career so she’s not playing anymore and the second 2nd baseman is injured too so I think that, at this time, I’m the first 2nd baseman on the junior national team and Joudrs Praha.
If I make it to the final national team, then I will be competing this year but I’m still the youngest player on the women’s national team at the moment so I’m doing my best and I hope.
What was the hardest part about going through all of this?
I think the hardest part was that I lost the opportunity to play in the world championships in Surrey for the national team because it was my first time on the women’s national team. I was kind of upset and I think this was the hardest part about not being able to play.
What was the hardest part of the recovery process?
I think when I look at it from the other side it is that my rehab was in Prague. I went to school, and I was learning in the car, and my schedule was really crazy.
Were there moments it got too hard?
I think it was decent because I just said, ‘Okay, I can’t play for the women’s national team so I will just do the best so that I will be in my best shape for the Jr. national team. So, I think that I knew where my limits were and where I wanted to be and that was the European Championship. I wanted to help my teammates. It was the one thing that pushed me. So I was lucky during my rehabilitation really.
Were you with the team through rehab?
I was kind of on my own at first, because I had crutches, so when I could walk I would drive to Prague and be with my team even when I didn’t play.
Did you find it helpful to your recovery to be with the team?
Sometimes it was kind of hard for me because I just wanted to play and throw and I still kind of missed it but I think it was best that I didn’t play. I didn’t train the whole year and I couldn’t help my team right when I hadn’t trained.
Who was the person you leaned on most?
First I would say it was probably me because I had to set it in my mind that it will be okay, and I will play again, and it doesn’t matter that I lost one year of playing because I have many years ahead.
Secondly, it was probably my mother because she was driving and she helped me a lot and she said also don’t push it too hard and just do my schedule with the rehabilitation and it will be okay.
I also think that my coaches from the national team helped me because they gave me the opportunity to work with the best physical therapists in Prague so that helped me a lot.
Was there anything your teammates did that helped?
Yeah they always told me, ‘It will be okay,’ and ‘We will play together next year,’ and not to push it too hard so it will recover and everything will be okay so yeah, it was really helpful.
Now that it’s giving out on you regularly, how do you trust the ankle to be there?
I have to say that the brace helps the most. When I have my brace on I feel 100% sure that it will be okay. But, like I said, I wear it all the time, even when I go just straight running. I think that’s it. I know that, after the rehabilitation, it is not strong like the other ankle but it’s not that weak. But probably the most is the brace.
Did you learn anything about yourself that you wouldn’t have otherwise experienced without the injury?
Yeah, when I got the rehab we usually started with some breathing exercises and my physical therapist (PT) always told me about my body – what is happening – so it was kind of interesting. After rehabilitation I always want to be a physio in my career, so probably that’s what I enjoy about the rehabilitation, I am learning about my body.
Before you went into rehab was that a career path you were considering?
I really don’t know because even now I’m still confused about my career because I’m finishing high school next year and then I have to decide where I want to go. I’m thinking about maybe playing in other countries. I’m really confused about this, the future!
Nobody wants to be injured but are you thankful for what the injury has taught you?
As I said earlier, it’s good for when I go to rehabilitation. I learned something new about my body. I know about my pain threshold so I know how to hide it and when to talk to somebody.
What is the best advice for learning the limit between good and bad pain?
I think that people who suffer some injuries usually know their body better. They know where does it feel good and when is it really bad. But I think that, even if you really want to play and be with your teammates, always talk to your PT because, even if it’s something small, it can be worse after that so really just talk with somebody about it. Don’t hide it.
You seemed to have done yourself a service by bringing it to the coach’s attention because they trust you to be truthful about your situation.
Yeah I think what you said is right because now, sometimes when I just wince with my face they jump and make sure I’m okay. I’m like it’s okay. When I am with my teammates I have my brace on. If I do something, they ask. But, sometimes they can’t be sure if I’m okay or just saying yes because I am hiding and want to play.
Do you ever feel like they are more concerned about it than you?
Yeah, they don’t ask once they ask twice if it’s really okay so they ask more times than usual but…
Anything you want the world to know?
I think, from my position that I am still young, I always said it’s okay that I lost just one year of play. I was sad and it was hard for me that I couldn’t play for a season but I always said that I’m young and I have many years ahead and I didn’t push it. I knew if I did my rehabilitation right I would just set it in my mind I can play for many years.
Name: Angelo Paulino
Team: Bonn Capitals
Year of Injury: 2012
Injury: UCL Ligament in the elbow
Surgery: Tommy John
Length of Recovery: 1 year
While talking to Paulino about his path to the Capitals last month his injury came up early on in the discussion. It was, after all, the catalyst for change. Though it was not a career-ending injury, it was the injury that changed his career.
One of the reasons I chose to write this piece is that, though not a professional athlete, I’ve been where these players have. My first physical therapy sessions followed a car accident when I was just 17 years old. Being that young and feeling your body’s limitations can be a debilitating experience. Pushing through therapy to the other side though I was, and remain, grateful for the experience. As Verča said, it taught me things about my body. It taught me to value what I have and how quickly it can change. It showed me that I had mental strength I didn’t know a human could possess and it forced me to stop making excuses when the work got hard. Without my injuries, I would be lesser than my true potential because I would never have been forced to find it.
If you’re out there, iced up and feeling like no one gets it, we do. You’ve got this in you. If it takes waiting it out or walking away, you can do it. Respect the limits your body is setting and work with it to get to your new best.
There is comradery in the process. Talk to people around you who have been there. It is a unique situation. They will get it and that will help. More important than anything is to be honest with yourself so you can be helpful to your team. Lying to your coaches and trainers serves no purpose. It increases your risk of permanent damage. Putting a player who’s not ready onto the field can put other players at risk of injury as they try to cover your tracks.
A good coach will also probably already know so don’t be afraid to speak up. As much as you try to hide it, your body is already giving you away. Your stance has changed, or you stride is shorted or your taking an extra step to make sure your throw reaches. Don’t argue when they bench you, or deny it when they ask if you need a rest. Say, ‘Thanks for noticing, and for giving me the time I needed to come to you.’ Then take your seat on the bench, hand the batboy a cold drink after their run from the field, and root for your mates like you’re sitting at home yelling at the TV screen. There are always ways to be part of the team in our community. If you need an ear and no one around you gets it, feel free to write me. I’m always happy to talk it through with you.