Image Credit: GEPA

10/30/18: 57 days post-injury, 40 days post-op, 6 days post-second op

Ferocity and Frustration

When I announced my injury, I stated that the coming months would be excruciating—excruciating in the mental sense. Thinking back now, I didn’t know all of the ways that this would test me. I still can’t say if I will be better for it. It’s been a while since I’ve written; almost six weeks to be exact. But I have faced tests I couldn’t even imagine. Have those tests made me better? Only time will tell.

Those who know me know I have a force of willpower unmatched in the average person. I do know others with this force. Many of my fellow competitors also have this ferocity. Perhaps that seems like an insult, but I argue otherwise. “Ferocity” doesn’t have to be directed at other beings in a negative manner—and the ability to be ferocious in the face of obstacles and adversity, is perhaps what distinguishes the great from the good. I have, for many years, approached ski racing with this ferocity. We often teach children—especially girls—to be kind, wait, ask for permission. But in elite level sport, as in much of life sometimes, we cannot be herbivorous. We must, like a cheetah on the Savanna, chase down and kill our prey. We must take what we need because if we wait until it is given, we will never get it.

I have lived much of my career in this manner: move forward, work harder than anyone thought possible, and then go take what you have earned. When my doctor told me my diagnosis, I resolved myself to do so again. I thought to myself ‘Go work harder on your recovery than anyone thought possible and take back your health, your speed and your sport.’ It has been more exhausting and frustrating than I thought possible.

While my sport has always been grueling, occasionally taking time off or hanging with friends rejuvenated my brain and my body. Days off, relaxing with teammates, served to both make me happy and provide a critical piece in allowing me to progress. Now it feels as if some of that has turned against me. I traveled home [to Victor, Idaho] two weeks ago; my first trip home since surgery. While the time in the Tetons gave me mental rejuvenation, that came with immense physical pain and swelling. Going out to movies with friends did the same. Even sleep, which I have loved all of my life, has turned against me. I am mostly a stomach sleeper, but in my work to lower the swelling in my knee joint I sleep on my back now, with my knee up on six pillows and my ice machine running on and off through the night. Everything that once healed me and helped me progress, is now seemingly my nemesis.

This is hard. Really hard.

A young ski racer recently messaged me and asked how we get through these setbacks. It’s difficult; I won’t lie. I think we just do what we can every day. While unfortunate to say, I think in some ways we simply must resolve ourselves to months of pain and frustration. We must hunker down and endure the storm. Some might call it resilience…but it isn’t really. We simply have no other option; no other road to take. It’s survival. The body has a remarkable ability to heal. It truly awes me every day. Your body can, in its infinite wisdom, take a piece that is broken and fix it. During times of injury, some of what we must do is simply wait for our body to do its job. No amount of will or ferocity can help. And so we wait, frustrated and lost, until our amazing cells and nerves and ligaments figure out how to deal with the problems we have caused.

While my ferocious attitude has helped me in my recovery, I am slowly realizing that I must adapt and be less aggressive in my return to sport. As many know, I recently had to go back under the knife to deal with a skin infection in an incision. I was frustrated, for weeks, having to deal with setbacks that were not my own creation. I felt that I didn’t deserve to deal with the extra setbacks. I’m sure many of you—and many of my U.S. Ski & Snowboard teammates—have felt the same way. I’m not perfect, and I’m not there yet, but I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my fault. The problems were mine nonetheless, and I have the choice to either solely have problems with my body or problems with my body AND my mind. But as I turn the corner (hopefully) toward putting this infection behind me, I’m beginning to let go of what I wish I was doing and simply focus on what I can do now.  I vow not to lose my ferocity, but I have to be able to be more fluid about the obstacles in front of me.

If not for my body’s sake, certainly for my mind’s sake.

Release courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, words are Johnson’s own.

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