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My story of miraculous healing is one that I’ve told very few people.  Maybe it’s because I think that it seems to “out there”, or maybe (and more likely), I still struggle to believe that it happened to me, because it doesn’t make sense and I can’t explain it at a physical level.

In April 2009 my 2nd pro beach season started.  The previous year my partner and I had been extremely successful and so we began the season ranked #1 in the AVP qualifier.  I had spent most of the offseason training like crazy for the big year I was predicting.  To take my game to the next level, I decided to throw out all of the training methods and principles that had taken me to this place, and replace them with a new training method that I believed had the potential to take me to the top.  Looking back on this choice, it seems crazy.  What I was doing was working but for some reason, I was worried it wasn’t enough.

So April rolled around, and our season was starting in two weeks.  I was nervous, excited, unsure, and even though I’d been training like crazy for 7 months, I didn’t really feel  quite ready.  I’m not sure what the missing link was, but I worked harder.  And harder.  Like that was the answer…  I worked so much one week that while in the gym I was doing a really tough workout and something happened in my body.  It wasn’t much just this sense that I wasn’t in control of it.  Like I had met exhaustion.  After what I thought was the end of a brutal workout, a coach gave me one more drill to do.  I remember having this total repulsion to doing it, which was so unlike me.  But I did it anyways, because I thought that’s what champions did.

It’s probably not too hard to figure out what happened next – and I finished the workout with such acute pain in my left foot that I went home and iced 3 times.  I woke up and did the same thing, and continued that regime of icing 6-8 times a day for the next 3 months.  Sure, I couldn’t walk for the first hour I was awake, but if I was just a little stronger, more committed, and more strict about my diet then it would all be okay, right?  I called my injury “a little plantar fasciitis” (based on my internet research) and struggled through three of the most painful and frustrating months of my life, quietly trying remedies like massage and acupuncture to heal myself.

I don’t think that anyone can ever understand what long term pain can do to a person’s sense of self and their happiness until they go through it.  It was a dark time for me, where I felt hopelessly alone, and I alienated myself from my coaches, partner, friends and family because I thought I had disappointed them.  I can honestly say that there was not one person that knew what I was going through.  To me, injury was weakness and I was doing everything I could to prevent looking that way, including continuing to train 9 times a week and play a tournament each weekend.

The following September, after I finally told my mom what was going on, she insisted I come home to see one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in the country, Dr. Jack Taunton.  I found out that I had so many tears in my plantar fascia that the doctors stopped counting after 20– my plantar fascia had literally been tearing itself apart and was 3x the width it should have been as a result of my continuing to play on it. After getting that news, for the first time I allowed myself to truly feel the pain, the numbing, the throbbing in my foot and I cried for hours.  Less because of the diagnosis- although of course I knew that my life was about to change significantly.  There was this feeling of relief, that there was finally truth around this whole situation that really impacted me.  In finding out the truth, I had freedom to be honest about what happened last season, and in some small way, it gave me the opportunity to stopped blaming myself.

This all being said, with the removal of the blame I had put onto myself for having such a rough season, I replaced it with this belief that I deserved the injury.  I got very adamant that I SHOULD have gone to a doctor, SHOULD have taken time off at the beginning, and SHOULDN’T have changed my training program.  And I believed that because I had done so much damage, the path to health would be a long and steep one.  I bought into the prognosis.  I was injured.  I owned being injured like it was my name – I’m Leah, and I’m injured.  And I kept saying it and saying it – mostly to describe why I was back home in Vancouver, why my season had sucked and why I didn’t know what was next.  Because as soon as I said it I was off the hook and people “understood”.  It really gave me an opportunity to step back and just let life take me… and take me it did.

I underwent a new therapy called Prolotherapy starting in October.  It’s a painful injection of glucose into the site of the tears that stimulates inflammation and healing.  By February I had gone through 4 injections and had only a little bit of improvement.  I was frustrated a really resigned to the fact that nothing was working.  Then, things changed.  On March 1st, one day after the closing ceremonies for the Olympics (and, for the record, a 3 week Olympic sized walk/dance/stairclimbing fest), I woke up unable to move my foot.  It was totally numb to the touch, and I could feel nerve damage through the bottom of it.  It was the worst it had ever been and within a week I had a new diagnosis – I had retorn it completely, and had also compressed all of the nerve endings in my foot.  I was back at square one.

I’m not sure how to describe the next 24 hours except that it was the closest to depression that I think I am capable of getting to.   By myself I cried, yelled, blamed, fought.  And when it was all over, I just laid there, in nothingness.  It was as if every feeling had been used up and this extreme peace came over me.  In this peace, I began creating.  I imagined how health would feel, what it looked like, who I had to be to have it.  I got this really strong image of a sparkling white light, regenerating and healing my body with every breath in.  It was so clear that it felt real, like I was pulling it in from an outside source.

For the next four weeks I was a ghost to the people in my life.  I had one thing on my mind, and it was regeneration.  Every movement I made I was connected to the feeling of health, every morsel of food I put into my mouth, I imagined giving my body energy to heal, and during workouts, I would picture breathing in white sparkling light that would restore my foot back to health.  I can barely remember those four weeks because I was totally in the zone.  Nothing could faze me as I was on a mission – and I wasn’t attached to a specific result, just who I wanted to be in the process, and what I wanted to feel like.  My joy came from noticing what I was able to do in a workout, knowing I had a team of doctors enrolled in my recovery, in finding moments and opportunities to help my body heal just a little bit easier.  I had a newfound appreciation and love for myself, and I spent most of the day feeling very grateful.  Especially for the experience of being injured, as crazy as that sounds.  I decided and completely believed that I was lucky to have gotten injured.  It caused me to take a step back to reflect on why I play volleyball, to have the opportunity to take care of myself (because this injury was just a symptom of me not taking care of myself on a larger scale), and to truly connect with others once again.

I knew that no matter what happened or when I would be healed, I would be okay.  And then, at about five weeks, I realized something.  I hadn’t felt pain in a while.  In fact, I couldn’t even say when the last time was, as I hadn’t been paying attention to that, I had been paying attention to the process and had been so busy creating the feeling of health that I didn’t realize that it was already present! A week later I went to the doctor for an ultrasound and injection, and was shocked to read an email later in the day from Dr.Taunton “there are no visible signs of a tear”.  I read and reread it over and over. In six weeks I had completely healed my foot.  The impossible was possible.

I think that this quote signifies why my injury continued to persist for as long as it did…

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.”

Fulton Oursler

The second I let go of the past, and let go of the future, and just totally engaged myself in the moment… in what I could do right NOW, I was healed.  Was it the white light I imagined, or the massage, or the physio?  That had something to do with it for sure, but the truth as I know it is that it was about being okay with what is.  There was no other way than the way it was, and I appreciated that and worked with it.  At the end of the day, it’s about gratitude.  True, complete gratitude for whatever life brings us.  Because in accepting it all, a path is created where anything is possible.

The Guest House:

This being human is a guest-house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you

out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

–Rumi, “The Guest House”

Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

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Badass Yoda knows what's up 🙂

Uggghhhh… my foot hurts. It’s been 10 months since I injured it and it’s still bad. I don’t know if I was hoping for this little miracle when I started doing prolotherapy on it, but it’s certainly been a slower ride than expected. This time off- albeit a forced break, although frustrating has done me a lot of good. I’m not even talking about the physical break, which has of course been something I needed, but I think this recovery time has done so much for me mentally. It reminds me of the people who get sick immediately following a big event, or the people who find themselves in a fender bender when they’ve been stressed out. Your body (and your life) will inevitably make you stop when it’s had enough or when a change needs to be made. When you are going in a direction that is unhealthy, unbalanced, and potentially threatening to your wellness, SOMETHING will always stop you.

In my case, I was super negligent with my health. I truly believed that the more I trained through my injury, the more food groups that I cut out, the more disciplined I was, the better an athlete I would be. As I’m writing it right now, it sounds crazy- and it was crazy. Every time my foot hurt and every time I woke up unable to walk, my strategy was to force it to be stronger and push through… and I did. I pushed and I pushed and my one tear turned into 5, which turned into, as the doctor put it “my plantar fascia literally tearing apart”. And my results? Well if I could sit here and tell you that I had an awesome season and that I was happy with how I performed then maybe there would be some method to my madness. But the truth is that what I wanted and what I actually got were so far from each other. In my desperation to make things better and to control what felt like a whirlwind of bad results, I kept doing the same thing, but more intensely. Crazy no?

I look at people in their lives outside of sport and I think it’s the same thing. In work, when we are struggling to do our jobs and to prove ourselves, what is our strategy? Do we try to control and push and force it to get better? Does that work or can people see right through this? Is there anything inspiring and excellent about a person who operates at this level, or is it more powerful to simply ask for help and admit when we are feeling overwhelmed? And in love, when you feel like you are losing someone, what do you do? Do you grip tighter, try harder, get jealous, analyse everything? I know for me that as soon as I try NOT to lose something, try not to make a mistake, try not to say the wrong thing, all of those things seem to happen! It’s common known in my sport that the best way to miss a serve is to try to not miss the serve! And I’ve also noticed that the second I don’t care whether or not I am dating I always meet somebody.

 My theory is that similar to fixing my bad season, the more I try the worse it goes. And why is that? Isn’t hard work the answer?

So here’s my final answer… it’s not about how hard you try- contrary to popular little league softball belief 🙂 it is about what you DO. As Yoda says, there is NO TRY, only DO. The focus can’t be on trying avoid a bad result, it has to be about what to do in this moment to get what you want.

For me 10 months ago, it would have been to take a couple of weeks off. If I hadn’t been so concerned about dropping points and placings, my action would have been to stop in order to heal and I would have saved myself hours of therapy and months of recovery. And I probably would have won more as I would be rested and healed. In a relationship if I wasn’t concerned about losing someone I love, I would act in the way that I wanted to experience life with that person, rather than doing things to prevent what I didn’t want to experience with them. There’s a difference right?

At the end of the day, what you think about is what you get. So instead of worrying about how I can’t miss a serve, I’m focused on placing it on the back line for an ace!

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