Episode 80 | Are You An “Athlete”?

Show Notes:

Are you going through your ACL rehab but do not identify as an athlete? What defines an “athlete?”  In this episode, we discuss our definition at The ACL Athlete.  Maybe you will reconsider after listening to what we have to say. 

What’s up guys, and welcome back to another episode on the ACL Athlete Podcast. Today is episode number 80, and we are diving into this question: Are you an athlete? Now, this may seem like a very basic question, you are or you’re not. And this is one that I want to dive into a little deeper as I’ve had several conversations with ACLers talking about their current rehab. And I’ve seen this over the years where people will talk about themselves, whether they are an athlete or not. Usually, these definitions are based on your own personal experiences, culture, environments that you’re in, age, and gender.

There are a lot of factors that play into how we define things and perceive things. And so this is one that I want to make sure that we cover because it’s really important to us as the ACL Athlete, as a company, but also in the philosophy that we believe in. I think it’s important for you as an ACLer or a PT or a coach who is listening or a family member, to understand what this definition of an athlete is. And being able to see from that lens and understand how that might impact actions and the way you perceive yourself.

And as I mentioned before, this is coming from conversations with ACLers who are talking about their rehab. And they feel it’s not challenging, and they usually chop it up to, well, I’m not an athlete. Hear it all the time. They’re like, well, I’m not this high school or collegiate professional athlete trying to get back to this very competitive sport.

And my question is, who is saying that you’re not an athlete, is it yourself? Is it the PT you’re working with? Is it the coach? Is it society or what you believe in? By what definition and standard? And I totally get it. And society in general, is typically looked at as athletes playing a specific organized sport. So that might be soccer or football or basketball or track. There’s so many of those. And it’s sports that we might see in the Olympics as a good reference. And it can be assumed that anyone else is not an athlete. And usually, we connect this with a physical skill as well as a sports-based skill. And those are the things that people will bucket as they’re an athlete. But where do you draw the line between who’s an athlete and who’s not? Is it their sport or the activity that they’re doing? Is it their goal? Is it the skill required for those goals or the sport or activity? Is it their age? Is it their gender?

Now, let me ask you this, do you have goals of getting back to doing something after your ACL injury or surgery? Does that involve you physically using your body? Do you feel like you need to rehab and train to get to that point and to get there? Then what makes you different than these ” athletes”? I do want to share an actual definition of this based on dictionary.com, which defines an athlete as a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength, a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill. Interesting! I feel like this would pretty much include everyone. Definitely, ACLers, any of you who are going through this ACL rehab process, you guys are definitely going through exercises and training and participating in sports, doing different activities that are demanding physical agility and stamina and strength. 

And usually, you tear your ACL by playing a sport or activity. That’s how I tore both mine. I tore mine in high school football and then flag football, and that’s how the majority of the conversations I have with athletes and with clients and people, are that they tore it through some sort of activity. Now, you do have your accidents where you just fell off a chair or something like that. But most of the time it’s doing something pretty active where it demanded the ACL and it didn’t work out right.

Defining an athlete for us at the ACL Athlete, I mean, it is a part of the company name and the podcast. It’s important that we understand what that meaning is. And I think Bill Bowerman put it best. He is the co-founder of Nike. And he said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” And we totally agree with Bill. Bill is a legendary track and field coach who had such an impact on Nike and the development of their shoes. They actually have a really cool story, where Phil Knight came up with the idea of Nike and then he proposed it and pitched it to Bill Bowerman. And it’s just really awesome to see what they did to make Nike what it is today. “Shoe Dog” is a book by Phil Knight. And it’s a really great story of Nike and they talk a lot about athleticism and what entails an athlete.

And I remember reading Bill Bowerman’s definition and I really resonated with it. Because being in the physical therapy and performance realm, working with people of different conditions, whether it was in school, in the hospital, or whether it was in performance-based settings, it’s really interesting to see this definition take hold with so many people. And the way we look at it at the ACL Athelete is we see athletes as a spectrum, and it is relative to each person. It’s all based on the demands of what you’re trying to get back to, and that can look different for each person and each athlete. Especially based on the context that they are in. 

Let me give you some examples. The rec soccer player in college is an athlete. The mom who loves skiing with her kids is an athlete, the teenage volleyball player, the medical professional who moves with their patients, and the dad who wants to play pickleball with his son, they’re all athletes. The professional football player, the grandmother who wants to pick up her grandson, the teacher who manages her kids and has a run around with them is an athlete. ACL injuries don’t discriminate and neither do we. And that’s really important. If you have goals and want to participate in an activity or sport, then you’re an athlete.

And you’re probably wondering, Ravi, why is this so important? Why are you talking so much about the definition of an athlete? And I’ll tell you why. I talk so much about mindset in this process. Mindset is huge for us. It really does set a foundation and everything is going to drive from your mindset. James Clear, the author of “Atomic Habits,” talks a lot about identity. A lot of times we get focused on the outcome of situations. For ACL rehab, you’re just focused on getting to the goal, to be clear, to be done with the rehab, so you can get back to being you. The identity can kind of get lost, especially for someone who plays a certain sport or identifies with it. That can get almost a little fuzzy. And I think it’s important to come back to what your identity truly is. And as a side note, ACL rehab, and this process is a really good opportunity to dive a little deeper into what your identity is, especially if we do identify with one particular activity or sport. This is a good way to really reflect on it. But as we’re coming back to this whole notion about identity from James Clear, it is going to be important to see how we view ourselves. Because if we get very outcome-focused, then our actions may be driven based on the outcomes rather than coming from a true identity.

What I’m getting at is, that instead of focusing on identity, in this case, seeing yourself as an athlete will help you to put the right process and behaviors in place to get the outcomes that you want. And that’s going to be really important because this process is so long if we constantly get fixated on outcomes, it could be far and few between sometimes, especially if there are setbacks and things like that. We need things that are going to help us identify with that. He uses the example of someone trying to quit smoking versus I’m not a smoker. This shifts the mindset from outcome-based I quit smoking to identity-based which is I’m not a smoker. And this slight shift will also shift your behaviors and your actions if you really are trying to bring that in as an identity.

And this is really important for the ACL rehab process because you need to approach this as rehab and training as an athlete. Getting back to what you want to do, whether that’s a sport for activity or for just in your life in general. We have ACLers of all shapes and sizes trying to get back to something they love. We have a 21-year-old getting back to our last year of collegiate soccer; a 24-year-old getting back to recreational volleyball; a 29-year-old trying to get back to Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition; a 31-year-old trying to get back to triathlons; a 36-year-old mother of twins trying to get back to chasing her little dudes around; a 42-year-old that is getting back to working as an ICU nurse; a 52-year-old skier getting back to riding the slopes. 

These are just some of our incredible remote ACL clients. And they’re all athletes in our eyes. If you look at every single one of their individualized ACL programs, you’d see that they’re pushing their bodies relative to where they’re at, to get to their end goal which I had just mentioned. And we’re setting up benchmarks along the way, and we’re testing, and we’re making sure that they’re getting exposed to the demands of their sport or activity. And that’s for each and every athlete. This should be no different with you and your own ACL rehab. If you feel like your PT or your rehab is not serving you in this way, then I suggest finding or searching for an alternate option. If you do not know where to find one, reach out to us and we can help point you in the right direction. Just make sure you’re not spinning your wheels. I’ve had this conversation day in and day out with people and they can go months and months without ever making any progress, and that could be very frustrating. Make sure that you find some direction and someone who can assist you along this path and don’t wait. Capish. Sounds good!

In review, you’re an athlete, make sure your rehab is challenging you in that sense. This feeds into your identity and it will impact your actions and your behaviors. It’s really important. And finally, if you have a body, you’re an athlete by Bill Bowerman. I really believe in this. We believe in this at the ACL Athlete. And I hope that you believe in it as well. I know that this can be cheesy sometimes, but I know every one of you who is dealing with an ACL injury and post-surgery is having all these mental battles and it’s really tough to navigate the process and being able to be sharp with your mind is going to help so much in this. 

We have ACLers who are pre-op, post-op, all the way to people who are still working through things. Because initially, it didn’t get done and they’re years out. And that could be really hard. And sure, you might not have to shift this as much for something where you have low back pain or your shoulder hurts from something. But since this process is long, and it could be longer than you think, any tool in any way, we can shift and reframe our mindset is going to be very valuable. And especially in this sense, because you’re also going to feel like you’re challenging yourself and you need to challenge yourself which is going to be very vital in the ACL rehab process.

All right, team, that’s going to do it for today. Thank you guys so much for listening. This is your host, Ravi Patel, signing off.

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