Training for any competitive sport at an elite level always forces you to ride a fine line
On one side, you need to push hard enough to achieve the gains needed to remain competitive. On the other, there’s the point where your body becomes overtrained, causing your body to shut down or become injured. Finding that balance is what we strive for throughout the year. As we age, especially for masters athletes over 50 years old, the tightrope moves closer, and the line becomes finer.
For the last year I have trained with a major shoulder injury
From a fall in December 2022, I damaged my left shoulder, which had previously been surgically repaired. The damage included complete full thickness tears in the supraspinatus and infraspinatus, and a torn labrum. For over a year, I’ve worked with a physical therapist, orthopedic doctors, an acupuncturist, and my world class coach, Rebecca Romero, in order to keep going. We worked on strengthening the muscles around that injury, training them to take on the jobs of the muscles that no longer functioned, managing the pain, and changing up my rowing stroke to compensate for what I had lost. They put me back together in time to compete in last years US National and the World Indoor Rowing Championships. But since then, it has been an uphill climb, with some extremely frustrating setbacks.
332 days of preparation and 9 days before this years US Nationals
Looking back to Thursday January 25th, I think heavy deadlifts initiated the new damage in my shoulder. I can remember instinctively releasing the bar a little early and pulling my arms back, as if it was a protective maneuver my mind/body was responding with. I felt no more pain than usual at that point, but later that evening a reactive jerk/flailing of my arm felt like my arm had dislocated.
There was quite a bit of pain throughout the night, and when I got up to workout in the morning I knew my shoulder had been damaged again. But, because in the past my rowing stroke still worked, I sat on the erg and started to warm up. This time, it was much different. Every time I went forward in the catch, my shoulder made an excruciating pop and it felt as though it was dislocating again. The pain was unbearable, but yes, of course I tried several times before my brain wouldn’t allow me to reach forward any longer and I finally gave up.
A final effort
The supporting medical team I have is incredible. The orthopedic doctor and physical therapist, knowing my competition schedule, saw me immediately. They did what they could do to try to get me up and running for the following Saturdays US Nationals, but just a couple days before the event, I scratched. I was still looking forward to the World Indoor Rowing Championship in Prague, and didn’t want to exacerbate the damage in my shoulder. On Saturday, I still lacked mobility and the pain was still pretty intense. While I really wanted to be a part of the US Indoor Rowing Championships, I knew I made the right decision.
A very tough call
The following week, I had an intra-articular shoulder joint injection under a fluoroscope. At that point though, I had made my decision regarding the world championships. With a little over 2 weeks to go until the competition, I had missed 2 weeks of critical training. I had reviewed all of the imaging of the damage in my shoulder. I consulted with my medical team, and was still lacking mobility and dealing with a lot of pain. Trying to push through this injury again could cause complete tears of my bicep and other tissue around the shoulder. The doctor told me that the only repair option I have left at this point is a complete shoulder replacement. I want to delay that for as long as possible, if not indefinitely.
One last meeting with my coach and the final decision was made. I am withdrawing from the World Indoor Rowing Championships for this year. While I know it was the right call, it is still a difficult decision to deal with. I will truly miss competing with so many great friends and athletes in Prague this year.