Knee Deep: Focus on Focus

Over the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time around athletes and the people who care for them. I spent four days in Park City at the Team USA Olympic media summit, three days in Newport Beach at the espnW Women + Sports Summit and four days in Aspen hosting The Meeting.

As seems to be the case with any large sampling of humans — especially those who play sports — many of the folks I’ve encountered have been in the situation in which I now find myself. Or they’ve helped an endless list of athletes through ACL surgery and the recovery that follows. When I ask them for one piece of advice, almost unanimously, they tell me to “do the work.” And then that advice turns into a 30-minute conversation about just how hard that is to do.

Not because the physical therapy is hard. Quite the contrary. Because it is tedious. And boring. And not at all like the type of physical work we’re accustomed to doing for fun. I tore my ACL riding a dirt bike. That week, I also went surfing, rode my road bike, did yoga, had a mountain bike trip planned and started my days with plyometric workouts at the gym. Now, I sit on an indoor bike for 20 to 30 minutes, stretch and use therabands and three-pound weights to do leg lifts and work on my range of motion. Not exactly exhilarating stuff. The last time I felt my heart rate spike over 130 was when I woke up from a bad dream the other night.

On many mornings, I don’t want to go to PT. I don’t want to do the boring work. I don’t want to behave like an injured person. But if I take one day off, I know the next day will become even harder. And the next day, and the next. And with each off day, the next day becomes easier to skip. So what I realized is that these conversations, this advice, is really about focus. Staying focused and not losing focus.

Losing focus is what got me into this mess in the first place. Had I been fully immersed in the moment, focused on the task at hand, even when it was “easy” and monotonous and required basic skill, I likely wouldn’t have crashed and twisted my knee. So that is the attitude with which I am approaching each day. If I lose focus, if I skip my physical therapy routine, if I don’t ice my knee after being on my feet for several hours, I will crash. And I have too much to get back to doing to risk crashing again.