When your passion blurs the fine line between pride and hubris, a wake up call will give you the perspective needed to better appreciate your privilege.
As entrepreneurs, we tackle challenges, put teams together for a higher purpose. In October I had the chance to represent Canada at a soccer tournament in Dubai, admittedly a source of pride! There’s that word: pride. Its cousin, hubris, is one of the seven sins. Sadly, my luck of 20 years of playing competitive soccer without injuries ran out, in the first match, while scoring a goal! If you want to see the play, VOILA (didn’t I say entrepreneurs were masochists?).
In that moment, I joined the 200,000 people who tear their ACL each year! The ACL – or anterior cruciate ligament – connects the shin and thigh bones within the knee. There are 4 ligaments, the ACL can be replaced, but while surgery is somewhat low-risk and highly-successful, it’s a 9 month (on average) journey.
My friend recently asked: “why must everything have a deeper meaning with you?” He’s right. But as a storyteller, everything is fodder for a lesson.
Between a cardiovascular, neurological or orthopaedic setback, a knee injury is manageable. I’m fortunate that I have a wonderful family & team WatchMojo. I work from home & can take my time to heal before determining if surgery makes sense. I’ve began physiotherapy & making great progress, but short of wearing a brace, I would need surgery if I ever wanna step back on a pitch. Don’t get me wrong: I love competition and soccer gave me an unparalleled rush, but at 43, I was becoming a bit obsessed with the beautiful game. Taking a break from it isn’t the worse thing in the world.
Since then, I’ve gone from simply not wanting to complain to seeing the silver lining. It’s not about “toxic positivity” but perspective.
When I got hurt and had to watch from the sidelines, I was standing next to a young man in a wheelchair. Returning from Dubai, anytime I could’ve felt self-pity, I thought of John Ruffolo who suffered an accident cycling & who’s been inspiring in recovery.
It would seem like every time I would research my injury to learn more on recovery, Google News would inform me of one athlete or another going down. Indeed, since my injury, a plethora of professional and collegiate athletes suffered the same fate: Tottenham Spurs Women’s Kit Graham, Denver Nuggets’ PJ Dozier, Buffalo Bills’ Tre-Davious White, Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell, LA Rams’ Robert Woods, Green Bay Packers’ Elgton Jenkins, Washington Football Team’s Chase Young, West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna, New Orleans’ Jameis Winston, Leicester City’s Hannah Cain, UCLA’s Mac Etienne, Australia’s Harry Souttar, Green Bay Packers’ Robert Tunyan. That’s just a partial list in the past month!
Granted, it wasn’t like I’d never heard of ACL injuries before. Depending on who you ask, bad luck isn’t tearing your ACL, it’s to root for the Cincinnati Bengals, as I did early on when I tuned in to watch Boomer Esiason take on Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIII. The next year, in his sophomore season, star RB Ickey Woods tore his ACL in the second game. He was never the same. Adding insult to injury, he only underwent surgery a decade later, due to a lack of means, thanks to the help of donations and procedures made available to struggling retired players.
Woods wasn’t the only Bengals RB to suffer that fate: #1 draft pick Ki-Jana Carter tore his ACL in his rookie season:
"Ki-Jana Carter didn’t play a single regular-season snap for the Bengals in 1995 after tearing his ACL on the third carry of his first preseason game. It was heartbreaking. He missed the entire 1995 season and when he did finally return to football, he simply wasn’t the same player."
While “only” 67% of NFL players who suffer an ACL injury return to the field, some come back stronger. It makes sense, you work on one part of your body, and can comeback with more balance and strength, if you have the discipline to trust the physiotherapy process.
LB Nick Bosa comes to mind this year. So does Bengals QB Joe Burrows. RB Adrian Peterson set records and led the league upon his return after his injury. The GOAT Tom Brady experienced an ACL tear it during Week 1 of the 2008 season while with the New England Patriots, (he also played with a torn MCL as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a win in Super Bowl LV).
Depending on the sport you play, you may not even need one. The Montreal Canadiens’ defenceman Josh Gorges played on a torn one for years. Mind you, a first grade ligament injury isn’t the same as a second or third one, which reduce your movement and stability, and require surgery to heal. Hockey’s gliding tendencies could make that plausible, but in sports that require cutting and pivots, such as football or soccer, you need an ACL to compete… and given my style as striker, no ACL means no more play.
The reality is that a surgery doesn’t preclude you from injuring it again.
Nicolo Zaniolo twice torn his ACL. Penn basketball player Jelani Williams had three ACL surgeries, which when combined with the Covid-cancelled season meant he went nearly 1800 days to play after his injuries.
If ACLs are the “silver” medal of injuries, an Achilles tear may claim the “gold.” The Golden State Warrions’ Klay Thomson endured both, and while he recovered to return, the journey back only gets harder once you think you are physically healthy. That’s what makes the ACL so mentally hard: you hurt your knee, you then have to work to build its strength back, only to go under the knife and have to start all over again.
I’ve become an expert on knees, you’d think I was writing my next book! I’ll recap some useful resources in the days to come in an FAQ on ACL Injuries.
Considering athletes’ livelihoods depend on making a comeback, I count my blessings every moment of the day. I already see how this is helping me behaviourally.
1) Perspective: Do most of the things that bother you really merit the aggravation?
2) Humility: It’s humbling & ok to ask for help.
3) Self: You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself heal, mentally & physically. You’re not here to save the world. Helping others is great, but it’s ok to be a bit more selfish and focus more on your family than the universe.
4) Gratitude: I’ve always been very grateful and am a glass-is-half full person, but I remind others not to wait for negative events to occur to appreciate the simple things in life.
5) Priorities: Value your time & respect yourself. You don’t have to say yes to everything & everyone. It’s ok to say no. No one will value your time otherwise.
6) Patience: Don’t be so rushed, pace yourself, stop to smell the roses, watch the sunrise and sunset. It’s a cliché but in a weird way, I have a better appreciation for the simple things in life & not going 100 mph doing 100 things at once. An injury like the one I endured is essentially a practice in patience: there’s nothing you can do to make things go faster.
The Long Road Back
The first week I figured “well surely they’ll have to amputate my knee.” But the human body is amazing in self-healing. With time and physiotherapy, I’m more or less walking again, able to go up and down stairs fine, etc. I’m enjoying working out (which I used to hate), swimming & acupuncture are doing wonders.
Don’t get me wrong: NOTHING matches the rush I got from soccer, and at my peak I was arguably a better striker than entrepreneur – there’s that pride again (and stay tuned for a follow-up piece on hubris) – but as much as I love soccer, I’m not gonna rush into surgery. Given my style (cutting, pivoting) you clearly need an ACL, thus surgery, which would mean 6-12 months of recovery post-surgery. But at 43, the arithmetic of risking another injury (ACL, ankle, Achilles) isn’t enticing. I have two modes in anything I do: Intense, and Asleep. I may eventually opt for surgery, but the key is to get the knee back to where it was, otherwise surgery can backfire. So not rushing either way. It doesn’t help to read that certain knee surgeries – like tears to the meniscus – are now called into question.
While recovering slowly but surely, surprisingly I’ve never been in a better state of mind, it’s ironic. A kind of calm and peace of mind I never had. Ozzy Osbourne would say that he lacked that until he met Sharon. I’d echo that Christine gave me that when I met her… but since going down in Dubai, I almost feel… emancipated.
When Covid hit, we were fortunate & spared what others endured. But that made me go even faster, do more. No one welcomes any injury, but to complain loses sight of my great privilege. An injury like this is a good wake up call to slow down, enjoy life vs going 100 miles per hour trying to do everything for everyone. So… if you see me saying no, just remember, it’s not you it’s me!