Finding Purpose in Your Own Setbacks

We often tie our identity to one thing, when the reality is, our identity is made up of a myriad of things. There was a time in my life when my identity was being a runner. I originally went to Mississippi State because I received an athletic scholarship to run on the cross country and track team there. 

If you know anything about Starkville, Mississippi, you probably know all there is to know. It’s a small college town. As a freshman at Mississippi State, I received my first real injury as a runner. I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my tibia. I was told it was likely due to overtraining and shifting to a much higher intensity when I transitioned from high school to college. It took me being injured to recognize the strong hold running had on my identity. I was a runner and nothing else seemed to matter. I had a hard time coping with my injury.

During my six weeks of cross training, I hated every second of biking, cried a lot, and even considered transferring schools. It was really difficult to watch my teammates continue to practice while I sat on the inside of the track cheering them on. I regretted every second I had spent complaining about difficult workouts and how I didn’t want to get up and run certain days. It’s not until you lose something that you begin to realize how much you took that something for granted. 

Once I was finally back running on the ground, it was as if a switch went off to tell me, “You can be happy again!” And I was. Sophomore year went by, cross country and indoor track junior year went by and then BOOM-I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my femur. 

I was so frustrated. I was super fit and ready to go for my first outdoor season in college. I even ran two races indoors with my femur being injured, unknowingly, and it was painful. This was when I realized that my long term health was more important than competing. I found out I was injured on my birthday, terrible timing. My reaction to the diagnosis was in no way a happy one, but I finally understood the importance of getting myself healthy. 

For the first time I didn’t feel like I was just in a rush to get the runner healthy, because I finally began to realize that I was way more than a runner. While I still spent a heck of a lot of time cross training and doing physical therapy, I spent more time finding out what it was outside of running that made me happy. I went on walks with friends (once off the crutches), experimented with cooking new recipes on my food Instagram and starting my very own sourdough starter (which is still kicking today), and once I was finally healed up, I found new hobbies like sand volleyball and disc golf with my friends. 

Injuries are never easy, but I do believe a positive mindset is what will get you through them. As cliche as it is, I am a believer that some of the areas of our lives we consider ‘setbacks’, are indeed, the greatest 'comebacks'. With my recovery for my femoral stress reaction being the longest to date, 9 weeks made fitness seem very far fetched. 

My road to recovery was slow, with my first workout being in August leading into the 2021 cross country season. Yet, I still managed to score for our team in every single cross country meet that year once I returned to running. I was able to have major breakthrough races and run a personal best time in every event I raced during the 2022 indoor and outdoor track season at Mississippi State. I decided to continue my athletic and academic career at Montana State University for the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters and have since run a new personal best in cross country that I never believed possible for myself.

By no means am I meaning to sound boastful in any way (there are plenty of people running way faster than me). But it is through these seemingly ‘setbacks’ in life that I have been able to find joy both in and out of running that I never even realized I was lacking. I am currently a student-athlete in a master’s program, I have a job, and I am experiencing what feels like the busiest time of my life I’ve ever been in. Yet for being the busiest time in my life, I have continued to incorporate the areas outside of running that make me happy. Whatever injury you might be dealing with, I encourage you to zoom out and remind yourself that there is much more to life than what your injury might be taking you out of. Dig deep within yourself and find alternative activities that make you happy. View your road to recovery as a comeback, not a setback. 

By: Ava Hayes Weems, NCAA DI Track and Field Athlete at Montana State University