Learning to Listen to My Body

At age 14, I decided that I wanted to be a Division 1 softball pitcher. I was playing on a high level travel team, and a freshman on a competitive high school team, and I believed that I had the skills and the dedication needed to play in college. I knew it would take long hours of practicing on my own, driving to faraway fields to be coached by the best, and sacrificing time away from my friends and family to accomplish my goal. I loved pitching, playing softball, and all of the opportunities the game gave me. I dedicated many years of my life to making sure my body was in top form. This summer I have been realizing that some lessons that are ingrained in me have come at a cost to my body because of the relationship I created with pain. 

I started ignoring physical pain when playing softball because of the competitive environment I was in while in high school. I noticed the older players on my team playing through injuries, like broken fingers and concussion symptoms, and not taking rest days. I learned from them that playing through pain was normal and even incentivized because you were “putting the team first.” For me, the habit started off small with scraped knees after sliding. I would ignore it, pull up my socks, and run back onto the field without stopping the bleeding. 

My mother passed away during my sophomore year of high school. This was incredibly painful and I am still peeling away the layers of how grief has affected my life. For most of high school and college, these emotions were too painful for me to deal with, so I pushed them down. I was numb emotionally to protect myself and I kept my goal of playing softball in college on the forefront to cope. 

As I progressed in my career my training increased to twice per day, leading to overuse injuries. During my junior year the only activity I did was pitch because I had shin splints in both legs. I practiced pitching, and then sat on a bucket the remainder of practice so I didn’t put extra pressure on my lower legs. This allowed me to be able to throw complete games on game days and be my team’s hero. I did this for a year and a half before resting long enough for the pain to go away. My body wasn’t completely numb like my emotions, but I learned the skill of being able to not think about it hurting long enough to get the win. 

I created these practice routines and habits around playing through pain because they allowed me to be successful. My high school league record was 56-0. My discipline and training worked and these practices served me well in college too. I remember telling my coach once that I couldn’t pitch in a practice game because of a pulled groin.  

“Coach, I don’t think I can pitch today. My leg really hurts.”

Coach didn’t look pleased.

“I will pull you out of the starting line up today, but if this were a real game, I would need you to play through it.”

“It” being the injury and the message was clear. My body was a commodity to the team and my health wasn’t a priority. I never asked for a day off again. Resting wasn’t safe because it put your position on the team in jeopardy. 

A year later I was back in the training room with a back injury. I had sciatica down my leg and couldn’t walk to my classes without crutches, but I showed up early to practice to run extra sprints to “warm up” before throwing a bullpen session and pitching to batters. I was able to ignore the pain and get through practices but I couldn’t do anything else like drive or sleep. Eventually I was in so much pain, I couldn’t get out of bed, and my dad flew out to see me. He helped me see a doctor outside of the athletics department. It turned out I had significant nerve damage from not resting a herniated disc and needed back surgery. I remember when the team doctors, athletic trainers, and my coach went silent in the athletic training room after reading the orthopedist’s report. 

Years and years of pushing my body to and past its limits, is deeply ingrained in me. This practice served me well. I have accolades and memories to prove it. But now at 37, I am a recovering Division I athlete. I recently re-injured my back in the same place I did in college and I find myself saying, I can push through and do this active thing, but really, I need to rest. The athlete in me does not feel safe to rest. Unlearning this is scary and hard but I am grateful to be surrounded by my supportive family and friends who are reminding me that it is safe to listen to my body.

“You know Claire, you built a way of life with routines and structures that worked for you when you were growing up. Those habits allowed you to be successful and accomplish your goals,” Lindsay said to me while on a walk in the forest. 

“Thank your teenage self for doing what she needed to do to survive. 

Now you are an adult, and you can show up for her, and love her the way she needed to be loved back then.” 

Resting my back on the couch with my cat.

This totally changed my perspective. Part of healing is accepting all parts of myself. My former Division I athlete self. My current self. And my future selves. I realized that I can acknowledge and be grateful for the patterns I created in my past and also change, let them go, and grow. As an adult, It is safe for me to rest my injury now. 

This is my summer of healing, rest, and personal growth. I feel lighter and freer just from acknowledging the cycle of pushing through pain that I put myself through. I am learning to listen and love my body when it needs to heal physically and emotionally. I am rewriting my relationship with how I take care of myself and the process is leading me to my highest best self. 


These are my words of gratitude for my younger self. 

Thank you to teenage me for being brave. Enduring pain. It was not an easy time in your life and you did your best. You lived your dreams of being a Division I pitcher while holding grief. You are safe now and I am here with you. It is ok to leave these patterns in the past. It is safe to listen to your body. Embrace the pain instead of running from it, and love yourself. You are more than how your body can perform and most importantly, you are loved.

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