I sit resting in my favorite recliner with my foot up and a knee bandaged and covered in ice packs. I had knee surgery today because of an injury I acquired while practicing take downs for my first competition. My husband diligently helps me with the rotating of ice packs and making sure I’m fed, in addition to other daily necessities of life.
We have honed this recovery process over the course of three previous knee surgeries, including an ACL reconstruction due to a snowboarding injury which I worsened with denial and my stubborn insistence about continuing to train. Even though I was painfully aware that my loved ones silently wished I’d stay off the mats, they never said it directly;, they only hinted at it. They knew I was fragile. They were right in both assumptions of my fragility and stubbornness.
My 41-year-old, overweight, inflexible, blue belt self signed up for my first competition. a I was trained intensely to prepare.I struggled with other take downs, so I practiced the knee-jeopardizing move over and over. I distinctly remember feeling the pop in my knee. Obviously, I hoped it was something minor. Four hours later my knee was swollen and I knew it was serious. However , I chose denial again and kept training. The injury worsened.
Now, here I am. For the past six weeks, I haven’t been able to walk long distances, practice yoga, or ride a bike. Even more importantly, my personal life took a toll. I couldn’t run around the yard, kick a soccer ball, or shoot a basketball with my 8-year-old son. He began safely leading me around the house by holding my hand., This was super sweet and incredibly humbling. I felt like a frail grandma; I wasn’t in my 20s anymore .
Eventually my husband voice his displeasure at my return to Jiu Jitsu. He quit, knowing that forbidding me would make it even more tempting. I had to consider his perspective, though. I had suffered two major injuries in this sport, and although injuries are inevitable in a combat sport, they still affect those around me. During my ACL recovery, my husband said something that I’ve carried with me: “Your injury doesn’t just affect you. It affects all of us.” Call me selfish, but I hadn’t even considered the rest of my family. I began having a constant dialogue in my head trying to justify going back.
I considered hanging up my treasured blue belt. I want to play in the yard with my son and hike up peaks with my husband. I could immerse myself in another sport I loved that is gentler on my joints, like swimming. I don’t want any more injuries or surgeries. Jiu Jitsu continues to lure me in its unique way. I have marched in the Army, ran triathlons, played tennis, practiced Muay Thai, and even flew an Army helicopter., But none of these have stimulated my endorphins, boosted my tenuous mental health, improved my physical awareness, encouraged liberating aggression, and honed my focus like Jiu Jitsu.
Now, as I sit scrolling through Melissa McCarthy’s catalog of movies, I hear my husband’s reminder that it isn’t all about me. Ever since this injury, my head can’t help but continuously rotate arguments for and against returning to Jiu Jitsu. I must consider my husband’s wishes, but Jiu Jitsu is the one passion I have that is just for me. It is part of my identity as a tough, rebellious, and powerful woman. I wish I could say that, I’ll be training in no time, but I am still undecided. To be honest, I’m afraid to even approach the topic with him. Eventually, we will talk it through, and– not so secretly– I hope it ends with both of my feet on the mat.
About the Author:
Darisse Smith is a freelance journalist and blue belt training at Aloisio Silva Academy in Yucaipa, CA. She is an Army and Iraq veteran, and lives with her husband, Jeff, and 7 year old son. Her favorite move is a kimura from guard–simple yet vicious.