Monday, July 18, 2016

Dreams do come true...even in "failure"

(Second week of camp...#yakayard photo cred: Sarah Sall)

Whether in success or failure, I hope to be the same man. I set a goal and it had an end point, an outcome - make the Olympic team and represent your country in the sport you love. It was not achieved. 

Did I fail? I didn't achieve a goal, so yes, unfortunately I did "fail," in the simple sense of the question. But it's not that simple...life is not simple. 

There's no way I will walk away from this experience thinking "what if." Based on the things I could control, I left it all out there. "What if I didn't get injured?" Well, that's a hypothetical that could not be a reality, so there's no reason in asking the question. The fact of the matter is I did get injured, I pushed my rehab as hard as possible to be ready for camp, I did that. And then camp was the hardest training of our respective lives and I completed more than 80% of it, between months 4 and 5 after surgery. 

What I'll remember most are the two or three times I nearly quit, but didn't. Every single day since the surgery my knee has caused some amount of pain. In the beginning it just seemed natural. Five months later it became one of the hardest mental challenges of my life. I live in a second floor apartment so every morning I'd struggle in pain to walk down the stairs at 6:30am, wondering if I'll be able to make it through the day. It takes a toll, and I absolutely started to question what I was doing. I knew I had to be positive, I worked really hard at it; for my friend, teammate Brett Thompson, who was going through the same issues as me, as well as for the rest of my teammates at the training center. I had it in my mind that the positivity I could reflect on to them would help in some small way, thus helping me too (ideally). They had to know I was enjoying what I was doing all the time, even if I actually wasn't. I was enjoying the challenges, and wasn't even competing, so why shouldn't they be enjoying it even more?? That was what I wanted to be perceived, but inside I was getting beaten up badly. 

The warm-up in the morning, the stretching and the extra work in between trainings, on top of an already exhausting schedule, continued to keep me wondering, "is it worth it?" Fortunately, I can easily say that it was. The goal was to make the Olympics, but in the end, the goal was more about not giving up. I was given an opportunity to come back to the US 7s team after last summer's national championship and I obviously took it. 

Why though? I left my international career battered, and that was a pretty good excuse to quit playing, which I did. But I was actually playing some really good rugby at the time and was only 27, so I'd tend to ask the question, "did I have more to give?" I learned the answer to that question through this journey and am so thankful for that. Thankful to learn about myself as a man. Thankful to have so many people far and wide supporting me through the process. Thankful that I can walk away forever knowing that I didn't quit, I didn't give in to the naysayers, I represented my family, friends and teammates as best as possible. I'm thankful the coaches gave me this opportunity. I'm most thankful my work and colleagues supported me and allowed me to come down to San Diego for 9 months. This journey has changed my life as a man, and for that the pursuit of the goal, becomes the goal, and was most definitely achieved. 
(These relationships will last a lifetime)

Failure, what failure?? Failure to do nothing is the only failure. Can't wait to watch my brothers go for a medal in Rio! And as for me, I look forward to the next adventure, back in the office and otherwise. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Finally...

It's kind of crazy if you think about it. For four weeks we've been grinding, through grueling mental and physical exhaustion. A lot of technical contact associated drills, fitness, but in all actuality, not much rugby. Tomorrow will be the first and only scrimmages we play during this 5 week camp. 

Will it all come down to this one day...these 4 matches? Probably not. The reality is the team is likely already selected, or very nearly. They know who their horses are they want in the race. But that doesn't change the mental preparation one bit for myself and others thinking there's still an opportunity. 

Tomorrow has been on the radar ever since I injured myself and started planning the rehab. If I could be ready to play 5 months post-op, then I could at least have an opportunity. That as a goal was a massive long shot in and of itself, let alone making the team. But here we are. And I'm ready. I feel strong, I feel fit enough, and no matter what, I know I'm going to push some guys to their limits and test them. 

I'm exhausted, my knee still hurts every day, but I'm so very thankful for having gone through this journey. Tomorrow marks a special day in this process and I couldn't be more appreciative to partake in this entire build-up towards the Olympics. The team will be named on Friday night, but tomorrow is the real day of victory or defeat. I love my team, I love my country, I love this game! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Pain is only temporary!"

(Photo credit Sarah Sall)

Okay, so we've all heard the quote, 'pain is only temporary.' Well, I happen to wonder the other day if that's true?? 

Typically it's referring to the 'pain' during a grueling training session, which is more a matter of mental pain. But in my case, it's mental and physical, everyday. 

We're beginning our 3rd full week of camp and it's been massive volumes of running, contact, and technical work. Twice a week at least of our yakayard/combat fitness sessions that are meant to break you both ohysically and mentally, as well as weights and running rugby of course. 

Beyond the physical struggle of completing the sessions, there's this damn knee reminding me everyday that it hasn't even been 5 months...asking me, "what are you doing!?"

Pain is only temporary, right!? Well, let's be honest, this type of pain may not be short lived, and definitely adds to the struggle of what we're currently going through...but it's all worth it! Every moment, every day I wake up wondering how I'm going to feel, and every day I have to battle by recovering in between our three session a day, refueling enough to replenish the 5,000 calories we burn,  but again, it's all worth it! 

This opportunity will never come again and I'm trying to enjoy the little moments of success. Appreciate the simple fact that I'm here, training, competing and in some small or big way, part of the US Olympic Rugby team. Appreciate the moments in life you'll never get back, and in reality, that's every day! Stay positive and love the process!  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

On the Eve of our Olympic camp

Well, whether I was playing with the team this whole time, or doing what I was with my rehab, all the preparation comes to a head tomorrow. Our training camp for Rio begins on 6/20/2016, as well as our pursuit of an Olympic medal. 

I woke up nervous this morning. It's been a loooooonng time since that's happened for camp. I mean, I was feeling similar thoughts in October when I first came back, but this is different. I don't know what I'm cable of yet. Each week there should only be more upside if I can keep my knee healthy. And so, my nervousness comes from not being able to handle the volume of the training load with my "new knee." 

But my sport psychologist would say, "that's not something you can worry about becuase it's out of your control."

Since he's right, I have to use my self talk to make sure I continue to take one day at a time. If I wake up and I'm just too sore to compete, that's okay. But if i keep going as I have been, and things continue to get better, then what a relief that'll be. But either way it starts with tomorrow and I can only control that much right now.  How I prepare for tomorrow is all I can think about. 

Haha Nice pep talk Kev! I'm basically thinking out loud by writing this blog post right now:) 

My biggest goal of this camp is to stay healthy. Which means I need to take care of my body. Rehydrate, eat well, stretch, show up early and roll out, prehab work, recovery, rehab, video analysis, journal and reading. 

You hear coaches during half time / motivational speeches say, "it's the next 40 minutes for the rest of our lives" (originally from varsity blues if my memory serves me right). Well we've got 6 weeks to prepare for the Olympics, and that is truly "for the rest of our lives." As a team we can come together and do something incredibly special. It'll be interesting how this all and out in the end. But for now, the only focus is on tomorrow;)


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

They're back!

The team finished the season 6th overall by taking 3rd place in the last tournament of the season. The guys earned some much needed time off and the majority have been away from the training center for the past couple weeks. 

We started back training together as a team on Monday (6/13) and I was able to do everything on the field with the group. It was my first run around with the team since my injury and I thought I'd be more excited; definitely more emotional about it. 

Either way, it did feel really really good! I felt empowered by the incredible amount of work Brett and I have put in (Brett is the other player who tore his ACL at the same time I did and we've been rehabbing together). The feeling of empowerment breeds confidence. I've been fearless in most of my rehab, but there's still doubt in my ability to be/feel healthy. So any little gain in confidence is huge at this point. I hope that each day it grows and grows so I don't have to worry about the injury or being healthy, and can focus on worrying about making the team for the Olympics!! :) 

But seriously, it's a matter of keeping that fearlessness as we move into the next final steps of our rehab, whilst building confidence in everything new I do. Our official Olympic camp starts next week and although I have some leeway, I hope to participate in everything, including contact, by July 1 at the latest. This is it, the last four months of rehab come down to the next 4 weeks when the team will be selected on July 17th. 

Make or break time (no pun intended). #WinTheDay 


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mind Games

I can't compare the mental challenges of this injury to anything else. I've yet to come across this type of a mind-game, whether in life or my sporting career. 

Initially it was about getting through the surgery, 'let's see how that goes.' Then I had to get my range of motion back and decrease the swelling. Start building some strength and functionality back into the knee/leg. Lots and lots of balance work. At about 9 weeks the strength feels pretty great, but then you start running on the treadmill and it doesn't feel as good. At 12 weeks we're running on grass and within a couple weeks we'll be changing directions and swerving on the field. 

At every stage, there's a new hurdle to overcome. And sometimes these hurdles are happening daily, one after another. And at times I'm standing there, listening to what is being asked of me, thinking, "there's no f#%$ing way!" I of course try it, and so far have succeeded at completing each of these "hurdles." Only one day was I unable to complete the new task given to me on that day (it was the first day of squatting and I couldn't finish my last set of 5 reps at 40kg). 

Simply put, the further down the road to recovery I get, the harder things become. But it's not the physical actions that are difficult...it's the mental strength to let go of the fear and just do it. And therein lies the challenge of keeping that mental strength going everyday so as to keep progressing on the "road to recovery." What got me through the first 8 weeks quite easily was the fact that I took everyday, one day at a time, and wasn't thinking about the long term goal. Now that we're just under 5 weeks from the beginning of our Olympic camp, that long term goal isn't so far away anymore. 

And so that reminder to just think and do work, one day at a time, has come full circle. The only way to get through all this, while staying as positive as I have been, is to produce results one day at a time. And just like with this injury, in life, it's important to compartmentalize your emotions, stay positive and approach your goals one day at a time! I'm thankful for this challenge and the growth as a man that it's given me. I'm thankful for all the support thus far as well. Today is 80 days out from the Olympics and 34 days away from the beginning of camp. But remember, all that matters right now is tomorrow! 

Monday, April 25, 2016

And on the 70th...he ran

It was 70 days after my surgery that I stepped into this contraption, also known as the "Alter G," and began running at 50% of my body weight. The Alter G is a treadmill that you zip yourself into in order to create a pressurized environment that can change the percentages of the weight you bear while running. Pretty amazing how much time you can cut into your rehab using this machine. 

So for the next 3 weeks this is my life. Ten times a week, 2.5 miles at a time, I run in this thing, slowly increasing my body weight percentage. In the meantime, I'm already doing some plyometric work on the field (small jumps and repeated hops) as well as the typical weight/strength training in the gym. Oh yeah, and I have to get my cardiovascular fitness up at the same time, so we do "off feet" conditioning as well (which includes rowing, boxing, heavy ropes, etc). So it's a lot, but the timeline to get back is short so in my mind, it's all worth it. 

We're here on April 25, and in 8 weeks time I need to be as close as I can to full capacity because we start our Olympic training camp on June 20th. I'm looking forward to continuing this challenge every day and staying positive throughout the process. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Faith...

Interesting how life's twists and turns create a path that seems so perfect at times. "Interesting" doesn't do it justice, it's down right impossible to imagine life's dots should've been connected the way they do. 

(Two days after surgery)

We all understand struggle. No one goes through life without it, but the biggest difference is the relativity of it. Finanically well off folks might "struggle" during their 10s of thousands of dollar remodel. Others may struggle to eat and drink water today. But in reality the hardships that are most prominent are the ones that come abruptly. From that acute change comes stress, frustration, depression, volatility in behavior, etc. and furthermore, it's the subsequent reaction to that change that make our lives and personalities so unique. 

I look at my situation: tore my ACL and meniscus at the pinnacle time of my comeback to international rugby; with only 6 months left in my pursuit of the Olympics. And so here I am thinking of my hardship, and it sucks; but it's nothing more than another dot, another twist or turn in my life. How it gets connected to the future is yet to be seen, but it's my faith that allows me to truly believe the end result will be positive. That may or may not lead to the Olympics, but whatever happens will exceed my expectations nonetheless. 

"How do you know?"

And this is where my faith comes in. Where as most people's faith is referred to their faith in God, that basic premise is believing in something without proof or fact. My Faith is blind too, but in my belief of positivity. I may or may not be on the brink of becoming religious, but what I know is you have to believe the best in life will come from challenging situations. Not knowing, but still believing is Faith. And my faith is helping guide me through this challenging process. I don't wish ACL reconstruction surgery on anyone, especially when there's an expedited time table for recovery. It's been 4 1/2 weeks since surgery and every day has been harder than the next. With that comes growth in my personal life that I'm thankful for. One day at a time is the approach. If I can keep that then the 4 1/2 months in which I need to be ready to play will be here sooner than I know it, and with the right outcome in the end. So here's to keeping the faith! 

(7 days after surgery) 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Day 2 is championship day

Made it through to the cup quarterfinals. The cup consists of the top 8 and the bowl has the bottom 8 from day 1. 

It wasn't exactly how we would've like the day to go, but how we finished it was perfect. The sense of urgency, fire, power in contact, smarts, etc., was all brought together in our last match against France.

Once we bring that with some sort of consistency it will be very hard to lose as a team. Looking forward to our day tomorrow where we have the #1 ranked Fijian side. A win will nearly guarantee we stay 3rd and possibly jump up in the world standings. This is a huge day for us. 

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

I always knew when I came back into this whole rugby thing, my nemesis - injuries - might prop up again. Because of that, and becuase of the sacrifices I've given up in order to come back, I had to prepare myself mentally for that one injury possibility that might take me out. This is no different than how I prepare prior to tournaments, except the expectation is quite negative. 

That's the challenge, in sports psych sessions I'm supposed to accept the negative thoughts, but combat them with positive reinforcements. For example, the inner voice says, "I'm too old and I've lost a step." That Negative thought meets a positive reinforcement, "I'm older, but I'm far more intelligent and that makes up for any physical decrements."

So throughout my training, I've prepared myself in the same way with injuries, whether small or big and I can't tell you how much it has helped. 

Going into our third tournament, in Wellington, I was thinking to myself, wow my body feels good. Wow, I'm truly enjoying this. And then the unfortunate happens. In the last match of the tournament, I step to go right, but my body stays left and my knee gives out. I knew instantly that I had done some major damage. I felt the bones separate in my knee capsule, then felt/heard a pop (ligament tearing), and then the troubling sensation of two bones clashing together. After laying on the field for about two minutes, and the shock of knowing what just happens still quite prevalent, all I wanted was to get off the field. So I popped up, with the trainers assisting, and we hobbled off. 


Fast forward two weeks and I just completed my surgery to reconstruct my ACL and MCL. I had a bone bruise, which caused swelling in the joint, hence the decision to wait two weeks to do the surgery. All and all it went well and I am happy. I knew this could be a possibility, but this is life. What is life without risks? What is the point of jumping into things when there is complete certainty? You grow the most when you overcome situations that have doubt. When you achieve goals that may not be attainable. Once again a challenge has come before me and I hope to meet it with grace, courage and strength for myself and those around me.

I have every intent to come back in time to at least complete for an Olympic spot. That gives me 4 1/2 months or so. 5 1/2 months before they select the team. If nothing else, I will grow from this. I will be a better, stronger man becuase of it and for that I will still be thankful. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

NZ Training week

It's been a fairly good week of training, despite the wet conditions. Quote of the week so far came from Nate, a teammate of mine, he said, "man, this is the worse summer on planet earth!" In context it was quite hilarious:)

Anyways, we had a scrimmage against Scotland yesterday, after a morning training session on our own. It was good and bad. I personally struggle to play against another team when we don't play a real game. In this "scrimmage" the tackle and rucks were not full contact, so stealing possession is near impossible, unless the other team just drops the ball. And when you tag someone as if you would've tackled them, they run a couple extra steps, causing tempers to elevate quite quickly (especially for those competitive-type like me).  

That said, I kept my cool and so did the rest of our team. Apparently our guys got into a bit of a scuffle against Scotland during a scrimmage last season so we were told to be extra careful. You might ask, well, "what's the point!?" It's really just about us getting our systems down against opposition so we can work through some minor details of communication and structure (which probably doesn't mean anything to most people;).

Tomorrow is one last training before we go into the tournament. The stadium is a nice big oval, made to play cricket as well, which means the grass is like a putting green, and there's lots of space between you and the crowd...which has a capacity of 35,000. A little side note, last time I played in this stadium was against Australia during the 15s World Cup in 2011. Looking forward to having better results this time around! 

We are in the pool of death though with four teams ranked in the top 10.  It'll be extremely competitive, but I can without a doubt say we're ready for it. Here is the schedule for day one... 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

And we're off

At the airport, ready for our long 12 hour flight to Auckland where we'll stop off quickly before we head to Wellington...unless we have trouble through customs. 

"Clean your boots" they say. You're not allowed to bring any dirt, or animal type product into New Zealand. They're extremely strict about it and will even fine you for dirt on your rugby cleats. Fortunately I picked up some new ones, a little flashy, but they felt so comfortable:) 

Flights don't seem to bother me anymore. These long trips are tough, but it's all about timing. I'll sleep about 6-8 hours (if I'm lucky), eat twice, snack and watch 1-2 movies. Before you know it you're there!

New Zealand is one of my favorite places I've ever been. This will be my sixth trip and I'm looking forward to it more than ever. The people are beautiful in heart and spirit and I love their culture. True value in family, and relationships in general. Looking forward to catch up with some old friends before or after the tournament as well. 

Oh Yeah, cut is healing nicely...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So much to catch up on!

Apologies for the massive gap in posting. It's been a hectic time period. I came back from Dubai and South Africa, in which the US became ranked 3rd in the world by the way, and had to figure out my move down to SD in 8 days. Had to pack, find a new apartment, catch up with work, close loose ends at work, and then ultimately drive down, unpack, etc. all while still training. 

That's right I moved to San Diego to train full time with the US team through the Olympics. 

So here we are, the holidays are over, we're into the new year and we're already nearly embarking on the next two tournaments, which are in NZ and Australia. 

We went through two very tough weeks of training with the team. High high volume of running, conditioning and skill development. It was probably the most competitive camp, with the most talented players, I've ever been a part of. The gap and competition between players is constantly narrowing and this team Is only getting better and better. (Even if it costs a few cuts and bruises!)

The traveling team has been named, and I'm again honored to be included in that list of 13 players. Stay tuned for more frequent updates this time around;)