Commonwealth Games Blogs

Bring on the pain

"Respect your pain, but don't let it govern you."

Those are the wise words of my dad, and something he told me when I was first getting back in the water after my shoulder surgery in 2008. Unlike my pre-op fantasies had predicted, opening up my shoulder and repairing the four-centimetre tear in my labrum did not leave me pain-free for the rest of my swimming career.

Still, I would bet that when I get to the athletes village in Delhi, if I were to ask any other athlete, they would say that they have pain too. In their shoulder, or their knee, or maybe it's an aggravated lower back that just won't leave them alone. Either way, at this level we are going to have pain. You just have to, as my dad says, respect it.  

As we get closer and closer to the opening ceremony of Commonwealth Games, my right shoulder likes to remind me - more frequently - that it hasn't gotten its vacation yet.

My shoulder has been a high source of stress since the 2008 Olympics. But stress, unlike pain, is something that I can learn to control. And with the help of my coach, Randy Bennett, I am learning to be less concerned about things that are out of my control.

My biggest obstacle is that whenever my shoulder flairs up, I have this nagging thought in the back of my head: "What if it's torn again? What if I need to have surgery again?" And although these thoughts seem totally irrational, they stem from the fact that, the first time I hurt myself, I had no idea it was as bad as it was. I literally shrugged off my shoulder pain, sucked it up, and swam through it. After all, it was an Olympic year... who's going to take time off then?

Good pain vs. Bad pain

As a self-diagnosed wimp and hypochondriac, I really thought that, if there were actually something wrong, I would know. Elite athletes often say they can tell the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain."

"Good pain," although it's still pain, is the type that makes you better. Like when you're so sore after lifting weights that you can't sit down on the toilet without holding onto the wall. Or feeling the lactic acid burn through you as you finish a hard set in the pool.

"Bad pain" is the kind that doesn't make you better. It's the pain that should tell you to stop. But sometimes, the line between the two is just too fuzzy, and we don't know when to say when. That's what makes the best athletes the best. Sometimes it isn't about talent or resources. Sometimes it's about who can take the most pain the longest.  

People ask me all the time: do you still have problems with your shoulder? Yes, I do. But the biggest problem isn't between my elbow and my neck. The biggest problem is between my ears. It's learning to allow myself to take a step back when enough is enough and swimming through the pain will do more damage than good. It's accepting the fact that my shoulder is now my litmus test for when I have done enough for the day. And being OK with that.  

So bring on the pain. I can deal with it, because I know that probably every girl in the 200 IM final is dealing with some sort of ailment.

Time to see who can handle it the best.