One Climber’s Story: Five Injury Case Studies (III)




To round out this series on climbing injuries, the next few entries will get a little more personal as I present and discuss five injuries I’ve incurred during my life as a climber. I share these in the hopes that they might help other climbers/athletes first and foremost to avoid similar injuries. I also hope to help others understand that if and when injuries do occur, they can provide great insights and lessons for us in the moment as well as for our future selves as to what we should and shouldn’t do to avoid incurring such show-stopping injuries again. Every single injury or series of injuries I’ve lived through has led to a greater understanding of my own body and being, informing and shaping my life afterward in ways that I maybe never would have expected or been open to had the injury never happened.

Case Study Three: Ankle Busting (2008)

Injury: Severely sprained my ankle during a bouldering competition at the start of 2008.

Causal Factors: Lack of attention on my part. I was playing around on a problem, just checking out a sequence during a redpoint competition to try to work it out. I intended to step down off the problem after I’d figured out what I wanted to do so I could rest and then give the full problem a shot. Obviously, I was thinking ahead and not staying present, because I dropped down with one foot leading and caught my big toe on the edge of one of those ginormous drag-around pads some gyms have.

Recovery: I couldn’t walk normally. It was diagnosed as not broken, just severely sprained. I couldn’t climb. We were leaving for an international climbing trip in six weeks.

Kevin said cheerfully, “Now’s the perfect time for you to start doing pull-ups.”

“But I HATE doing pull-ups,” I protested, to which he replied, “Exactly.”

He suggested that I try to log a hundred pull-ups on my first day of training. I was down to sets of 1 at about 60, but I’m stubborn and predisposed to overtraining, remember, so I tearfully forced myself to get to 100. (I don’t recommend this as a good starting point for training for most people – but it proved to work out okay for me, thankfully!). After six weeks of pull-ups, toward the end of which I could finally get my foot back into a climbing shoe, we headed off on our trip – and I could feel a difference in my climbing from the training (not climbing!) I’d put in. My ankle continued to heal as I climbed on the trip, taking care not to toe hook or heel hook too hard to avoid reinjury.

Long-Term Result: This injury started my inquiry into training for climbing beyond just climbing. I’d always had the willingness and drive to train. Before this, though, I’d pretty much always trained to my strengths, meaning I would log HUGE days in the gym (4-5 hour bouldering sessions were normal 3-4 days a week) and similar 10-12 pitch days outside. (Endurance, anyone?)

Note that I thought I was training a weaker area by bouldering, but I was not really doing anything beyond just bouldering, nor was I consciously seeking out angles/holds that challenged me out of my comfort zone when I bouldered. I gravitated toward vertical/technical and ignored steep/dynamic climbing virtually entirely.

After the pull-up lesson, though, I started to read training materials – books, studies, online articles, whatever – and I started to really learn for the first time in my life what the research says about athletic training. So, to put it bluntly, this injury led me to more informed training, the result of which in turn led me to eventually learn to love steep, dynamic climbing and to want to do this almost exclusively. If you’d told me this would ever happen prior to this injury, I would never, ever have believed it.

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