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Work-Life Balance: Finding Ways to Compete, May Just Save Your Life

Posted July 28, 2016

By Paul LaDuke, ATC

Living a balanced life is a key strategy for Athletic Trainers (ATs) to prevent professional burnout. Burnout will happen when a busy AT allows their career to completely overtake every other aspect of their personal life. I believe it is vital for an AT to spend time on their fitness, spiritual life, nutrition and interpersonal relationships outside of athletic training. Time away from the profession and invested into living a balanced life will improve your time at your job.

One strategy to consider to help you live a balanced professional life is to compete in an athletic event.  There are many opportunities to compete in 5k and 10k community races, triathlons, swimming, adult recreation leagues, etc. Personally, I have competed in weightlifting and had recent success as a master at the national and international levels. For me, competing in a sport has aided in my personal motivation to stay fit. It has also helped me to live a balanced life, stay in tune with the athlete’s mentality and manage life’s stresses in a healthy manner. The process of preparing to compete can carry over into every aspect of life and help an AT to live a more balanced life.

Why compete?

Lisa Simpson, Head Athletic Trainer for Camp Hill High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, says, “I compete because I thrive on competition. I like to set goals for my events and love trying to reach them. I''m the most competitive person I know.”

Chrissy Wojnarski, Athletic Trainer for Sonoraville High School in Georgia, writes, “Running is me time. With how crazy work can be, I just need something I can do to tune it all out. I just plug in the headphones and go, and I’m no longer thinking about the senior who tore his ACL, or the parent who can’t understand why their student athlete can’t play in the game the next day after getting a concussion, or the coach who wants his star athlete back this week. I also run for the very simple fact that I can. I am physically capable of putting one foot in front of the other for 13 miles, which when you think about it is pretty cool, especially given the amount of people who can’t, whether from illness or injury, or some other factor. For this reason, I also choose to run for those who can’t. For every race I run, I pick a charity to also raise funds for in hopes that my efforts will get them one day closer to being able to do the things they can’t because of whatever it is that afflicts them.”

The common theme among the responses I received was that competing motivates fitness goals. Striving for these fitness goals carries over into other areas of life as well. It is important to understand competing as an adult has a completely different focus than competing at youth levels. It becomes about the personal struggle to push yourself and reach your own goals.

What are the positives and negatives of competing as an AT?

Chuck Yasinski, Athletic Trainer for Palmyra High School in Pennsylvania says,  “Positives are challenging yourself to be your best, and to set a personal record. Negatives are risk of injury if you push yourself too hard.”

Steven Kramer says, “Positives: sense of accomplishment, something not many people can say they have done. Knowing I set a goal and have met that goal. Pushing my body to a physical limit and succeeding. Negatives: many races are on Sunday so the first few days back at work are rough when soreness kicks in.”

ATs know all too well the risk of injury with any physical movement. I’ve treated athletes who were injured getting off the bus for their game. So there is risk in competing but the personal rewards well outweigh the risks.

Want some more motivation?

Life has a way of being completely unpredictable and no one has the ability to foresee future events. Simpson told me this inspiring story of how competing helped her battle with cancer, not just physically but also psychologically.

Simpson writes, “In July of 2013, I was diagnosed with and had surgery for ovarian cancer.  In December of 2013, all of my tests and scans came back clean. I was told at that time that I had beaten the cancer, but my body wasn''t fully recovered from surgery or chemo until at least a year later. I fought through some discomfort from the surgery, fatigue, headaches and some general blood count issues from chemo. I remember trying to go on a run in September of 2013, and I struggled mightily to get to one mile. Prior to my diagnosis, I was running upwards of 7 miles at a time, so only being able to get to a mile was depressing. There is an ovarian cancer walk and 5k every September at Harrisburg Area Community College, but I wasn''t ready to compete in 2013 so I set my sights on 2014. September 2014 was the first 5k I competed in since my diagnosis just over a year earlier. Although my time wasn''t like it had been prior to my diagnosis, crossing the finish line meant I had definitely beaten cancer in my mind. So ever since then, each time I compete it feels like I''m crushing cancer all over again. I wanted to be able to run during my struggle, but the thought of running and competing when I was better definitely kept me motivated and still does.”

The ability to recover after injury, illness or even cancer is a part of our profession I have always found to be personally inspiring. Being with an athlete throughout the process from devastating injury through rehabilitation and back to participation, seeing what the human spirit can overcome and living what we live every day is inspiring. I would challenge each and every AT to adopt the mentality of the patients we treat and train for competition. You never know what event may come your way, but by living a balanced life, including finding ways to compete, may just save your life.