Why I Stopped Racing This Summer
I am logged at about 65 paddle days so far this year.
I feel that I haven’t gone out and paddled enough.
This year is different.
It's been a wake up call for me.
I had to learn to let go. I had to learn how to relax. I had to learn about sacrifice and protecting my assets.
During the summer, I live the dream. I lead paddle boarding camps for kids and spend four to five hours on the water every day for work.
After work I would go out and paddle some whitewater, rock climb, or work out at the gym. On the weekends, I traveled to races and competed.
The whitewater racing circuit was every weekend for a consecutive 8 weeks, and the camps persisted all summer long.
This June, while I was bouldering, I injured my A4 pulley in my ring finger the week before GoPro Games, which is the peak of race season.
It happened while I was crimping an undercling hold. I was doing a drop knee as I leaned over and attempted to reach up high on the next hold, I heard a loud “pop” and I fell off the wall. My ring finger swelled up to twice its size and stayed that way for about two months. I had limited mobility and very limited grip strength, which resulted in overcompensation in my paddle stroke, which lead to medial epicondylitis flare ups (golfer’s elbow).
All of that stuff hurt, so I compensated with my shoulder. Then my shoulder started to hurt.
The point of the story is that a seemingly small injury can work through the kinetic chain to cause bigger problems.
I'm thankful that Gentian Nuzzo, a competitive whitewater SUPer and physical therapist in Avon, Colorado, helped me out by giving me some rehab exercises to help with the healing process. I feel that my finger is healing pretty well, but it's been a challenge to keep up with the compensations and resulting flare ups that came with the territory as I continued to race and paddle with the injury.
I was trying to be careful with my body, but I was so invested with paddle boarding that it was pretty much impossible to not paddle board because it was my full-time, over-time, job.
Pretty soon my usual chronic hip and back pain came back, except this year, it became even more painful. When it was at its worst, the deep muscle cramps and spasms would send me to my knees, unable to catch my breath and tears streaming down my face. It was only that bad a few days out of the month, but the constant, chronic pain got to me mentally. I spent many nights this summer unable to sleep because of the pain. Paddle boarding competitively was becoming a source of pain rather than a source of fun for me.
After FibArk, I decided to cut back on racing and decrease personal paddling because my back and hip pain was becoming unbearable. I still had to work though, so I still spent four to five hours a day working on the water and lifting and carrying boards. I knew I needed to figure out a way to supplement the overuse injuries, so I turned to treatment and cross-training.
I met Dr. Oakley through some mutual friends at the GoPro Games this summer. She offered to work on me to help me out before I competed in SUP Cross the next day. She used Active Release Technique (ART) to get my overused paddling muscles in my back, hips, and forearm to relax. The tightness I felt was resolved, and I could feel the deep muscles in my hips and lower back get the much needed release.
I started going to Dr. Oakley’s chiropractic office in Denver for treatment once or twice a week. She does such a great job with addressing my body’s current ailments and helping my muscles to relax and work properly.
For me, my hip and low-back injuries are caused from overuse as well as compensating for my finger injury. The same muscles worked to produce the same movement (a paddle stroke) hundreds of times per session. When a muscle becomes overworked, it tightens, which causes the rest of the body to either become lopsided or compensate. Muscular imbalances cause pain and bigger problems in the body. Muscular imbalances lead to improper posture or physical tears or strains in other parts of the body because it’s trying to compensate.
My left finger was injured, so my paddle stroke on my left side suffered from a shorter stroke. I compensated for having a shorter stroke while racing by trying to add more power into my stroke. The right side of my back became inflamed and tight from leaning and pulling more as I tried to open up my chest to the side to cheat a longer stroke on for my left side. My hips and glutes on my right side were also compensating because I threw my hip out to the right as I leaned.
My dominant paddle side is my right, however, so I assume that the right side of my back did not get much of a break because when I wasn't engaging it to overcompensate for my left, it was also crunching and contracting when I paddled on my right side.
When Dr. Oakley works on the inflamed and tight muscles in my back and hips, specifically my quadratus lumborum (QL), erector spinae, and gluteus medius, I can feel my hips and back relax back into alignment. Having proper alignment is key to helping my body feel and function at its best. Getting my tight and inflamed muscles treated feels like it’s giving me a shortcut to start from a even foundation so that I can work on getting my muscles to fire from a balanced standpoint.
Lately I’ve been taking as much of a break from paddling as I can and focusing on strengthening my complimentary muscles (transverse abdominis, hamstrings, hip adductors, pecs), and stretching my over-worked muscles (hip flexors, erector spinae, lats, IT band, posterior shoulder muscles) in the studio or gym.
I can’t become a couch potato when I am injured. I have to get creative in making sure that I still feel like I’m doing something that takes me toward my goals, so I have been spending my off-time cross training at the local aerial studio. It’s been a great way to keep my mind happy and motivate me to stretch and strengthen my muscles, plus its a hobby that I've been wanting to develop for a long time. :)
It’s been a bummer to not be able to do two of my passions lately, which are paddle boarding and rock climbing, but it’s always a great opportunity to learn some new skills that will contribute to my paddling, climbing, and vaulting technique once my body is healed and ready to perform again.