Stefan Wojciechowski was practicing Wushu, a Chinese martial art, in China last year when he made a mistake and accidentally struck himself with his meteor hammer ““ a flail-like weapon with a ball or spike attached to a chain.
Wojciechowski was immediately taken to the hospital where he received stitches, and he resumed training later that day.
“Everybody has a limit, but the body is capable of much more than that,” said Wojciechowski, a fourth-year computer science student. “Mentally, you hold yourself back because you’re afraid of the pain.”
Wojciechowski, who still has a scar above his eyebrow from the injury, trains for Wushu at UCLA throughout the year. He takes breaks only during midterms and finals week.
Athletes who play just one sport year-round are more prone to injuries, especially when they start competing at an early age, said Dr. Heather Gillespie, a team physician for the UCLA athletics department.
“Everyone is playing one sport year-round, and they don’t take a break,” Gillespie said. “Trying out new things, especially at a young age, is good for growth and development.”
In addition to Wojciechowski’s head injury, he pulled both of his hamstrings right before a competition last year. He was determined to compete in spite of the pain, and so spent about an hour of his warm-up stretching to mediate the pain of the injury.
“I was the team captain for the B team last year, so not being able to lead would have been really unfair. Not competing really wasn’t an option,” Wojciechowski said.
Anthony Curran, UCLA pole vault coach, trains high school and club competitors as well as intercollegiate athletes. In Curran’s experience, younger athletes are more likely to become frustrated by an injury and resume training too soon.
“High school kids usually aren’t as patient,” Curran said. “They try to work through it and end up making it worse. Collegiate athletes are more experienced and know when to back off and give it a rest.”
Curran said the motivation to push through an injury is similar in high school, club and intercollegiate athletes.
“I think everybody kind of motivates through competition,” Curran said. “It’s kind of the only time you have to show off your stuff.”
Curran said that all athletes need to take responsibility for addressing an injury and properly caring for it. While ice and anti-inflammatories can help in some cases, other cases may require complete rest for the injury to heal.
In the case of baseball player Nathan Saito, his injury left him barely able to move, let alone continue competing. The second-year physiological science student started playing baseball in grade school and continued to compete on a club team during his first year at UCLA. He had sustained no major injuries until last spring, when his shin was badly fractured during a game by a line drive that hit the ball into his leg.
“My first thought (when I saw the x-ray) was “˜that’s ridiculous.’ It looked like when a mirror gets broken and there are lots of teeny tiny cracks at the center,” Saito said.
He said he felt no pain in his shin immediately after the impact and did not believe he had been seriously injured. He went back to his dorm before his aunt advised him to see a doctor.
“As far as being a player, obviously I couldn’t contribute at all,” Saito said. “For the most part I was stuck in my room doing nothing but studying.”
He was unable to get around campus without assistance and needed to wait for a friend before he could go to the dining halls to eat. His doctor recommended that he walk with crutches for 11 weeks.
“I could walk on (my leg) but it was annoying to have to use (crutches) when I could walk,” Saito said.
In spite of his frustration, Saito stuck to the rehabilitation plan recommended by his doctor. He said it was difficult at first for him to feel confident enough to run, and after not being able to work out for about three months, he was determined not to do anything that would slow down his recovery process.
“I was motivated to just let it heal,” Saito said. “I didn’t want to make it any worse.”
Saito competed in his first baseball game since his injury over Halloween weekend and was able to see firsthand the positive result of adequately resting his shin.