tried not to look, but the intensity of the dreadful sight was revealed in the
expressions of horror on the faces of by passers who were compelled to stare.
Like a car accident, with people gawking at the disastrous scene and few knowing
what to do, I instinctively embraced the dangling arm with my other one, preventing
it from hanging lifelessly from my shoulder. My mind could only focus on the pain,
frustration and the hardship that was ahead of me. It was a road I had traveled
once before, but one that I dreaded treading through again. Everything was clouded
with a surreal aura - the hospital, the x-rays, my utter helplessness. I had to
keep asking myself if it was really happening again.
Clearly, denial was the overriding emotion, acceptance a mere spec in the distant
horizon. Soon, the real pain set in; a concentrated, unrelenting force that I
knew would continue to eat away at my inflamed nerves until my shoulder was popped
back into place.
The pain owned my mind for nearly an hour, as my shoulder was left unattended.
After the doctor finally reattached the appendage that was once my strong left
arm, the physical pain graciously subsided opening my thoughts to the uncertainty
of what I thought was once a bright future.
Six weeks removed from suffering through my second shoulder dislocation in three
months, the passion to compete had suddenly lost a bit of its luster. I felt cheated.
Where was the glory of athletic success that I was supposed to enjoy? This is
a question countless athletes are forced to ask themselves every day, when the
glory of competition is suddenly ripped away due to injury.
By now, most everyone knows the miracle comeback story of Eagles wide receiver
Terrell Owens. Despite being only six and a half weeks into an eight to ten week
recovery process from a broken leg and sprained ankle, Owens played in the Super
Bowl and caught nine passes for 122 yards, an impressive showing by anyone's standards,
even more so for an athlete still recuperating from a severe injury.
Although the Eagles lost to the Patriots, 24-21, everyone will remember this Philadelphia
team for Terrell Owens and his heroic comeback, which he did against the recommendation
of his doctor, but, in his eyes, with the support of God.
"It showed the power of my faith," said Owens. "Nothing is impossible with God
on your side."
While Owens attributes his miraculous comeback to his faith in God, this does
not guarantee anything for other God-fearing athletes who may be inspired by his
incredible, "wolverine-like" recuperative ability.
"I was amazed at how well he could play," said Michael Kelly, the orthopedist
for the New Jersey Nets. Kelly believes Owens' performance could cause more athletes
to rush back from injuries, setting a dangerous precedence.
"We may see it anywhere from the professional athlete to the high school kid not
listening to his doctor or parents, saying, 'I can play,'" said Kelly.
Who knows where Owens would be had he re-injured his leg during the Super Bowl.
For athletes on all levels, the truth of recurrent injuries is a scary and abysmal
For every inspirational Terrell Owens story, there are also stories filled with
disappointment. Take Ken Griffey, Jr. for example. Griffey was recognized as Major
League Baseball player of the '90s, as he dominated his sport throughout the decade.
In fact, Griffey was so dominant that he was voted to baseball's All-Century Team
in '99, at the age of 29. Unlike Owens, Griffey's career went downhill after an
In 2001, he missed 50 games at the start of the season with a torn left hamstring.
The next year he was limited to 70 games by a torn patella tendon in his right
knee and an unrelated torn right hamstring. The nightmare continued in 2003 when
he dislocated his right shoulder. Then, his season ended abruptly after the first
game of the second half when he tore tendons in his right ankle while running
"When it gets cold, my shoulder and ankle hurt," said Griffey. "They said it's
going to get better. It's just going to take time. I'm hanging in there. You can't
think about the what-ifs," he said. "But I take everything in stride, day-by-day."
While Griffey was able to make it to the professional ranks and put together a
probable hall of fame career, other athletes are forced to hang up the cleats
long before they may want to.
Nick Fortuna, a former standout high school quarterback from Teaneck, New Jersey
entered The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) as a student athlete focused on continuing
his football career. Hampered by chronic shoulder problems stemming from a subluxation,
Fortuna had learned to play through pain for most of his life.
"A luxation is the medical term for a complete dislocation," said Joe Camillone,
head athletic trainer at TCNJ. "A sublexation, then, is less than that; it's a
partial dislocation that goes back on its own."
the starting quarterback position already filled, Fortuna was left to compete
against five other quarterbacks for the back-up role. However, his throwing shoulder
had deteriorated so much that surgery became his last hope. That summer, after
his freshman year, he went under the knife, followed by months of rehabilitation.
When he returned for his sophomore season, the back-up job was his, but the shoulder
problems began to crop up again. After only five days of training camp, with his
shoulder failing him, Fortuna was forced to quit the game for which he had so
Eight years later, Fortuna recounted the painful experiences that have left an
indelible mark both on his mind and his shoulder.
"There was this dull, never ending pain that would start in my shoulder and go
down to my bicep tendon," Fortuna said. "It was incredibly hard for me. The pain
became unbearable and spread to my back and chest."
Despite the pain, Fortuna was blindly driven by an innate desire and passion to
play the game.
"Football was really important to me, but I had to quit because I was competing
with guys that didn't have the same problems that I had. They could throw forever
and not worry about pain."
Giving up the sport was extremely difficult for Fortuna because it was like erasing
a part of himself.
"When you have to give up something like football, it's a crisis of identity because
you're described by the sport," Fortuna said. "After you give it up, you are no
longer something with whom you have identified yourself with for practically your
This loss of identity is not uncommon when it comes to coping with the inability
to compete athletically. Lucinda Sharp, a former dancer and a psychologist based
out of The Australian Ballet School, has studied the psychological aspects of
injury. In her research she found that individual responses to injury vary according
to several psychological factors. For example, people whose sense of self is strongly
defined by their identity as an athlete tend to experience a loss of self-esteem
when they cannot perform on the field.
For athletes whose identities are so closely intertwined with their sport, this
loss of personal identity can cause anxiety, depression, confusion and hopelessness,
which can provoke a return to the playing field before they are physically ready.
Furthermore, athletes with an anxious personality style tend to be pessimistic,
resulting in overly emotional reactions. On the other hand, a positive attitude
can provoke a more balanced reaction.
Adding Fortuna's shear passion for the game to his psychological attachment to
the sport seemed to create a volatile combination causing him to inflict unimaginable
harm to his body. At one point, Fortuna was taking anti-inflammatory medicine
in excess - five times the recommended amount.
"When I was overdosing, the cramps were unbearable and I was tearing a hole in
my stomach," Fortuna said. "I would drink half a gallon of milk a day just to
coat my stomach so I could take the pills. It sounds crazy now, but when you want
something so badly, you do whatever it takes. I was willing to pay the price even
if it meant destroying or killing my stomach."
The mental frustration Fortuna endured was like a splinter lodged in his brain.
He was simply unable to pull it away. Angry and jealous, he said it was difficult
to see other athletes who had no idea what it was like for him.
"I was abusing my body while everyone else was telling me it wasn't worth it,"
said Fortuna. "They didn't want to see me in agony."
He continued to push his body to the limit until his shoulder was nearly nonfunctional,
leaving him unable to raise his arm above his head.
"I was willing to make a sacrifice for the future to play in the present," said
Fortuna. "No matter what people told me, I still would have done it because, at
that time, football was everything,"
It took a lot of perseverance and dedication to keep his body and mind going,
but Fortuana says it just showed how badly he wanted to compete.
"Doctors, parents and friends can try to convince you it's not worth it, but when
you are that competitive, it doesn't matter what anyone else says."
Looking back, Fortuna says he would not change anything. "I don't have any real
permanent injuries," he said. "The fact that I can say I played college football
is very important to me. When it comes down to it, only you can determine how
important your dream really is."
Most people would not have the blind faith to follow their heart in the face of
unrelenting adversity. If you don't push yourself to see what is possible, won't
you always be left wondering?
That is one question Mike Bionde does not want to answer. Blessed with an abundance
of athletic ability, the twenty year old Rutgers student started in college on
a partial baseball scholarship. However, a difficult track lay ahead of him.
In the last game of a promising freshman season, Bionde's labrum, which had held
up for two years since the dislocation of his left shoulder in high school, finally
gave way. Immediately, he underwent arthroscopic surgery and rehabilitation, with
the focus on recuperating for the next season. Then, in only the second game of
his sophomore season, Bionde dove for a ground ball and landed awkwardly on his
shoulder, causing it to sublex.
Surgery was in order once again. Bionde persevered through another stint in rehab,
convincing himself that this would the last time. After several months, he recovered
in time to have a successful fall season. Then, in an off-season workout that
winter, Bionde leapt to snag a routine relay throw from centerfield. When he landed,
his arm twisted forward. Again, his shoulder had sublexxed, popping out for a
minute or two before going back into place
After suffering the last sublexation, Bionde did not want to deal with the injury
again. His doctor advised him to get the surgery because there was no way he would
be able to make it through the season without re-aggravating it.
"Dislocated shoulders are one of the great dilemmas in orthopedics because of
the high reoccurrence," said Joe Camillone, head athletic trainer at TCNJ. "The
shoulder gets re-injured more often compared to other parts of the body."
Camillone, who has seen many athletes come and go throughout his tenure at TCNJ,
says he hates to see kids injure their shoulder.
"I don't think I know of any athletes I've treated who have had a dislocated shoulder
only once," said Camillone. "I know three kids who have had surgery after dislocation
and each one of them re-injured it afterward." He also noted that a young active
adult has an 85 percent chance of re-injuring the shoulder.
The hardship that a reoccurring injury inflicts on an athlete whose primary passion
is to simply play the game can be devastating.
"It's definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to go through," said Bionde.
"With this last injury, I wanted to quit. I didn't want to get the surgery."
It took time for Bionde to accept the fact that he would have to endure yet another
recuperative struggle, but he knew it was something he had to do. Part of the
hardship is the frustration that comes with being separated from the game.
"The worst part is that you feel like you're not even on the team," said Bionde.
"You get left out. They're [the Rutgers baseball team] going to be playing in
the Metrodome where the Twins play, and I don't get to do that."
Despite the setbacks, Bionde manages to keep a positive attitude about his situation,
a vital ingredient that will help in his recovery.
Sharp says that the recovery from injury is a direct result of the athlete's personal
response. She adds that many factors can help facilitate the recovery process,
such as taking personal responsibility for the rehabilitation process, social
support from the people you are close with, and having a healthy self-esteem and
an optimistic attitude. A positive outlook will encourage recovery, while a negative
one can hamper it.
Bionde finds hope and support from another fellow athlete.
"Look at Grant Hill," he said. "He's had five bad injuries with his ankle and
he's had the best doctors, but he keeps having surgery."
Hill, a professional basketball player on the Orlando Magic, played in his first
All-Star Game this past February since 2001 after being hobbled with ankle problems
for the past five years. He has had a bad left ankle since he broke it during
the 2000 playoffs as a member of the Detroit Pistons. He underwent numerous operations
on the ankle and played in only 47 games out of 328 over the past four seasons.
However, this season, Hill made a dramatic turnaround. He is the leading candidate
for comeback player-of-the-year, averaging 19.3 points, 4 rebounds, 3.5 assists
and a healthy 34 minutes per game.
While Bionde does not share the same injury as Hill, he hopes to follow from his
example and stay positive through an arduous recovery process.
"This time, the way they did the surgery was different," said Bionde. "Hopefully,
this should be it. I just have to be smart, but I always know there is a chance
that it could happen again."
In addition, suffering through such a devastating injury has altered Bionde's
"You don't realize how much you miss it [baseball] until it's taken away from
you," said Bionde. "I never take anything for granted anymore because there is
no guarantee that tomorrow will be there."
People like Fortuna and Bionde are part of a distinct community where only athletes
may dwell. They are a special breed of humans. Perhaps their brains are wired
in a unique fashion that makes them think differently. Like other athletes, they
are constantly pushing their bodies beyond their limits. There is a burning competitive
desire that grows from within that propels them to fight through adversity. And
it is the adversity through which we must all struggle for the sake of the glory
that we aspire to attain.
Tim Fox is a junior Journalism major at The College of
New Jersey. He is a staff writer for The Signal, the student newspaper at TCNJ,
where he is the softball reporter. He is also a member of TCNJ's rugby team.