Let me ask you a question: Does your athletic career define you? Recent research has suggested that concussions can have a negative effect on mental health later in life. Along similar lines, it’s not uncommon for a professional sports team to have many of its players competing anywhere from 70-85% of their full physical health. Elite athletes lay it all on the line and forge into some dark places when it comes to physical and mental health, and it’s no secret that operating at these levels is not reflective of optimum health. Injury, pain, and other limiting factors are swept under the rug in order to win and be the champion. So I ask you: where do you draw the line, and when does your health come first?

Many of the competitors I know are all working their tails off to hold their spot amongst the best. They sacrifice and don’t make excuses. They live and die by their game. Their vision is pin-pointed on the goal and blinders are set to prevent any distractions. They practice consistently and fight hard when it counts. These are not robots, or super-humans; they are real people with talent, drive, and insane work ethic. So, are they defined by their sport?

Eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman is famous for getting under or over a barbell and yelling “LIGHT WEIGHT BABY!!!” to hype himself up before lifting some heavy-ass weight. In his recent documentary on Netflix, we learn the former champion has had at least eight back surgeries since his retirement, due to the strenuous training regimen he maintained over the years. My theory is that, if you asked Ronnie if he would repeat his successful past despite his current condition living in extreme pain, he would say yes in a heartbeat. Most people could and will never understand that kind of thought process, but some champions assume all risks, and live and die by their game. Is that what it takes to be the greatest? Is sacrificing your vessel in the long run worth it for the immediate future?

All sports at their highest levels have risks of injury. As athletes you know this, and it is part of your job to do your prehab with your strength and conditioning coaches in order to compete with a strong body. I don’t know about you, but if I played soccer and knew hamstring injuries were a common injury in my sport, I would be diligent in strengthening them to help keep me playing for as long as I could. You’re invincible…until you’re not. We don’t know our fate, but taking precaution and doing the preventative work can ease the mind and help you feel confident while you train and compete.

Regardless of what level you’re at, there are some important questions to ask yourself, and keep revisiting, throughout your athletic journey:

  1. What are my long-term goals?
  2. Do I want to be the best and will I sacrifice my life in order to do so?
  3. Where does longevity come in? Is family and personal health a motivational factor?

Longevity is certainly a goal if you designed a career in sports. Have you really thought about it, though? Contact sports like rugby have a shorter lifespan than baseball because of the degree of beatings your body can take. Each ding or injury you suffer will promote an engine that runs at less than 100% over time because you more than likely won’t recover fully before another beating. On the other mitt, sports like baseball have more games so there is a different type of risk. This is your career and your identity. Recovery, sleep, nutrition, relaxation and de-stressing are just as much a part of the blueprints. Without them, your game would be shit. Do you have the proper team around you and are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to gain an advantage? Longevity comes as a result of doing good and feeling good over time.

Think about your limits. A year ago, mixed-martial artist Georges St-Pierre suffered a debilitating neck injury during in November 2017.  Recently, he was diagnosed with another medical condition, ulcerative colitis. When asked about fighting again, he stated his health is his number one priority right now, so things are up in the air. Compare him with Ronnie, and you have two different champions. They have the same goal- to win- but GSP has apparently defined a limit. For many of you, your identity is wrapped up in your athletic career. It is who you are and illustrates how you live your life. You may compete briefly, or for many years, and you have to consider how much you are willing to sacrifice. Injury is part of your sport, but when do you declare your limit?