We have all seen them hobbling around campus, ice bags plastered to random body parts and Kinesio tape forming temporary tattoos as they slowly trudge from 6 a.m. sessions with the trainer. The suffering of injured athletes goes beyond physical discomfort. For senior volleyball captain Jaime Birzer, the throbbing from a torn ACL, MCL and LCL account for only a fraction of her suffering.
“To be an athlete means the world to me,” Birzer said. “It gives you a second family [because] your teammates know you better than anyone else, because they see you at your absolute best and at your absolute worst. I just thoroughly enjoy pushing myself to physical limits and challenging myself, and as an athlete you get to do that in a team setting.”
She explained the heartbreak of her injury and its potential to end her volleyball career.
“It’s crazy to think that one small second can change everything,” Birzer said. “It’s so difficult mentally, just trying not to think about the past and what could have been, because I still have so many goals left for myself … Now, instead of leading by example, I’m forced to sit on the sidelines and try to lead with my voice, which is something I’ve always been a little uncomfortable doing. So, now I have to learn how to help my team in a completely different capacity.”
In volleyball, momentum can change at any moment depending on a multitude of factors. Needing to constantly adapt on the court has helped Birzer cope with her injury.
“You have the power to pull yourself out of that rut if you choose to,” Birzer said. “Determination and resilience are huge in volleyball — as important as any physical skill — and they’re important in life as well. Take my injury; I’ve never been injured in my entire life. I was having one of the best seasons of my career, then all of a sudden I might be out for good.”
Birzer is investing all her energy into her physical therapy (PT) in hopes of getting back in the game.
“Even if I don’t make it back on the court, I can’t say it wasn’t for lack of trying,” Birzer said. “I’m not giving up.”
Birzer’s determination and strength have helped her with struggles outside of volleyball as well. During the previous spring semester, Birzer lost her dad to a long and hard-fought battle with cancer.
“Every day that I’m in PT, I think of my dad,” Birzer said. “I used to go with him to PT, and it reminds me so much of him and his struggle to get stronger and fight the cancer because he was just not physically strong enough.”
She does recognize, however, that dwelling on the past cannot change it. While some athletes feel other students do not care enough about athletics, Birzer feels support.
“So many people have told me things like ‘if anyone can make it through this, you can,’” Birzer said. “And things like this help me so much, because if I’m ever doubting myself or my strength, I’m so comforted knowing how many people believe in me.”
Imagine pursuing a career or working on your thesis project, Junior Poet or a groundbreaking research project, and receiving a concussion. Everything is put on hold and your own body is the cause. Within a second, years of hard work are taken away; you have become your own barrier. Your body, which previously allowed you to realize your passion, becomes a barrier.
The beauty of athletics is not in the goal of winning a trophy, but in learning to master one’s own body for the sake of a greater cause. An injury prevents not only the semantic goal of winning the tournament but also the lifestyle of self-discipline and camaraderie that athletes have chosen as key elements of their personal growth.
“I truly believe God has a plan and that resilience will push you through ups and downs,” Birzer said.