Maintaining a Life Outdoors after an Injury

It was a typical Thursday night. I was listening to music and getting dinner ready. Ready to sauté some cabbage, I was tearing leaves into manageable pieces when my hand slipped to the left and knocked something off the counter. I looked down to see a knife sitting on the ground, and what appeared to be a fairly short cut across the top of my foot. Panicking a little but thinking I would just stop the bleeding and maybe use some super glue, I bent over to inspect further. At that point, I realized my big toe was limp. I had completely severed the tendon that controls it, and had at that moment affected every summer activity I had planned.

It required a surgery, which due to scheduling issues didn’t happen for quite a while. Then the many months of recovery began. Recovery that was fairly immobilizing. I went from completely on crutches, to low-weightbearing in a rigid knee-high boot, to weightbearing but without strenuous exercise. Each stage stood another month out of my summer.

When it rains, it pours

Months later, as my foot was coming around to its final bit of recovery, I got another injury. While getting oil ready to fry (apparently kitchens are not for me), I pulled the pan off the burner to cool it just a bit. As I was holding it, boiling water from a nearby pot jumped the gap over the floor and into the hot oil, which immediately exploded. Hot oil flew into my eye and seared my cornea, leaving me without much vision. While this was a faster healing process than the foot, it was just one more nail in the coffin of my summer.

Since then, I’ve been trying to reconcile my need for recovery time with my need for summer adventure. For someone who runs a site about getting into the backcountry, I haven’t been there much this year.

So over these months, I’ve learned that in situations like this, there’s not much to do except to roll with the punches. That said, there are three major factors I’ve found to be key to maintaining a life in the outdoors after an injury.

1. You’re not your injury

One of the hardest things for me to face was going from someone who could hold their own on most outdoor pursuits to someone who needs assistance for the smallest task.

Especially in a state like CO where much of the population is adept in the outdoors, being an outdoorsman often becomes part of your identity. It has been a part of mine for a long time.

Seeing your friends climb mountains while you barely make it across the living room isn’t just annoying. It’s embarrassing.

This was one of the biggest hurdles for me to overcome. Eventually, I came to terms with it and realized that I’m not my injury. I will recover, and will be back on the top of a mountain again someday. Everyone, especially those who push themselves in the wild, will be injured at some point. Realizing that it’s just my turn to be hurt, and not my sole identity, was a big turning point.

If you can’t get out because of an injury, remember that it’s temporary. Even though it seems like a big deal right now, it’ll pass. It’s not your identity, it’s just a phase.

A woman sits next to a campfire and carves a stick wearing a headlamp.

2. Taking care of yourself for the future

It’s easy to fall prey to pushing yourself farther and faster than you should during recovery. I’ll admit to sometimes pushing the boundaries of what I should be doing to heal.

To pull back the reins on that, I tried to remind myself that the faster and more fully I heal, the faster I’ll be up and running again. While it’s a real bummer to be injured for a while, it’s a bigger bummer to be injured indefinitely.

When you’re feeling held back during recovery, remember that you’re making progress toward a goal. The goal being to get back to your prime. Keeping this in mind makes the recovery process a lot easier to stomach. For a group of people that tends to be very goal-oriented in the first place, having this target to strive for is a big help.

3. Making the most of it

The thing that helped me the most while trying to bounce back was the realization that not everything has to come to a screeching halt because of an injury.

Yes, many things do. I can’t ski, bike, backpack, or run while trying to heal a big toe. That’s not debatable.

A woman with a foot injury carries a fly rod down a path.

However, as much as I hated being injured, there was still a bright side. Being stuck on the couch meant I had lots of time to dedicate to working on Fish Untamed. Normally, I choose going outside over getting work done, which I don’t regret. However, without that option, I was able to dedicate time to a project that normally got put on the backburner. And, I didn’t have to feel guilty about being stuck inside.

In addition to just making time for other hobbies, I also realized that not all outdoor activities had to stop.

Sure, I wasn’t able to hike up to a backcountry lake and fish. But, I was able to get to my local pond on crutches and reignite my love of panfishing. I was also able to go on an annual friends fishing trip. Though I couldn’t do much, I did catch a few fish from the crutches and got to see good fishing buddies, which is most of the point anyway.

A man with a fly rod and a woman on crutches stand in a field

When an injury keeps you mostly immobilized, remember that there are still things you can do. And, you’ll find that many of these things fill you up with joy enough to hold you over until your next outing.

If you’re injured right now, or you get injured down the road, remember to keep these in mind. Having made it through my first major lack-of-outdoors spell, I’ve come out knowing I’ll be a lot more prepared to handle it the next time.

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