Commentary: A Volleyball Injury Helped Me Lean Into Discomfort
JULIAN ABRAHAM, HOST: And now for the next in our commentary series, Rebekah Robinson shares how her relationship with volleyball helped her navigate life when things go wrong.
REBEKAH ROBINSON, BYLINE:
I've loved playing volleyball for as long as I can remember. I joined the team at my all-girl school when I was 13 and mastered the underhand serve. We weren't good, but we had a good time. We’d dance to songs like Payphone from Maroon 5 or Call Me Maybe from Carly Ray Jepsen on the minibus. I loved playing volleyball because it came with built-in friendship with your teammates. The other thing that brought me back over and over again was the thrill of leaping into the air anime-style and the satisfying slapping sound when my palm made contact with a ball. Up until this point things had gone smoothly – I was only in middle school. I still hadn’t faced any major curveballs. I hadn’t been seriously sick and I had a super supportive family. The obstacles I had to overcome mostly included squabbles with my friends like over which mall to hang out at over the weekend.
Then in my freshman year of high school, I dislocated my knee for the first time. I had just made the JV team and was warming up when a wrong step left me in excruciating pain and tears. What followed was months of uncomfortable physical therapy. My dislocated kneecap meant I started high school on metal crutches and a leg brace that went from my hip down to my ankle. Like any teenager, I did NOT want to stick out, this was definitely not the first impression I wanted to make. And, it also kept me from doing the thing that made me happiest, playing on the court as part of a team. For the first time in my early life, something went pretty wrong, I was feeling mentally and physically uncomfortable.
But, there’s this idea that we heard in a freshman health class. That we should lean into discomfort. I can still see the handout in my head. You’ve probably heard of the comfort zone, but just outside of it is a stretch zone. And it’s in this stretch zone where you may feel discomfort or unease within yourself. In moments like bad haircuts, bombing a job interview, or even breakups for example. It’s not always easy being in that space, but that’s the point because it’s where you grow and learn. So while it totally sucked being out for the season, I still made an effort to get to every game and practice even though I couldn’t play just to learn the skills my coaches drilled the team on.
Three years later, when I was a junior blocking a ball during practice, I heard an ominous popping noise. My knee had dislocated again. I sat in the back of my dad’s blue car with my legs stretched across the seat crying quietly. I was so disappointed to make it this far only to be out for the entire season once again. The road to recovery was more intense this time. A surgeon sliced open my knee and stitched in a cadaver tendon and plastic screws to hold it in place. Working through that discomfort felt more challenging than the first time.
But I had already learned that discomfort is temporary. I’d grown mentally stronger, and I knew that when faced with an uncomfortable situation I would lean into it. My last year of high school, I ventured to Russia for a homestay. I could only make limited conversation with my teenage host sisters, but at least I could ask for what I wanted for breakfast – черный чай и каша – black tea and porridge. After high school, I moved a 120hour car ride away into Canada for college where I didn’t have any family or friends. At Thanksgiving, battled homesickness watching my followers on Instagram share pictures of turkeys and their partners, but eventually, I made new friends, and now I like to call them my second family, and we spend holidays together. My knee injury at the time was at best frustrating and at worst painful. Yet, I learned to work through discomfort even if things go wrong. Which of course they inevitably will, that’s how life works and that’s why I’ll keep playing volleyball.