This will be the first time I am making my injury public to the kettlebell sport community; three weeks before I was set to compete and make a serious run at CMS on 28kg long cycle, I was stricken with a very serious injury called “Intersection Syndrome”. The only way I can describe it is seriously f***ing painful. Three weeks ago monday I had completed 8 rounds of 1:00work/1:00rest long cycle on the 28’s, some overhead holds and some plate carry and some rowing and burpees, I was fine but the next day I did a 6:00 set of jerks on 24kg and by the last minute I was in excruciating pain. It felt like someone had taken a hammer to my forearm, like someone had driven a stake through it. My grip was gone, I also could not bend my wrist back at all and a kettlebell on my arm felt like I was being poked by the devil’s pitch fork! The pain was so bad that the following day I got an x-ray because I thought my arm was broken.
After taking two days off I attempted to do some more work on the 24’s that friday and then do some work on the 20’s the following monday a week after the injury, but I could not lift at all, simply racking an 8kg put me in tears, I did a lot of research and saw our PT and was diagnosed with “Intersection Syndrome”. The best way for me to boil down the injury is like this; you have two tendons going to your thumb and two going to your index finger, the thumb tendons wrap around your arm a couple inches north of the wrist and they wrap over the index finger tendons, this area is the intersection. Basically when you overwork these tendons to death they get really mad and inflamed and then they swell up and then they don’t want to work at all and cause serious pain. This injury is common among athletes in tennis and rowing as well as many manual labor type jobs where there is repeated flexion of the wrist. Here is a more clinical write up of what Intersection Syndrome is, what causes it and how it is treated… INTERSECTION SYNDROME.
We are not sure what caused this in me and what caused it to only happen in my right arm, but we know it was a cumulative effect of a massive increase in rowing, kettlebell weight and pace as well as a big increase in higher rpm work on lighter weights. Now obviously there must also be some sort of technique issue somewhere on my right side but I cannot seem to pinpoint it. Currently I cannot rack or jerk an 8kg kettlebell without pain, I cannot button my pants or take off my shirt or open a jar or demonstrate basic exercises to my clients without pain. Basically I over-trained until I broke, which leads me to my next talking point.
Some people, athletes, myself included, don’t know when to quit. In 12 months I have taken my kettlebell training from 20mph to 200mph with the help of my awesome coach (no seriously he is awesome), but it was all the other stuff I was doing that helped to break me. On top of my kettlebell sets I was rowing, lifting, running and doing a decent amount olympic weightlifting, each week in each area of my training it was always more, more meters on the rower along with faster pace, more meters running, more weight in regular lifting and more weight in my olympic work along with more reps and more complexes. It was always more than the week before. In my head I could see myself standing on a podium at nationals and in Russia and at worlds in Ireland, those images drove every single thing I did, my desire to be a champion drove me daily, and it drove me to push myself until I broke. I am so competitive that everything I did, even my assistance work was always being compared with the best people in those fields, I was following and competing with friends around the world on my rowing times, I turned every single session that I got on the rower into a competition with myself and others, I was constantly comparing my squat and deadlift weights with other lifters (both kettlebell and non-sport lifters as well), I was having discussions with olympic lifter friends to improve my technique so I could lift more, the only thing I did not turn into a competition was my running because I will never be a fast runner and it is one thing I am ok with not being good at. I have ate, slept and breathed kettlebell sport for the past two years and now I am writing this with a super awesome and sexy wrist brace on and I received a cortisone shot yesterday but it does not seem to be helping much. My competitive nature pushes me daily in everything I do from business to training to the car I drive and how I drive it, but now I have to learn to press the break pedal in my training and to focus more on what matters, my kettlebell training, and while I can still push the other stuff I have to learn to only be competitive in one area and not every area of my training.
My mental state is now hanging on the edge of a cliff, I feel like I am climbing a mountain with success at the top and not just failure at the bottom but a life of no longer competing and dealing with post-competitive athlete depression. This scares the shit out of me, the thought of no longer competing is beyond devastating, but only time will tell if I can recover from this and come back. I have a long way to go before I can even get back on the path to climb that mountain and right now I am hanging onto the edge of that cliff. I have read some horror stories from this injury including one kettlebell athlete who gave up the sport because of it, but even with those stories in my head I am still hopeful and I am not going to give up my dream of standing on that world championship podium. But for now I have to focus on recovery and focus on coaching my own athletes. The good news is that athletes in other sports with this injury made full recoveries after a long rest and some improvement in technique, as this is usually just an overuse injury.
As an American we all look up to the leaders of kettlebell sport, the originators, the athletes from Russia who have been lifting since they were 12. As a country we just got started in this sport a few years ago and in the past two years since I got involved I have witnessed it explode from only a handful of competitions a year to over 20 and now we are sending team USA to compete against the Russians and the rest of the world. So many of us feel as if we are behind the 8 ball, playing catch up, trying to get to the level the rest of the world is at and doing it in record time. Those who have been in this sport for more then a couple years will tell you it doesn’t work like that, you can’t go from the 16 to the 24 to the 32 in just a few months, maybe you’re super strong and you make those big jumps fast but chances are you’re going to incur some injuries along the way, especially if you do not have an experienced coach.
So while I sit here typing in a very uncomfortable position with this rotten splint on my arm that bars me from using my thumb, my advice to all the lifters out there is to listen to your body and take it slow, this sport takes time to develop as an athlete and if you push too hard you’re going to get injured. My other goal in writing this is to make this problem known to other lifters, I will write some updates on my injury and recovery and training. I will be on a very long road to recovery and I hope to return to the platform soon but now I have to attempt to use a trait I was not blessed with…patience. I am a very non sympathetic and non empathetic person, I am a “get over it”, “walk it off” person, so I am not looking for well wishes or sympathy, I am not even asking for any response at all, but in this age of Internet searching I just wanted others to be able to find this story if this injury happens to them, and if it has I wish you the best of luck and a speedy recovery. You’ll be ok.