The ‘rub’ of an athlete: The better you are, the greater the toll

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Wings captain Brodie Merrill. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Wings)

Most people look at sports on the surface and see the glamour and prestige. The life of an athlete can be very rewarding, but most don't understand the pain and struggle behind playing sports at an elite level; the training, the practice, the grind of what you put your body through.

For most high-level athletes, sport can be all consuming. It comes in different forms, but there is a constant, underlying intensity in everything you do as an elite athlete. It can often test the boundaries of your overall health and well-being. That is the "rub" of sport. If you want to have success, you have to struggle; you have to make things difficult on yourself. That is how you achieve growth and typically what separates the good from the great.

Some are just not willing to go past a certain point. Winning or having success often means pushing to your physical, mental, and emotional limits. It doesn't come without consequence. Once the final whistle is blown and the lights are turned out, athletes have to deal with the repercussions of pushing their bodies to the limit. My two-year-old daughter has fun every Sunday pointing out all my "boo boo's" and enjoys imitating my stiff limp (that doesn't start to open up until midweek).

In the NLL there are no full-time trainers, no massage therapist, etc. For someone that lives outside of the city they play for, you are on an island in terms of your training and treatment. It takes a lot of intrinsic motivation to stay the course. This may sound a little negative, but as strange as it sounds, some part of you has to enjoy the pain and the struggle. It makes winning and having success worthwhile.  As my old coach [Urick] would say, "If it was easy, anyone could do it."

My sister Victoria knows the struggle behind sport well. A collegiate standout and a national-level track athlete, she experienced a great deal of success. Throughout the process, she had to overcome various injuries and most significantly, being diagnosed with crones disease in her junior year of university. Track is a unique sport. The attention to detail and the level the commitment to training has to be at an almost obsessive level.

After she graduated, she took a full-time position at The Hill Academy, as director of marketing. She had a full workday (8 a.m.-4 p.m.) and then would train from 4-10 p.m. every day. A recent foot injury pushed her to retire from the sport. She leaves the sport having accomplished a great deal, but more importantly, track revealed a rare mental toughness. She has proven that she has the ability to overcome and thrive in the face of adversity. She has also shown a unique work ethic that will serve her well in whatever she pursues in life. Those values were instilled through her struggle in track. She is at peace with her decision and as she put it, she can now exercise for fun -- what a novel idea.

As for the Wings, so much is invested over the course of a season. When it comes to an end, it always feels abrupt and if you don't win it can leave you feeling pretty empty and disappointed. After watching our game against Toronto and digesting what happened, you see how close the game really was and how easily it could have gone the other way. Unfortunately it didn't and we have to face the reality of where we stand. With the entire struggle, you still have an appreciation for the game and that desire to chase the high of winning and achieving your goals.

The chase continues ...

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