My last time leaving a sports pitch – over 2 years ago now – was on a stretcher bound for the emergency room. I had suffered a serious knee dislocation in a hockey match that resulted in the surrounding ligaments, tendons and muscles being torn, and severe damage to the nerves down my leg, which ultimately left me without movement in my foot. The cause of all this was completely underwhelming; a simple, unfortunate combination of twisting and force, followed by a whole lot of screaming. Having been through injuries before, as I waited in an A&E bed for doctors to emerge with recovery timelines, I was met with the straight response that I may not be able to run again, let alone ever play sport.
What struck me most in the months that followed was discovering just how intertwined my mental state was with my physical capabilities. The simple practicalities of the injury were not where I struggled; you get strangely resourceful navigating your house on one foot, and I was fortunate to have great friends and family who served as pro-bono Uber (and UberEats) drivers. Rather, it was in the loss of my identity as an athlete that I struggled. For my entire life, my week was based around trainings and matches, my year around sports seasons. As others who play sport will be familiar, regardless of the level you play at, you become conditioned to a routine, and there is a comfort in that certainty, as well as the togetherness that a team and shared goal bring.
Up to that point I had never considered what my release from stress, anger, sadness or boredom was, I just went out and played sport, and came home with a clear head. It was a system that had worked for me since I was seven years old. Suddenly that release was gone, and with it a sense of lost control. Over time I recognised how much my confidence was tied to feeling fit and healthy, being a part of something, and being able to compete and exert myself consistently throughout a week. When we lose that feeling of power in ourselves and what we are capable of, it can quickly transpire into self-doubt in other aspects of our lives.
In the absence of sport, I turned intensely to the rehabilitation process. I was determined to defy the odds, and despite what anyone told me I genuinely thought I would be back on a hockey pitch in 16 months, by the beginning of the following season. However, rehabilitation doesn’t hold the same glamour as exercise or sport, where we can try push ourselves to new heights. Mostly it is just repetition and monotony; oftentimes it is restraint. It’s hard to share progress because the improvements are often minutely incremental, and rarely exciting. Most of all, it is a lonely process, and one that is impossible not to think about constantly.
One year into my recovery I was given the all clear to run again (albeit with a knee brace and foot splint akin to a young Forrest Gump).
That evening marked a major milestone in my recovery journey; a milestone I wanted to share with all those who had been so supportive and interested since the injury. I posted an image to Instagram and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of kind words, congratulations and encouragement that returned. I was refreshed, re-motivated and determined – so I set myself a new goal, and two months later I completed a sprint triathlon (an ideal event for someone who could only swim, cycle and run short distances in straight lines).
In the aftermath of that first Instagram post I was struck by two things - how isolated the process had been to that point, and how being seen and supported by others gave me the energy I needed to keep pushing on. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or external motivation, I was looking to share this personal journey with others, and in an age where we can connect instantly in our social, professional and fitness lives, it seemed needless to feel alone through this physical and mental challenge. The more people I talked with to understand their injury experience, the greater my conviction became that there had to be a way to bring social connection to injury recovery.
Which led to the development of Brace - a social platform enabling people to take full control of their injury recovery journey. Through connection and empowerment we want to positively reframe the recovery experience, to help a community of injured people support each other to come back stronger.
And why “Brace”? Having worn one daily for almost a year I began to think more about what that word means. It’s a support and strength around an injury, but it’s also preparing for something with grit and resilience; most importantly, to embrace is to welcome something with enthusiasm and togetherness – and as a platform and a community, that is everything we want to achieve – providing strength and support around your injury journey, to help get you through that difficult time with enthusiasm, resilience and togetherness.
Co-Founder & CEO, Brace