Pep Talk from the United States Olympic Committee Certified Trainer

athlete: ALExandrea CERVANTES

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“As a former collegiate athlete, fitness professional, and current Team USA Certified Trainer, I have had my fair share of injuries. The last thing I could have imagined was going through a third ACL surgery, but that is exactly what happened earlier this year. In May of 2018 I was scheduled for a complete ACL (allograft) replacement surgery. I had about 6 weeks to physically and most importantly, mentally prepare for my comeback.  It was grueling but with proper mental and physical preparation, I was able to come back a stronger person – both mentally and physically.

I owe a lot of my success to paving the road to the surgery with good intentions and intense mental preparation. I had the good fortune (if it can be called that) to be able to anticipate and prepare for this surgery in advance.  In most cases, ACL tears are sudden, painful, requiring immediate attention and the athlete goes under the knife almost immediately. This happened to 49ers quarterback Garoppolo, who had surgery within 2 weeks of his injury. This can be shocking to a person whose identity is strongly tied to their athletic abilities.   

One of the largest hurdles to overcome was to accept the fact that I was going to be physically out of commission for a couple of months. I, like every competitive athlete had been taught to suck it up and fight through the pain.  I knew this was not the way to go this time. I had to change my mindset, get this surgery, and allow my body to properly heal.

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Instead, I started to focus on things I couldn’t control, such as my training and my personal records. “What will people think of me at work? What if I gain weight? And what about the people I train – will they still respect me? , Would I still own the title of being Top Dog?” I entered what I call, “What If Land”, a place where you drive yourself crazy, thinking of all the wrong things that leave you running (hobbling in my case) around in an endless circle. I tormented myself until I made the conscious decision to shift my thinking. I’m naturally upbeat and I am that person who others go to when in need of seeing the bright side in even the worst of situations. In this case, I needed to take my own advice and put it into action.

Sadly, my shift in perspective did not come to me overnight; there was no epiphany that I woke up from as movies depict. In fact, it was a matter of years building up, 7-10 years to be exact, when I was tired of hearing that my hard work (as a college athlete and professional trainer) was not good enough. I kept coming up short; whether it was seeing 25 hours of practice a week being wasted after receiving  a “ no height” at my first heptathlon meet. Or being told since I was a girl and that I was no match for the male dominated industry. All the “no’s” I heard caused internal turmoil and literally sucked out so much of my energy. These “pep talks” did nothing but broke me down and I added to the fuel with negative self talk. I came across a self-help book and its principles were about perspective and the power of one’s energy; good and bad. Thankfully I have matured and grown which allowed me to do the following.

My first step was to set myself up with a 6-week program to get in shape for my surgery.  Physically, I knew what I needed to do to heal properly as I have a degree in kinesiology with an emphasis of therapeutic studies. My specialties in prevention of athletic injuries and my own experience with physical therapy gave me the ability to know exactly what my body would need. But mentally, I knew I was not as strong and needed to find a way to my strength.

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I sat down and listed all my concerns and fears, and looked for a solution to my problems. Writing out and seeing that I did have solutions, freed me of doubt, filled my mind with the all the positive possibilities, and gave me confidence in my abilities and talents. Telling myself I CAN and being proactive empowered me to stop wallowing in self-pity and take control of my recovery. It was not easy and it took constant effort to pursue the best version of myself. 

Second, I made sure to have a goal and a game plan to achieve that goal.  When I began to execute my plan, it gave me the assurance I needed to charge forward through rehab and recover efficiently and effectively.  I truly had to exercise my mental toughness and my ability to believe in myself to come out on top. Here I am 6 months later and I am mentally stronger and more physically fit than I was prior to my surgery. I’m a better version of myself because of how I approached and conquered one of my biggest challenges professionally and personally.

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During my 3-month hiatus, I learned valuable lessons that are important to everyone, but especially to athletes and to-be-Olympians. Focus on what you can control versus worrying about what you cannot. Then, control what you can control. Don’t concern yourself with the opinion of others, what you are missing out on, or how you will perform in 6 months - keep the focus on the NOW. By controlling and focusing on what you have power over will empower you to have a proactive can-do attitude instead of feeling hopeless and defeated. 

Yes, any injury is a setback, but you can make it a minor setback. The tough skin you build while recovering will clothe you with the confidence you will walk with for the rest of your life. As a top-level athlete and as a person who works with athletes at the top of their sport, I have seen that mental toughness is the one trait has that sets them apart from being good and being the best. The road to greatness is not an easy one and it is not meant to be - it is meant to test you so that when you are on the big stage you are ready for whatever comes your way!

After reading this, I hope you walk away with more vigor and the feeling that you will overcome any obstacle that comes your way, not because I said so, but because you CAN!”

- Alex “The Trainer “Cervantes

Master Trainer
United States Olympic Committee Certified Trainer
Be a Better You

FOLLOW her on ig: @alexthetrainer8

Thank you Alex for sharing your story and experience with athletes across the globe recovering from injury!