Injuries Suck. Or do they?

Published November 9th, 2012 by JB

          For me to say everything has been smooth sailing for me since I started wrestling would be a complete lie. I've had my fair share of adversity just like any other athlete. But what happens when a season ending injury turns out to be the best thing that has ever happened to you? Let me explain. 2008-2009. I was an NCAA Champion. My junior year of college, I finished the season with an amazing 35-0 record, becoming Nebraska's first and only undefeated National Champ, beating 3 former national champs on the way. I was dominate. I was strong. I was cocky. As the following season came I pictured myself winning a second national title, and hopefully a Hodge Trophy. I thought things would come easy. I was a returning champ. My opponents would be afraid and practically lay down for me right? Wrong. Everyone wanted to beat the returning champ, and they all gave me their best shot. Imagine a guy walking around saying "Hey, I have the strongest chin in the country. No one can knock me out." Everyone's going to punch him as hard as they can right? Correct. I had a huge bullseye on my back, and I wasn't exactly training like it. So I was 7-0 when the worst 3 weeks of my life came in December 2009. I was wrestling my first tournament of the season, and I was up against Justin Gaethje of Northern Colorado at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas and during that first match my chin landed on my opponents hip making my jaw and teeth crash together. Crunch! I lost two molars and had to default out of the tournament to go get two emergency root canals. The following week. My grandfather, Leroy Burroughs died of Cancer, and I had to miss a dual meet to attend his funeral in Jacksonville, FL. It couldn't possibly get worse could it? Of course. The next week is where it all came crashing down. On the night of December 19, 2009 I was wrestling Steve Brown from Central Michigan when we got into a wild scramble. Our legs were tangled up and boom. Just like that my season was over. Not only was I injured but I lost. I was embarrassed most of all. The doctors told me I had a torn LCL and PCL, and I was done for the year. I went from being the best wrestler in the country to being off the mat for 9 months. I would have to have reconstructive surgery in 2 weeks. End of the fairy tale story? Nope. Just the beginning...

          So here I am. A year removed from the best season in my wrestling career and I can hardly walk. But there's a catch. In college wrestling there is a rule where if you wrestle more than 30% of your total matches for the year you cannot qualify for a medical redshirt. If you wrestle less than 30%, you are still eligible. Here's when it gets creepy. Remember the tooth injury and the funeral? At first they seemed extremely horrible. Until you look at it in reverse, and you realize that the matches I missed because of those two unlikely events were the matches that allowed me to come back and compete for a 5th year. I was only one match under the 30% rule. One match. Had my Grandpa passed away a week later. Had my opponent in Vegas sprawled instead of diving in between my legs. I might not be typing this blog to you. That Gold medal I won this summer in London, it may have been somewhere in Iran or Russia right now. But all of these things happened. This made me a true believer of fate. God had put all these events in perfect order, with perfect timing, and I had another shot. I had a chance to wrestle again. To wear that red singlet with the big white N on the front. This time off made me hungry. It gave me motivation to be the best again. No longer was I satisfied with taking days off. God gave me my sport back, and this time I wasn't going to waste it. From there the recovery began...

           Surgery. January 2, 2010. This was my first time ever having a serious injury and my first time going under the knife. I really didn't know what to expect. The one thing I did know is that I wanted my knee fixed and as soon as possible. I had to have my LCL reconstructed and my PCL replaced with the tendon from a cadaver. That's right, they took the tendon from the knee of a dead guy and put it where my healthy tendon used to be. I'm very appreciative of him and his family. The surgery took a total of 4 hours and I was back to normal right? Not quite. I had to spend the night in the hospital. Luckily I had a girlfriend at the time. I couldn't drive. She drove me. I couldn't get in the shower on my own. She helped me. I went from being a young beast to a senior citizen. To top it off, I couldn't walk up stairs very well. I'm not ashamed to say I fell down a couple times. Have you ever tried going up and down stairs with crutches? Not very fun. I actually remember one snowy day, slipping on the ice right next to my car and falling down in excruciating pain. I got up, hoped no one saw me, and got in my car. Then I screamed! "Ouch!" Since my leg was too weak to do any lower body workouts, I hit the gym extra hard to make sure I was as strong as possible from the waist up. I spent 4 days a week lifting and I was growing fast. I was weighing about 175 pounds a month out of surgery. From there the decision was made. I would be moving up from 157 to 165 the following season when I returned to the mat. As I grew though, I started to feel a disconnect with the team. I couldn't practice. I couldn't travel with them. I had my schedule and they had theirs. I missed them, and they missed me. I missed working out with my buddies, wrestling, cutting weight together, being a leader. That motivated me. My team needed me. Nebraska needed their leader back, and they needed him back bigger and stronger than ever. I promised them I wouldn't let them down..

          I need to turn this leg back into a bull. I pride myself on being explosive. After having my leg in a knee brace locked at ten degrees for 5 weeks, I wasn't very explosive anymore. My entire leg had atrophied and wasn't very strong at all. My trainer Jeff Webber always told me will will get your leg back to being strong like a young bull's again. The recovery was so tough. It was hard to stay patient. I tried to use my math skills to get me back on the mat faster. I thought: 9 month recovery, if I double the weight in rehab, I could cut the recovery time to 4.5 months right? Simple division. Nope. I had to stay patient. My great coaching staff, training staff, family, friends and most importantly God kept me grounded. I had to look at the big picture. I didn't wanna re-injure myself trying to come back too fast. I was hungry for success though. I wanted to be the best again. However, I could only control what I could control so I kept working hard in the weight room. One of the saddest moments of that year was watching another guy, JP O'Connor win a NCAA Championship at my weight. I had beaten him twice. I couldn't help but think that I belonged up there. But part of being the best is staying healthy, and JP earned it, so congrats to him. The toughest part of knee recovery is getting the rotation back, or being able to get your foot to your butt again. It felt as though if I bent it too far my knee would explode. I endured the pain. Why wouldn't I? What other choice did I have? Give up and never wrestle again? Never. I overcame the pain. I embraced it... 

          I'm hungry again. My knee  was feeling great. There was a test that my trainers put me through to record the strength of my repaired leg, and my bad leg actually tested stronger than the healthy one. Not bad huh? I was back. I began drilling again. I blew the dust off my wrestling shoes. Wiped the cobwebs off of my headgear. It was my time. I went from not putting on a pair of wrestling shoes for seven months, to having the most dominant season of my career. I had my favorite thing in the world back, and I was gonna wrestle every day like it was my last time. Do you see how the story all comes together now? Knee surgery wasn't so bad after all. Sometimes an injury can end careers. In this case it revived mine. Injuries are painful and are most commonly thought of as setbacks. I used it as a motivator. A lot of people thought I would never be the same. I wouldn't be as strong or as fast as I was in 2009. I wouldn't be big enough to wrestle 165. I couldn't finish my double leg on returning NCAA Champ Andrew Howe. I was washed up. Not so fast. I want to challenge anyone who's had an injury to remain hungry. I know your pain. I've been there. Stay focused. Surround yourself with positive people. Work as hard as possible and picture where you want to be, not where you are. Who cares how good you were before the injury. Work to be better. Don't get discouraged. Control the things you can control. Pick up your bible and keep the faith. Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it. Once you have wrestled, everything else in life is easy. Stay strong. I did it. I never looked back. You can too.

P.S. I haven't lost a wrestling match since that day, and I don't plan on it. 


- Jordan





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