Tales of an MMA Lifer: The Dark Road to Recovery

Fightland Blog

By Julie Kedzie

My cat is chewing on my face and drooling. I reach up to push her away and am met with some of the most nausea-inducing pain I have ever experienced. Fuuuuuccck! At some point in the middle of the night I must have rolled over my left shoulder and the weight of my body had pushed it into a horrible position. I gingerly lift it with my right arm and try to reposition it. Jesus Christ, that feels awful.

The cat takes full advantage of my extended arm to gently sink her teeth into my skin, shaking the flesh between her teeth back and forth.

Stop! I yell, which prompts my dog to thump her tail happily on the floor and ramble over to the head. Well, that gets rid of the cat, at least. My dog butts her head against my arm, sending electric shocks of pain down my body. Time to go out! She wiggles back and forth with an enthusiasm that is best left for anytime other than 5:45am.

All right, all right, I’m coming.

But I can’t. I am literally stuck in bed, unable to move left or right or up without this agonizing throbbing ripping its way from the back of my shoulder to my bicep, all the way up to my neck. The dog thumps her tail harder on the floor, getting impatient. I grit my teeth and dig my heels into the mattress and slowly pull myself down to the foot of the bed by my hamstrings like a backwards caterpillar. Once my feet are dangling I crunch my abs and pitch my upper body forward, shrieking as I catch myself on my feet.

When I drive into work, I have to use my right hand to prop my left arm on the steering wheel. It looks a little bit like a silent comedy film, as I have to keep taking the arm off when I turn left to avoid twisting it. And God help me if I slam on my brakes. Any jostle or jerking motion makes me howl and then whimper.

When I get to the gym (work) I pop a gazillion (three) ibuprofen and try to start my day.

My coaches and training partners all know I have a bum shoulder; they all know I’m scheduled for surgery soon and that I am “taking it easy” and “not sparring as hard” until then but that I want to train as much as I can. They treat my shoulder with whatever level of respect they have for me as a whole--the good ones gauging the level of pressure they can apply by the magnitude of my grimacing, the bad ones “accidentally” attempting kimuras. I learn very quickly who I can train with and who to avoid, for though we are a good group of people, we are a highly competitive one.

In other words, some bitches just loooove to exploit a weakness.

I am grumpy about the extra pain, but I can’t fault my teammates. I know that every opponent I will ever face in the future would be an idiot if they didn’t attack my shoulder, as I have very stupidly made the injury public knowledge. It’s one more element to incorporate in my game, right up there with “keep your chin down” and “keep yourself in motion”: Learn good shoulder-lock defense. Also, keep your mouth shut.

And I can’t fault my coaches for their moments of forgetfulness as they scream at me to hike up my underhooks and yank back when I’m being whizzered hard. I haven’t exactly told them about the sleepless nights or my inability to get out of bed in the morning. I haven’t told them how I will suddenly lose control of my arm and drop a hot cup of coffee. They just know I tweaked my shoulder; they ask me when I’m getting it fixed and then continue to coach me through positions and forget that it’s weak.

You’re not Floyd Mayweather, they say. Why do you keep dropping your left hand?

To which I respond (in my mind), Well, duh and DUH!!!

What my coaches don’t know is that I’m terrified. That, despite the ibuprofen, ice, and “more relaxed” approach I am taking towards training, I spend a lot of time in the bathroom crying after practice. That I can’t tell what is scarier, aggravating the injury more or not working on the issues that cause me to lose fights. That in taking time off, I will forget everything and get fat and lazy and develop the attitude I most despise in fighters: only training and getting in shape when you have an actual fight coming up. To me, that’s not the progress of the mind and soul through martial arts; it’s immediate gratification.

I have to get fucking better is my goddamned mantra. But am I truly improving myself or am I digging myself a hole?

Each day is agony. I shrimp on my left side and it hurts. I get hit in the body and the impact causes my neck and biceps to spasm. A training partner will reach out to hug me after sparring and the squeeze will cause me to taste blood. Because of this, I am getting weird grappling habits and teaching myself to just walk through punches, instead of bouncing and moving (which hurts) to get to my right hand, and I keep getting more beat up.

I have developed a tennis-ball sized knot in my left rhomboid from the muscles desperately trying to protect the injury, and no amount of rubbing in the world seems to relieve it. I’ll find myself jammed up against the corners of doors after practice, digging the edges into my upper back, as if I am doing some sort of grotesque reverse spine humping, dying for some relief.

I try to keep my mouth shut in the gym about all of these things because I don’t want them to lose respect for me or call me a pussy. Everyone has injuries. Hell, Cub Swanson had to have his entire face fixed with steel plates after a bad day. Who the hell am I to call attention to a stupid shoulder?

I would find out soon enough that the injury was a 300-degree labrum tear, with all sorts of exciting details like SLAP lesions and a Buford Complex to boot.  Surgery was horrible; recovery was worse.  Hemorrhoids, migraines, and depression were just the tip of the iceberg. Six months without training followed by legs-only training left me with an ass the size of New Hampshire and a very angry, angry disposition. Even after the doctors declared me 100% ready to train and fight again, the golf ball remained in my rhomboid. It’s still there, and no amount of massage, drugs, or ice can really relive it.

I am now excruciatingly aware of the fragility of the body. I know exactly what it takes to make me break, and I’m furious that I lost my first fight back after the surgery because I was overly cautious. I mean this when I say it: I am angry.  I am very conscious at the fact that I am older and it will take twice as long for me to re-learn the shit I forgot because I was so focused on my pain and on myself. I need to remember to open my mind and learn.

Still, now at least I can get out of bed like a normal human being, which makes the cat happy.

Check out Julie's first tale: 

My First Fight