Having an injury is not fun. When you’re a varsity athlete, an injury is mentally and physically tough.
Many challenges come with being injured as a varsity athlete, such as, having to go to classes, watching your team get on the field or the ice without you, and working on coming back in time without worrying you came back too early.
One such athlete is Carleton Ravens women’s rugby number eight, Anastasia Bourka.
On Sep. 13, Bourka sustained a broken fibula and tore a ligament in her ankle in a freak accident.
When the ball was overthrown in play, Bourka jumped up and caught the ball and then began running with it. Catching the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees defender off guard, the opposing player made a desperate tackle. As she pulled Bourka down, Bourka stepped forward, and as she stepped, all the pressure from being pulled down resulted in the injury.
When she hit the ground and knew she was hurt bad, Bourka felt “devastated and disappointed.”
“I’ve never been one to lose my cool on the field, but in that moment, I for sure had a panic attack, and not because I was injured, but because I knew that I would probably be out for the rest of the season,” Bourka said.
“So, I couldn’t calm down and I kept crying, and all I could think was, I’m out for the rest of the season,” she added.
For the first two weeks, Bourka was in a half hard cast, non weight bearing, and using a wheelchair. She is now in an air cast and on crutches, and is not able to bear weight for walking for another three weeks.
“But when I brush my teeth, I’m allowed to try to weight bear 70 per cent, so it’s long and slow, but I’m trying to do it right, and I’m trying to come back 100 per cent,” she said.
For Bourka, the biggest challenge she faced in the wheelchair was getting around campus to her classes.
“It’s hard to get around campus, like, now I’m out of the chair and on crutches, and it just takes me a long time to move around, and I get really tired, which makes me frustrated,” she said.
Another physical challenge she faced, was due to how her body metabolizes medication, Bourka had to take the first week off school to pain.
On the mental side, Bourka has found it hard to watch her team on the sidelines.
“It really sucks to sit out and watch your teammates play, and you not being there to be able to help the team, especially when it’s your outlet and it’s what you love to do,” Bourka said.
“Those are usually my two hours of my day where I don’t think about anything other than rugby, and I enjoy it, and now I have to sit and think about things that I usually don’t have to think about during those two hours,” she added.
Another hard part is the day of the week where the team get their jerseys for the next games lineup.
“Going from hearing yours every week, and having the chance to represent the university and the team, to not hearing your name be called anymore, it really sets in that you’re not playing,” Bourka said.
The support Bourka’s been getting from Carleton University’s High-Performance Centre (HPC), the Athletic Therapy room (AT), and her teammates and other varsity athletes has been encouraging.
“People would take me to class in my wheelchair, today I had my friend carry my backpack as I crutched back to athletics, because it was too heavy because I had too many things,” Bourka said.
“My good friends on the team can sense when I’m upset, and they cut that off really fast and help me look ahead again, because for the first weeks, I did a pretty good job of not being negative or disappointed, but now that things are starting to really set in, it’s creeping up on me, and having my teammates be there to show me that there are worse things, and they’ve been there,” she added.
The support she’s been seeing from varsity athletes in general, has been really helpful for her to know even though she doesn’t know them as friends, they are there to support her.
“There’s been a lot of people that I don’t even know that have come up to me and fist bumped me. And an act of a fist bump can go such a long way, just letting me know that they’re there for me even though they don’t know me,” she said.
The Paul Menton Centre for students with disabilities has also helped Bourka. Due to missing two weeks of classes, she’s been able to get notes from classes, and with the help of her professors, she’s able to keep up in class.
As for how the support she’s been getting has helped her, Bourka has said it has helped her stay positive.
“I’ve had my fair share of injuries over the years, and in the past I’ve been very negative and didn’t know ways to cope with my injury, and being new on the team too, whereas now everybody knows me, everyone knows how I act, how I feel, so having that kind of support all the time from my teammates, emotionally and physically, it has made me stay positive,” she said.
Although she has had previous injuries, Bourka has said this one is different due to the fact she’s not rushing back from recovery.
“What I now know and realize, is that sometimes you have to know when to stop and when to take a break, which I did know in the past, and so that’s why this injury is a lot different than my previous ones, because those were almost from pushing to come back fast, and to keep playing,” Bourka said.
“Where as this one was a freak accident and has taken me out, so now I have learned to take it easy and be slow, I’m going to work really hard to not rush back and focus on taking the full 10 months to fully recover, strengthen, get faster, and only hit the field once I feel like I’m actually ready to hit the field,” she added.
Similar to Bourka, new men’s hockey recruit, Jaeger White, has also faced multiple injuries.
Prior to the injury he has now, White sustained a dislocated clavicle interiorly, which required surgery.
“It happened right at the end of the season, so, I took the whole next year off. Just strictly off ice, strengthening my shoulder back. I didn’t go on the ice at all for about 15 months,” White said.
Back in June, White ruptured his Achilles while doing some plyometric work in the gym.
Like Bourka, White has also noticed the mental aspect in watching his team from the sidelines.
“Obviously, it’s tough not being able to play. You’ve got to come to the rink and watch all of the boys go on the ice for practice everyday, and I just got to go do all my rehab, which is part of the process, but it’s still tough not being able to be out there,” White said.
“I’ve got a bit of a step up on school, a little bit more time for school, but I try not to sulk about it too much, you can’t change what’s happened,” he added.
As part of his recovery, White was in a cast for three to four weeks. He was in a walking boot with no weight bearing, was able put a little bit of weight on the walking boot, and then started walking in the walking boot. He is now out of the walking boot and has started walking and doing some light skating in his track suit. Although it’s been three months since the injury, White believes it won’t be another three months until he’s back playing.
White has also been receiving support from team doctor Taryn Taylor and her brother Todd, the team’s athletic therapist, James Sawchuk, and Nick Westcott from the HPC.
“Their support has helped a lot. My recovery has come a long way since I’ve come out of the boot. I can’t remember all the timelines specifically, it’s been a lot of changes, but about two weeks ago, I couldn’t even walk, and now I’m already back on skates, so, their support has definitely changed everything,” he said.
Even though White acknowledges it will be tough to get back on the ice, he knows the support he’s been receiving has been helping.
“Hopefully all the work I’ve been putting in up at the gym will pay off. I know it’s going to be a process to get back the same speed I was at, my leg lost a lot of muscle just being immobilized for so long, it’s going to take quite a while to get that strength back, and I still have a lot of time left in the gym to get myself back up to a playable speed,” he said.
On the women’s hockey side, new goaltender recruit, Marie-Eve Cote, has just returned to playing from an injury.
Like White, Cote also sustained an Achilles injury. Hers happened during a floor hockey tournament during the summer.
Like Bourka and White, Cote has also noted the mental aspect of being on the bench.
“I was never injured in my life, so, being on the bench a lot, seeing them play, that was tough. And not being able to practice and improve my technique, that was tough as well,” Cote said.
“So, being on the side of the team was tough, but like I said, they were very welcoming, and they keep giving us a chance to be a part of the team,” she added.
Cote has also been receiving support from team athletic therapist, Brigitte Roy, as well as from the medicine clinic at Carleton University.
When she was recovering, Cote also noticed the support she was getting from her coaches and teammates.
“At every practice they asked about how the injury was, and the coaches were asking about the news, and they were making sure everything was fine, they were making sure I had appointments, so that we treat me so that I will be on the ice faster,” Cote said.
“So, the girls were happy when I got back on the ice,” she added.
Coaches are also a big aspect of helping an injured athlete transition back to the ice or field.
From his time in the NHL, men’s hockey head coach, Shaun Van Allen, has a lot of experience with injuries.
“Well, first things first, you try to get in the best shape possible, that will help you with some of the minor injuries. The major injuries, a lot of the time there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes it’s a dirty hit on their part, or it’s bad luck, or whether you get hit with a puck,” Van Allen said.
“When you’re playing a contact sport you recognize that you have a chance of getting injured, and you just have to be aware on the ice where everybody is, and there are some times when you’re caught off guard, or you’re tired and you get hit from behind, but for the most part, you want to do everything possible to give your best chance of not getting hurt,” he added.
In terms of advice for injured players, Van Allen has plenty.
“Make sure you see our therapist, make sure you do the little extra things off the ice, whether it’s icing at home, or make sure you’re going to the gym if you’ve been cleared to do some other kinds of exercises,” Van Allen said.
“You’re hurt, but also, you want to keep your mind active too, because a lot of times when players are injured, they don’t feel a huge part of the team because they’re not out on the ice with the guys, so, we try to encourage them to be around the guys, come into the coaches office and talk, and make them be a part of the team as they are,” he added.