In the midst of this past cross country season there was a story we didn’t talk about much.
It involved a senior who probably wasn’t going to be able to finish up the way she hoped.
All season long Erika Douma ran with an injured hip. An injury that prevented her from training anywhere close to the extent that she would have liked to.
An injury that I don’t think any of us really understood the extent of.
Midway through the season a decision had to be made whether to continue with the season or shut it down.
She decided to continue.
Her coaches modified her training to get her through the season.
And she ran.
And she helped her team to a GPAC title.
And she earned all-GPAC honors for a fourth time.
And she finished the season by crossing the finish line at the NAIA National Championship.
And she had surgery to repair the damage this past Christmas break.
And now she’s on the road to recovery.
I sat down with Erika about 10 days ago and gave her the assignment of giving us a glimpse into the season, the injury and now the recovery.
Now that she’s had a little separation from the season I was curious to learn how she looked at her decision to continue with the season.
I’m glad she was gracious enough to give us an inside look at this season.
When You Can’t Come Back
Approximately 350 miles of running were dedicated to my summer cross-country training in hopes for a successful senior year as a Defender runner. As challenging as it may be, I have learned this sport can be very rewarding. Some training days were easier than others, but I had a routine I was determined not to deviate from. I had goals and aspirations for the season to keep me motivated, but most importantly, I knew I had teammates who were counting on me to do my part. Like every race I have competed in, a strong start and gutsy middle to a race is important, but to be successful you need to learn to finish, which is what I wanted to do my senior year.
In mid-August as the 2017 summer was rapidly ending, I approached Coach Wolf and explained I had a sore hip and was planning to cross-train for the day rather than run significant miles with the rest of the team. Little did I know, I would become all too familiar with the exercise room in the rec center rather than logging miles with my teammates.
At first, I was in denial that I was injured after putting in so many miles. Being stubborn, I spent the next several weeks trying to ignore the pain in hopes it would subside.
At first, I was in denial that I was injured after putting in so many miles. Being stubborn, I spent the next several weeks trying to ignore the pain in hopes it would subside. My workouts turned into a combination of running and walking because of the high levels of discomfort. Once classes resumed, I devised weekly training plans with my coach based on how my hip felt and how much pain I could tolerate.
Instead of pounding the pavement each day, I began to use a stationary bike and an elliptical machine more frequently, which resulted in my hip feeling better. This made it possible for me to run several times a week. This training model was not ideal, but would allow me to maintain some degree of cardiovascular conditioning at the beginning of the season. I reasoned this scenario would be temporary in nature, but God had other plans.
In mid-October, the athletic training staff made the decision for me to undergo an MRI in an effort to conclusively identify the extent of the injury. By this time, I was ready to learn the root of the problem. Perhaps we could treat it and I would be able to run with less pain? I had learned to manage pain as I had overcome multiple ailments dating back to high school. Being 6’0 tall is not the ideal body type for a distance runner so I was accustomed to frequent trips to the training room.
The MRI revealed I had a torn labrum of my left hip.
I did not know how to process this because frankly, I did not understand the severity of the injury nor did I know much about it. I just knew when I heard my dad talk about labrum injuries that it was not a good diagnosis. My surgeon presented me essentially with two options: keep running with pain and possibly receive a cortisone injection to help get me through the season or, stop running because the labrum would only continue to tear as I further trained.
That was a very discouraging consultation with the medical staff at CNOS.
I had the goal of earning all-conference and running in the national championships with my team one last time. I think if I were a freshman or sophomore, I likely would have thrown in the towel at that point in an effort to avoid worsening the injury. Going ahead, there were days I would get so frustrated from feeling pain every time I took a step that I contemplated quitting on more than one occasion. However, I had spent the past three years growing, suffering, challenging myself, and running with a group of people that meant a lot to me—I could not quit at this point. The more you invest, the harder it is to surrender and I knew as a senior I could not come back.
However, I had spent the past three years growing, suffering, challenging myself, and running with a group of people that meant a lot to me—I could not quit at this point. The more you invest, the harder it is to surrender and I knew as a senior I could not come back.
Coach Wolf periodically addressed how we as a team should run for God, each other and for the gold Dordt jersey. God had given me this passion and gift – along with some hard-headedness – not to quit. I felt His strength would be sufficient and would carry me through the remainder of the season. With my focus back on winning another GPAC team title and running in the national championships a fourth and final time, I took it one race at a time. At the beginning of each race. I would say a prayer asking for the strength to simply complete my run. The Lord truly did sustain me the remainder of the season.
Many times, struggles and setbacks have the potential to bring about growth and development. God illustrated more to me through this injury than anything I have experienced before in athletics. I remind myself of that as I currently struggle to recover following surgery three weeks ago.
Not surprisingly, the surgeon found more damage during the procedure than what the MRI in October revealed. I understood that would likely be the case when I made the decision to continue running. That said, I would make the same decision again. The experience of competing and pushing limits with and for teammates and coaches far outweighs a lengthier rehabilitation process.
Shortly after surgery, one of my family members kindly asked the nurse the process the surgeon uses to dislocate the hip so he can fix the damage. The nurse smiled and replied, “That is something you really do not want to know.” We did not ask many questions after that. We are grateful God blesses intelligent doctors and surgeons with the means to help improve the quality of life for others. After a painful first week of recovery, I am reminded of God’s goodness and the never-ending support system I have in my life. In the grand scheme of things, running is simply a sport but this activity has led me to grow, challenge myself and truly see the depths of God’s goodness and faithfulness, even when athletics and seasons of life do not go as we have envisioned. In short, I learned more about my Creator and myself through my athletic experiences as any class I have taken.
In the grand scheme of things, running is simply a sport but this activity has led me to grow, challenge myself and truly see the depths of God’s goodness and faithfulness, even when athletics and seasons of life do not go as we have envisioned. In short, I learned more about my Creator and myself through my athletic experiences as any class I have taken.
I am grateful for the coaches and teammates that have invested in me and will dearly miss the joy of running with a pack of teammates next fall when I cannot come back.