Dealing With Downtime from Injury: Tips from a Lifelong Athlete

Helscel competes in the Columbus Marathon, one of many long distance races she’s completed.
Helscel competes in the Columbus Marathon, one of many long distance races she’s completed. Kristy Helscel
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This content is sponsored by OrthoCarolina.

When Kristy Helscel, a post-graduate fellow with OrthoCarolina headed for medical school, hurt her hip last December, she learned a valuable lesson that many active types have to face at one point or the other: Sometimes, the most difficult part of injury recovery is mental, not physical.

Shortly after completing the hilly course of the Huntersville Half Marathon in December 2015, Helscel, a lifelong athlete who ran her first half-marathon at 15, began to notice something wasn’t right. At first, her hip only hurt while running. Then just walking and sitting became painful. Knowing the importance of rest, Helscel cut back on running, but the pain continued, forcing her to cut back on other activities like CrossFit.

After a rigorous round of physical therapy and months of reduced activity, Helscel faced surgery—a daunting prospect for many athletes—to repair her torn labrum, the rubbery cartilage around the hip joint.

The always on, always active Helscel now faced a long downtime and a difficult transition. “I was going nuts,” she says of those days without running. “What am I going to do now?”

The lifelong athlete was suddenly sidelined from the sports she loved, and needing a new outlet for her energies, Helscel found solace in yoga, especially classes offered outdoors around Charlotte. She’s a regular at the yoga series at the USNWC and rooftop classes at the Epicenter, as well as classes at breweries around Charlotte (a pint after your poses, anyone?). She also takes advantage of the many green spaces around uptown Charlotte, like Romare Beardon and Freedom Parks, and loves to unroll her mat on the quiet little beach areas of Jetton Park. Along the way, she has met many others who have turned to yoga during the downtime of injury.

Helscel's world was turned upside down when a hip injury kept her from being active for the first time in her life.
    Kristy Helscel
Helscel's world was turned upside down when a hip injury kept her from being active for the first time in her life. Kristy Helscel

In addition, yoga has given Helscel a new perspective. “I’ve become more mindful and appreciative of simple things like going on a walk or getting outside,” she says.

Eventually, Helscel hopes to return to running. It’s one of many active-minded pursuits has enjoyed since growing up in Columbus, Ohio. Although she was competitive in lacrosse, horseback riding, and field hockey—for which she was eventually recruited by Davidson College in North Carolina—she says she played “every sport under the sun.”

Breweries like Sycamore make great use of their outdoor space for weekly yoga classes.
Breweries like Sycamore make great use of their outdoor space for weekly yoga classes. NC Yoga Bar

Eventually, she discovered long-distance running. At the age of 15, Helscel ran her first half marathon. Moving up to the full 26.2 miles was a natural progression and she completed that goal, almost by accident, at the age of 20.

“I didn’t anticipate running the full marathon,” Helscel says. “But [the half] was full so I signed up for the full and thought, ‘We’ll see how far I can go’.”

She crossed the finish line with no problem, and her passion for distance running continued to grow, especially the cathartic mental aspect that offered a refreshing antidote to her long hours on the road for sporting events. “I enjoy the alone time and the somewhat meditative component running brings, so it continued to be a big part of my life,” she says.

Yoga offers Helscel both the solitude of long runs and the community of other athletes dealing with injuries.
    Kristy Helscel
Yoga offers Helscel both the solitude of long runs and the community of other athletes dealing with injuries. Kristy Helscel

And nowadays, Helscel is discovering that when it comes to finish lines—whether they come during a race or at the end of a long recovery—it’s not always about speed. “I would be the type of person to jump back into it too quickly,” she says. “I’m learning patience and trying to take it as slow as possible.”

Want to give outdoor yoga a try? Here are some of Helscel’s top picks around Charlotte:

  • Practice in the heart of Uptown Charlotte’s steel canyon on the open air setting of Rooftop 210. Monday night’s class fee includes a yoga session and a post-stretch cocktail.
  • Olde Mecklenburg brewery has one of the best outdoor spaces in the city, and it’s put to good use on Tuesday nights. The Yoga on Tap series features a different teacher each week and includes an OMB beer.
  • As the focal point of all things outdoors in Charlotte, the USNWC does open air yoga right. Participants stretch out on a large wooden deck surrounded by a forest of poplar trees. The center offers multiple classes weekly and during special events.

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