One of the greatest fears that an athlete can face during their career is an injury, or worse yet a career ending injury. This is a story about that very thing and how it taught me humility, confidence, perseverance and patience.
My name is Derek Woodske, and I am currently the number 5 ranked hammer thrower in North America with a best to date of 70.63m training out of Ashland Ohio with 4X Olympian Jud Logan. This has not always been the case however, during my career as an athlete I have had some great obstacles to overcome to get to this point. I would like to share what it was like to be on the fast track to what I believed was my ultimate goal, only to have it snatched away in a moment, by a career ending injury. Eventually raising again to challenge others’ expectations and exceed my own.
In 1996, I received a scholarship from a very small Junior College in the Pan handle of Idaho. The College was North Idaho College in the beautiful city of Couer D’alene Idaho. I went in throwing 136ft with the 16lb hammer and two seasons later I was a three-time national champion and holder of a 202ft. PR in the event that I had come to love. These accomplishments were a product of amazing coaching (Bryan Rasmussen, University of Washington and Bart Templeman Iron Wood throws Camps) and my relentless desire to overcome the barriers applied to me solely because I was a Canadian kid from a logging town of 250 people in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada. This is a town where you learned to play hockey, and hammers were for carpenters not throwing. However, my perseverance allowed me success at North Idaho, which in turn, opened the doors to the NCAA Div. I world of athletics. I had worked my way to the major leagues of college sport and I was not going to sit around waiting for opportunity!
During my first season at the NCAA Div.1 I improved by leaps in bounds in the 35# weight throw garnering a Canadian National record of 22.76m 13ft beyond what I had done the year before and I represented the University of Wyoming in my first NCAA championships! The season of 99′ was amazing and I could only imagine what the next year would bring. I trained hard that summer in the weight room pushing my parallel back squat to 700lbs and maintained a standing vertical jump of 39″ at a body weight of 263lbs., up 30lbs. from the previous year. I was dreaming of a national title in the weight and a long shot run at Olympic qualifying in the Hammer.
Training was going well during the fall of 99′, but I felt a twinge of pain in my left foot early in September. A pain that would not leave, and for good reason it was a mis-diagnosed stress fracture! I trained through the tenderness, believing that it was a fallen arch. I kept pushing until one day during a practice. I heard what I described as a balloon pop inside my body! The damn had broken and my foot was on fire, I was immediately
rushed to x-rays where they identified a wedge-shaped fracture on the side of my foot. A fracture that would need surgery to repair and inactivity for no less than 10 weeks, I was devastated by the turn of events, having suffered a broken foot already in my career I did not want to under go surgery again. The idea of having metal in both feet really was not too exciting. So it was under the knife I went and Dr. David Kieffer of Gem City Bone & Joint put me back together. I spent the next ten weeks progressively getting better and stronger, having not missed a single weight room work out during that time kept me fresh and positive. I was able to do everything but squats and Olympic lifts, and I could work my right leg and do leg curls with the injured left.
Ten weeks to the day I was back, training throwing and getting ready for the meet at the University of Kansas. I was 11 weeks post surgery and one week clearance from the doctors. I had taken 20 throws with the weight and I was ready to go. I opened my season at 20.40m in Kansas and turned around a week later with a 21.75m at home to earn the number two spot in the nation. “Not bad after having so much time lost to an injury.”
It was 12 weeks to the day that I had broken my foot and I was back training as if I had not missed a beat. I had fallen into the routine of the team, the joking the jousting and the work. Pushing to be the best, forcing improvement through relentless desire to be the one on top of the mountain when it was over. I was in line to do box jumps with all the other athletes, when the idea of jumping the five 36″ boxes without landing on them was presented. I thought about it for a moment, and than with the same blind determination that had gotten me to this point I began the exercise. Jumping the first three boxes without hesitation, and when I loaded to the clear the fourth my right patella tendon
exploded. The force of the injury coiled my knee cap three quarters of the way up my thigh. I fell forward with such force that I smashed my right forearm into the side of the box. Bursting the top off like a cork in a champagne bottle, I fell with all my force to the ground confused and deaf from the overwhelming pain. In what seemed like notches in time, not seconds on a clock, I began to become conscious of my situation and as my hearing returned I cold hear someone screaming. That someone was me.
I knew that I was hurt, and hurt badly. Immediately I began to sweat and go into deep shock, It was all I could do not to get sick in front of the entire track team. Funny really my life is put on pause and all I cared about was not puking in front of an audience.
12 weeks to the day, to the hour of my Jones fracture in my left foot I blow out my right knee. An injury that had not been experienced at the University of Wyoming in eight years. An injury that would worsen in the next two days due to the magnitude of the rupture. I was told by my surgeon that the tendon looked like two mop heads that had to be reconnected, even in the world of knee injuries I insisted on trying to do something others had not. Dr.Kieffer, grafted my quadriceps tendon and placed 12 inches of 16 gage surgical steal in my knee to recreate a patella tendon until mine was well enough to walk on. Something he didn’t see happening for at least 14 weeks.
I began an intensive rehab program two weeks after surgery which would last the next 20 weeks. I had three hours a day Monday to Friday and whatever I could handle on my own during the weekends. Anyone that has been through this process knows that the rehab can be the worst part, and it was. Painful sessions followed by excruciating workouts to get the scar tissue realigned and the wires running through my tibia and around my knee cap to function properly. At week nine we had maxed out the levels of my pain threshold, and it was time for a closed manipulation to break up a lot of the internal adhesions in my knee. I went into surgery, where, they bent my knee well beyond what I could tolerate
while awake. After coming out of this surgery I felt that my chances of returning to sport where lost. I was massively depressed in private and the fact that I could not walk without aid in my right leg brought me to tears on many occasions. I had gone from being world class too unable to walk up or down stairs on my own. Realizing that if I was lucky, I might be able to one day walk without a limp or go skiing like I had done every winter growing up. With the loss of the physical aspect of university life, I had a renewed desire to prioritize my educational perspective, an area I had only put in enough time to keep eligible, and that semester I received my first 3.00GPA. Over the course of the semester, I slowly got stronger and my knee progressed day by day. Now, the focus on something other than track brought out another aspect of my personality I had since forgotten. With a renewed sense of worth my knee began to heal along with my mind. I was unsure if I would be able to throw again, but I was not going to let this thing beat me. At Week 13 I had the wires in my knee removed, and the therapy continued without hesitation. “A week ahead of schedule.” I thought
I soon had developed a more natural walking position and I didn’t have to think every time I picked up my leg. This continued throughout the summer and 32 weeks after my injures had arrived I took the first throw on new legs and with a new more balanced sense of self. The throw didn’t go very far and the thoughts of being All-American were in the recesses of my mind. I had nothing to lose having lost it all already, I just wanted to have some fun and prove to myself that I was able to overcome one of life’s tests.
13 months after my knee surgery I competed at the NCAA national championships where I improved on my ranking to earn 8 th place and an All-American recognition along the way. That spring I “PR” in the hammer by two feet gaining a spot on the Canadian National team representing Canada at the Francaphonie Games. Achievements that slowly put more time between me and the injury that was once described to me by my doctor as a bad hair day. The following fall I took a coaching position with Eastern Michigan University where I continued to rehab my knee on my own, and that spring I picked up the hammer again just for fun . I improved again however, throwing five metes beyond what I had done the year before, a throw that caught the attention of USA Olympic development coordinator Jud Logan. A throw that brought an open invitation to train full time again at Ashland University as a post collegiate with Olympic goals. Imagine that, me training for the Olympics, when 24 months prior I couldn’t walk down a set of stairs without aid.
So without hesitation I took the invitation and, after six months I have surpassed my personal bests on and off the track. With Jud’s coaching I was jumping, running, and throwing further and better than I had ever done in my life. I opened this outdoor season with a 70m throw at the Florida Relays, a personal best and glimpse of the future.
I throw now because I love it, not because I have to win conference or beat a state rival. I throw because I can, and because it reminds me every day of what we can overcome in life with a positive outlook, strong support group and self will. I look forward to the challenges that lay ahead, and pause in recognition of those challenges that I have overcome. I often feel that my success now is more of a product of the injuries than of anything else. I feel that I have learned true patience in life and balance of what is really
important. Now I do well because I want to, not because I have to.
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