Editor’s Note: Ava Cowan, a top IFBB Figure Athlete, sustained a serious neck injury that required surgery and had her bed-ridden for months. Ava has kept this struggle quiet, but she is ready to get her strength back and wants to share the journey with us. If I know Ava, this will be a real, raw, inspirational experience for all of us. Ava will be checking in each Monday. We hope you’ll follow along.
Where to begin?
For purposes of this blog, I am not going to go into the details of what exactly happened to me in March 2013. I did suffer an injury that was the result of an incident in which I was struck in the head by a large moving object. It resulted in head and neck issues, including a concussion and a herniated disc. As a result of the incident and in order to resume life as I knew it, I was left making a very serious decision to proceed with the recommended surgery to replace a herniated cervical disc in my neck with a prosthetic implant. I felt absolutely terrified, because I knew how long it would likely take to recover. I was fearful of losing my livelihood, life as I knew it and the ability to pursue all of the things professionally I wanted to coming off of the Arnold. I am sure it is known the amount of work that is involved getting into competitive condition, and I knew all would be lost being immobile.
And that is exactly what happened, and rather fast! It seems like I had finally got my groove onstage, which took me eight years, in all fairness, to finally achieve. For me personally, it was hard to look at all of my previous competition pictures, because I would see time and again how much better I needed to be, especially with my presentation. I was satisfied with my 2013 Ms. Figure International showing–all the way around actually. Through that competition I finally figured out just how involved the presentation portion of the prep needed to be to make my performance solid. As it turns out, 50% of my time and efforts were focused on mental preparedness and posing. In summary, I discovered that I needed to pose up to 2 hours daily starting 3 months out from the competition. I mention this, because I was in really impeccable shape and would have liked to keep that momentum going forward in additional shows throughout this year. I soon discovered that was now off the table as a result of my injuries.
The decision was made
There were parts of this situation that were not easy for me. The procedure was immensely painful and the pain management specialists had difficulty stabilizing the pain post-surgery. I was in bed for approximately six weeks wearing a neck brace, and I had a three-inch cut front and center on my throat. There was limited moving while the bones formed around the newly placed disc. Once it was determined that the procedure was a success, I then started a three month physical therapy program that included being seen three days a week to rebuild the muscles that supported my neck, back and cervical spine.
The post competition circumstances were difficult, because I was now dealing with extreme emotions such as devastation, resentment, anger and physical pain from my injuries. In truth, I felt lost. To go from what I consider one of the most prominent Figure competitions in the world to immobility only a month later was overwhelming.
Before it got better, it did get worse
I was not and could not possibly be myself. The only thing that seemed to make me feel better was eating. So, as a result of my injuries and resulting emotional state, I ate. My normal unaltered rationale was completely gone, and once I was in bed in that state, I stopped caring. There was no part of me that had any desire to care. A large part of me wanted to give up on a lot of things that really mattered to me. However, there was another very unwavering part of me that was dead adamant to get better. Truth be told, I was in an emotional state that no matter what, I will never allow to happen again. The consequences were too high.
Where is everything now?
The thee-inch scar on the front of my neck is healing slowly, and so is my spirit. This has been the single worst experience of my life without question. So, how do you turn it around? And what will make you do so? That answer is something I am really searching hard for. This hardcore no matter what sense of resolve is a bit elusive today. I know it is time to rebuild, and I alone am the only person that can make this happen.
So, here is the plan
Emotionally, I am coming out of that dark place, and it’s time to turn this all the way around. I am just going to get up each day and move, in accordance with the advice of my healthcare providers. That simple act is something I used to take for granted, but just doing that can be painful. My hips and other joints hurt with exercise, and oddly, the bottoms of my feet are tender from not walking on them for so long.
But, I am going to keep standing up until it stops hurting
I am one week back into the gym, and September 12, 2013 marks the day I am dead on counting my macros and carefully hitting daily goals. I bring two varying resistance bands to the gym and use them instead of some of the machines. The gym where I train has older equipment, so I improvise a large number of chest and back exercises using the bands. Once I completed physical therapy, I noticed my neck was uncomfortable—keeping those supporting muscles in shape is vital to my recovery and getting on with it.
There is one thing I want to mention as a side note. I know it’s important to reach your physical goals, but could we as women also not detest ourselves so much over it? I am currently in contact with multiple women that I coach online and now have the unique experience of connecting with them on so many levels. These relationships have given me insight as to just how hard so many of us are on ourselves regarding our weight. If there was one single message I could convey and take away from this experience is that your weight does not define who you are.
As a result of my injuries, emotional and physical, from the incident, I have never weighed this much in my entire life. It’s going to take more effort now than at any other time in my life to get back into fitness model shape. I do have that goal, and I intend to get there. But, I refuse to beat myself up along the way. There was a time when I was severely negatively affected by what the scale said when I stepped on it in the morning. Yes, it impacted how I felt about myself, and it was truly upsetting. But, life happens, and today, I refuse to let the incident and my resulting injuries add any more stress into my life. As I heal, emotionally and physically, I am not going to spend one day imposing that kind of self-loathing. The way I come to terms with this longer than ever transformation is that I am choosing to focus only on today.
What are my macro goals…today?
What are my food choices…today?
What do I have to do in the gym…today?
What spiritual and mindful exercises will I practice to keep my life in balance and in perspective….today?
That is my daily focus. No more, no less. Certainly not that I have six months of being hungry right out in front of me. This is one method that, without question, works for me. I am not my body, but I also don’t want to remain out of shape and weak as a result of my injuries. Yes, my physicality is very much a part of my identity. Achieving that goal will invariably positively affect my mood and self-image. It did so years ago, and I can only imagine it will help my morale now.
I am going to get it all back, and I sincerely hope you join me on my journey over the next six months. I will have a weekly blog here only on FitnessRx For Women. If you are just starting to get into shape as well, maybe we can do this together. I would very much like that. I am “in”.