BY PAT COSGROVE
Drop the word “pain” in the presence of an athlete, and indubitably a shudder or flash of recognition was stirred deep into the heart. Pain was a phenomenon which for centuries has gone hand-in-hand with competition.
For most athletes, mere participation in a sport required a certain physical and psychological confrontation with pain which could rarely be avoided. Every sport had its own injuries, with the accompanying sensations that rendered an athlete considerably less effective or even totally non-functional in competition. From the rough extreme of football , with the possibility of a muscle pull to spinal cord severance, to a speed and precision game such as tennis where the elbow was particularly susceptible, it was a straight forward, crystal clear maxim: sports begat injury and injury begat pain .
Most athletes quickly grew accustomed to dealing with the pain inherent in their sport. But the effects on performance were extremely diverse. An injury debilitation in one sport could have little or no effect on play I another athletic contest. Football players have been known to stay in the battle with broken bones set shielded with devices designed for athletes by doctors. Patched and protected, participation could continue with little or no loss of effectiveness. Yet in a game such as baseball, an intimidating pitcher or a powerful slugger might be worthless by a mere blister on the fingertip.
In a year filled with competitive ups and downs, many Longhorn athletes butted heads with the play-with-pain menace. Diver Denise Christensen sustained a fractured vertebrae in her lower back in 1981 which kept her out of training for nine months. In her attempt to get back into shape, pain was a major obstacle. “It was hard to start doing things again,” she explained. “I was real cautious and somewhat afraid.” As she progressed, it was pain which continued to cause her problems. “I never knew if I was overdoing it,” she said. In spite of the pain, she just kept “testing it.” When the first meet rolled around, her main concern was blocking everything out, including the discomfort. “Because of the high level of competition, you must just block it out. You know if the dive is a good one, you won’t be hurt again,” Christensen said.
Bob Clary, a three-year letterman in track, grappled with minor but painful injuries over several seasons before bowing to their nagging presence. “Track is funny,” he said, “you can hardly play with even the slightest injury. The lever of competition is that close.” Clary did what he could by slacking off during workouts to save himself for meets. But in the long run, he couldn’t regain a full bill of health. He summed it up very simply, saying “In track, if you’re hurt, you shouldn’t be performing.”
The Longhorn football team had its share of imposing physical performances in the face of extreme pain. Placekicker Raul Allegre turned in one of his key outputs of the season after a considerable struggle just to make the game.. Completely down with bronchitis before the Houston game, he spent the entire day resting in bed. However, as the game got underway, “I just forgot about it,” he said. Allegre booted two crucial field goals enabling the Horns to gain a 14-14 tie. He spent the next four days in the Student Health Center.
Athletes continued to compete in the face of pain because they despised the though of sitting out or felt it was a part of the game. “You just suck it up,” said Rick McIvor, Longhorn quarterback.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking injuries of the year occurred to defensive lineman Kenneth Sims and key forward Mike Wacker. Sims was out for the season and with his injury went all hopes for the Heisman Trophy. After Wacker underwent crucial knee surgery, the previously undefeated basketball team skidded to a halt, dropping 11 of the last 13 games.
Longhorn tailback Rodney Tate held a decidedly upbeat view on the haunting pain associated with athletics. After suffering a severe thigh bruise against Texas Tech, he spent several days in the Student Health Center and then returned to action in considerable pain. “The main thing is to forget about it,” he said. “The first time you get the ball, you’ll be thinking about it, but once you’ve been hit, you’ve got to get right up again. To keep getting up after the knocks you’ve got to concentrate,” Tate said.
Rodney Tate’s attitude reflected a personal philosophy on life; “ To be successful, in football and in live, nothing is going to be easy. Playing with pain is part of the game.”
In addition to Pat Cosgrove’s observation of how and why players play through the pain, I would like to add that the possibility of losing a starting position on the team is another key motivator to play hurt. The next article deals with Ragan GENNUSA’s successful struggle to overcome pain. It is a great and inspiring story.