Via competition or accident, athletes' bodies can give out

High-level athletic competition is all about pushing one’s body to the peak of human performance, trying to get every drop of ability out of one’s muscles, bones, and tendons. Unfortunately, putting this amount of strain on a body day in and day out for the many years of training it takes to play competitively also leaves athletes susceptible to gruesome injuries that the average person could barely imagine.

NBA great and Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, new Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Zach Greinke, and University of Louisville guard Kevin Ware have all experienced serious injuries in the last two weeks that will take several months of arduous recovery for them to even think about practicing again, much less playing at the same level they once did. These injuries all took place on fairly routine plays and actions, and they have served to showcase the fragility of the human body when pushed to its limits.

Bryant, in his 17th season with the Los Angeles Lakers, was supposed to be reaching the twilight of his career. The cast of all-stars the Lakers have assembled has spent almost as much time in the training room as on the court. This has left the Lakers in a position not really known to them in Bryant’s time in Los Angeles: on the outside of the playoffs, looking in.

Bryant has refused to lose and has been playing over 45 minutes a game. But while this succeeded in pulling the Lakers into the playoffs, he pushed his body to the limit.

Friday night, his body gave out, and his left Achilles’ tendon ruptured with three minutes left in a game against the Golden State Warriors. It was on a step that he had taken millions of times before, but this time his body could not take the stress any more. Bryant now has to determine if it is worth the projected six- to nine-month recovery to return to game shape at age 35 for what he previously claimed would be his last season.

Greinke was the latest addition in the Dodgers’ spending spree after they were bought by a new ownership group led by NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Greinke was signed to give depth to a rotation headlined by ace Clayton Kershaw.
He is known to have bit of a temper and has had a history with San Diego Padres outfield Carlos Quentin. Quentin’s batting stance leaves him leaning slightly over the plate, causing him to rank near the top of batters hit by pitches each year. Back in 2008 and 2009 — when Greinke was with the Kansas City Royals and Quentin with the division rival Chicago White Sox — Greinke hit Quentin twice. At the time, Quentin told everyone that he would retaliate if Greinke hit again.

Fast forward to last Thursday, when the Dodgers and the Padres squared off and Greinke hit Quentin for the third time in their careers. Given the one-run game and a full count, it seems unlikely the hit was intentional. But that didn’t stop Quentin from taking offense and starting to walk toward the mound. After yelling a few words at Greinke, Quentin looked ready to just walk to first until Greinke responded by yelling back. Quentin then charged the mound and, in the ensuing tackle and benches-clearing brawl, broke Greinke’s collar-bone.

Greinke is out for the next six to eight weeks, but Quentin was only suspended for eight games. This disparity has made Quentin No. 1 on Dodgers fans’ list of most-hated players.

While understandable, the injury is just one of the flukes of having pumped-up, emotional athletes together in the heat of competition. While what happened is unfortunate, it is just as much Greinke’s fault for fueling Quentin’s anger as it is Quentin’s for charging the mound.

Ware’s story is by far the saddest of all. Ware is a guard for the Louisville Cardinals, NCAA Champions. He was a reserve, coming off of the bench to give some of the Cardinals’ great players — those with surefire NBA careers — a rest. But during the regional finals matchup with the Duke Blue Devils, Ware became the nation’s most well-known college basketball player. With about six minutes left in the first half, Ware jumped out to contest a three-point shot by Blue Devil Tyler Thornton.

When he landed, the entire arena come to a silent halt as his lower right leg snapped and popped out of his skin. His teammates were in tears, but in this moment of ultimate anguish for Ware, his legend was born. Ware, instead of focusing on himself, began to encourage his teammates, repeating over and over again, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. You guys go win this thing.”

This soft-spoken bench player suddenly became the emotional leader for his entire team, showing the true meaning of being a team player. He has since been an inspirational story to the nation, staying positive and using this terrible situation to propel his team to the championship game, even being the last one to cut down the nets after Louisville’s final win over Michigan.

Ware is confident he can return, but whatever happens from here, this young man has written the book on how to spin adversity into triumph and how to rise to the occasion while facing the worst of situations.

All of these athletes watched their livelihoods, their bodies, give out on them through freak accidents. They face doubts on how well they can return: Bryant is facing the end of his career; Greinke has to return and excel at possibly the most unnatural sports activity, pitching; and Ware has to try and recover from having his leg literally fail underneath him.
But then, each player put in hundreds of thousands of hours to reach where they were in the first place — what’s another few months of physical therapy?