Sports and Neurosurgery: Embrace the Suck
It has been a pleasure to be involved with this edition of AANS Neurosurgeon: Sports and Neurosurgery. I was blown away by the insightful and thoughtful nature of each article. Sport and athletic endeavors have a deeply personal meaning for many of us. As I reviewed each submission, I often found myself reflecting on my own experiences. While I was never a champion wrestler, like Dr. Nicholas Szerlip, or an All-American lacrosse player like Dr. Nicholas Szuflita, I have been involved in numerous team and individual sports, both growing up and as an adult. From little league baseball to high school football to running marathons in medical school to my most recent fascination with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts and exercises that aim to maintain proper muscular balance, I have taken away several lessons that I use daily as a neurosurgeon. While this by no means is a comprehensive list of the value of sports, it is what rings true for me.
Learn How to Win
Winning in sports or in life does not happen automatically. It takes hard work and dedication. Not that we are looking to “win” as a surgeon, but we are looking to succeed for our patients. When we succeed, we do so with grace and humility.
Learn How to Lose
More important than knowing how to win is how to accept defeat. While patient care is not a game to lose, there are times when there are complications. We must review the lessons learned and move forward – a critical step in maturing as a person and a surgeon.
Push My Limits
We all hit that point when our body wants to quit, but our spirit tells us to push on. We must listen to that spirit and trust in ourselves that we do have more to give. In neurosurgery, much like working out, there is a time to stop prior to a detrimental event occurring. Knowing the difference between the personal growth that we experience in this zone and the folly that comes by going too far is critical.
We all deal with fear in life; mostly it is the fear of failure. Learning how to have confidence in our skills and abilities propels us to achieve more, but this must be tempered against overconfidence.
Embrace the Suck
Sports, like life, is not all fun. There are times that we have to grind as we work towards our goals. Whether it is a stretch of call, disputes with administration or running sprints, we must embrace the discomforts of life and focus on our purpose for being in that moment. Athletes condition themselves to be ready at the end of the game. Runners will go for a negative split on the second half of their race. As neurosurgeons, we train so that we are ready to perform at the critical juncture of a case in the middle of the night with an emergency. Embracing the suck is a mentality that allows me to not get bogged down with the challenges that life throws at me. This is the lesson that I find I come back to most frequently.
My fourteen-year-old daughter is on a nationally competitive synchronized ice skating team – a sport that I knew nothing about when she started nine years ago. As we leave the house each morning at 0530 to drive to the ice rink for her to practice, I can see these same lessons evolve within her. While I can talk to her about these lessons, which I have, I realize that a person must experience them in order for them to be actualized. Sports provide us this opportunity – the opportunity to win, to lose, to push our limits, to overcome our fear and a chance to embrace the suck. These lessons, once internalized, make us better surgeons and better people.
Figure 1: My daughter competing at the 2019 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships where her team took third in the juvenile division.
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