In The Ring - The Hardest Aerial Discipline; Self Care During an Injury / January 2019

Windsor Circus School Presents

 

IN THE RING

 

Photo above of Erikka Johnson, taken by Joe Symchychyn

 

January 2019 issue written by:

Erikka Johnson

Senior Aerial Instructor

 

A foreward from Amber Brien, Lyra Instructor and Blog Editor:

Erikka Johnson is a senior level aerial silks instructor and performer. Her passion and commitment to the art form is evident through her movement and teachings.
Thank you Erikka for all you bring to the community at the Windsor Circus School. 

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It was a crisp fall evening in mid-October, a perfect night to fly. Hired to perform at a corporate
event, I was excited, warmed up, and only five minutes into my first of three ten-minute aerial
silks sets when I heard it. As I set up one of my favourite poses, a simple yet dynamic split,
there came an audible, nauseating POP from the back of my good split leg.
What just happened?
In the moment I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I was suddenly suspended mid-air and not only
was I unable to hold my split, but I was also struggling to breathe. Any pressure on my injured-
side foot caused searing pain to shoot down my entire leg.
The show must go on.
Somehow, I mustered the strength to continue and finish that set. As I came down for my first
planned intermission, the obviously concerned production manager asked me if I would be able
to continue.
I could have said, “I think I just tore my hamstring.”
I could have said, “I should rest.”
I could have said, “No.”
What I actually said was, “Yeah! I’m totally fine. I think I’m just a little tight… It is a bit cold in
here.” And then I proceeded to finish the remainder of my three sets.
I went home that night and applied every form of self-care that I knew of – heat, ice,
compression, elevation, taping – all the while, desperately hoping this was a simple pulled
muscle, an overnight inconvenience, a minor injury that would feel better before the next night’s
show.
Unfortunately, when I woke up the next morning, I could barely stand or sit. Any movement or
pressure on my injured leg was excruciating. I had to come to terms with the harsh reality that
this was not a silly pulled muscle. I had severely hurt myself. I needed rest. So like any
responsible athlete in the wake of an injury, I emailed my physiotherapist, rolled out the muscle,
taped it up…
…and performed that night's show.
Again, I woke the next morning in severe pain. It was so much worse and had escalated to
limiting function in my leg. After an honest discussion with my physiotherapist, it was clear that I
had indeed torn a muscle, and it would take weeks, if not months (depending on my behaviour)
to resolve. A familiar panic set in. I WAS INJURED – and I was also finally accepting that I had a
choice to make. I could continue to push through the pain. I could keep training and risk the
long-term health of my body. Or I could rest.
Why it even felt like a choice, I couldn’t tell you. There was only one right answer and no matter
how obvious, it was still agonizing. In the end, the difficulty I faced in making my decision to rest
and heal brought me clarity. I began to ask myself: What was this attachment I felt towards

training? What was driving my feelings of panic? What was compelling me to even consider
hurting the only body I have to keep training on an injury that would be totally healed after a
period of rest?
Finally and most importantly, my introspection brought me to: How could I make use of this
injury to drive my personal growth and development? And: What example did I want to set for
my students who trust me to keep their own bodies safe in the air?
I knew that I needed a plan. I looked around the studio at so many students and teachers alike,
all managing a gamut of injuries themselves, and turned my questions on them. When I asked
other experienced aerialists if they had ever been injured as a result of training, the answer was
unanimously, “Yes”. When I followed up by asking how many had continued to train on said
injuries, I was unsurprised to find that they all had. It seemed I was not alone!
In that moment, I recognized an opportunity. I committed to rethink how I was treating my body
and model healthy habits for my students. I kicked off the next week’s class with a frank
discussion about the driving emotions that arise when faced with the prospect of not training.
For some, it was the fear of missing out. For others, it was the fear of falling behind. The fear of
losing strength; the fear of being left out from a community you feel included in. We talked about
how being injured can make you feel isolated from an activity that helps you to relieve stress.
And finally we talked about how our own self-image and ego can lead us to making bad choices
about our self-care.
I had brought the discussion to my students with the intention of helping them to reflect on their
own injuries and practice, but in the end, I took comfort in finding others that felt just like me.
Dealing with injuries is a vulnerable experience, which is why I believe so many of us struggle to
accept and appropriately handle them. What we must learn to understand is that our bodies tell
us when we need rest. To ignore those signs is to risk permanent damage. As I intend to have a
long, strong aerial practice, it is now time for me to share with you my plan to value my body.
I commit to:
Listen for the difference between good soreness and pain
Hear my body’s pain as a sign that something is WRONG
Not train on a damaged muscle
Look for signs that fatigue is setting in and the day’s practice is done
See a professional body worker that I trust (in my case I have a super incredible sports PT)
Continue to train things that do not cause me pain
Share my injury with my coach so that they can help to keep me safe
Warm up before doing any physical activity
Talk to my coach or aerial crew if when I am struggling emotionally with not being able to train
the way that I want
Have a long aerial career because I take care of the very structure that I rely on to get me there


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