Strongman Rob Kearney gives tips for maintaining a positive mentality after a major injury.

How To Maintain A Positive Mentality

October 3, 2020 was the day that changed the trajectory of my strongman career. Up until that day I felt invincible. Sure, I had my share of strains, sprains, tendonitis, aches, pains, and everything else, but I had never had a major injury. I began the sport of strongman in 2009 at the age of 17. I was young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited, and ready to tackle anything. I had seen friends, competitors, and mentors get injured time and time again but always thought “that won't be me.”

Attempting to Break the Log Press World Record

I was prepared to set a new American Log Press record and break the current Log Press World Record of 502lb on October 3, 2020. Training had gone perfectly for this event and I felt as if the World Record was within my grasp.

In June of 2020, I set a new American Log Press record of 476lb, and two weeks prior to my World Record attempt I pressed 480lb in training. Needless to say, confidence was not an issue. The stage was set, and I was well-rested, recovered, and firing on all cylinders. Warm-ups were easy, and the weight jumps were decided.

The opening attempt of 420lb flew off my chest and was a nice opener. The second attempt of 455lb felt just as effortless. The next jump was 220kg (486lb), a new PR for me, but I wasn’t scared. I stepped up, had a great clean and I missed the press. I wasn’t fast enough under the log for my jerk, so I regrouped and decided to take the same weight for my 4th attempt. I got the start command and gave it my all. The clean felt stronger and I went for the press…then pop.

Handling an Injury

I knew immediately that I had ruptured the tricep tendon of my left arm. Having been in the sport of strongman for so long—with a master’s degree in Athletic Training—I knew the signs and symptoms of injuries like this. I grabbed my arm, not necessarily due to pain, but more out of disbelief. In a year that has been socially horrible but was one of my best as a strongman, I felt 2020 was MY year. It was MY year to finally achieve the goals I had set for myself.

Immediately after the injury I set off to the Emergency Room to confirm what I already knew. A few days later, the MRI made it official. My “distal tricep tendon rupture” put an immediate end to what I had hoped to be my most successful year. After hearing and seeing the diagnosis, I realized I could handle this in two ways: 

  1. be negative and emotionally draining, or
  2. be positive, accept reality, and work harder.

Choosing a Positive Mindset

After a day of choosing option 1, I decided to switch gears to option 2. I needed to accept what had happened to me and begin the transition to rehabbing for a strong comeback. Outcomes are better when a patient has a positive outlook on surgery/rehab. Right off the bat, if your mindset is positive after an injury, you will more than likely have a better outcome after surgery and when returning to your sport.

Setback to Comeback

I also recognized that in the sport of strongman, injuries such as these are not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”... and my “when” is now. I had made up my mind that this setback was only going to get me ready for a major comeback. I am in control of what happens next and how I treat this process. While it does suck, it only makes us grow as athletes and as people. 

Shifting the Focus

Having a positive outlook on a grim situation not only helps us process the injury better, but it also starts seeping into everyday life. If you can have a great outlook after a devastating injury, then it is easy for that outlook to bleed into the rest of your life. Focusing on the positives of each situation will help make everything a bit more bearable. Being able to take the time after an injury to focus on my marriage and my health, and enjoying more than just the gym has been amazing. Yes, I miss training hard. I miss the pain of the workouts and I miss seeing the results. But happiness comes in many different forms, and right now I am happy.

Each day I wake up I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given through the sport of strongman. I get to travel the world, meet amazing people, and get to experience life in a way most are not able to…and for that, I am grateful. Being able to lift and exercise as a career is something I will never take for granted. These are all factors that have led me on this path of positivity throughout my rehab process. While the tear is unfortunate and most certainly a setback, injuries will never define how I respond.

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