A few years ago, I worked with a young high school runner who experienced severe Achilles tendon pain every time he ran too long or too hard. His parents and three different coaches all wanted him to recover, yet pressure from this group of adults for him to continue running was also very strong. Fortunately, one of the coaches recognized there was a problem and asked me to help with a pool training program.
As I began working with this high school runner, I told him to stop running completely and let his Achilles tendon recover. I also suggested a new doctor.
However, his parents and school coaches were not on board for this "unusual" approach of allowing an injury to heal. There were the standard protests about the team needing this runner, getting noticed by colleges, and that old standby argument: "he loves running so much" that we could not force him to stop.
Needless to say, everyone was impatient with the slow pace, and this young runner lasted only a few weeks in my program. My telling him not to run wasn't what anyone wanted to hear.
Yet even when exercising at low levels in the non-weight-bearing environment of the pool, this young man still had to be careful. Unfortunately, the agenda for him was out of my hands. He eventually disappeared from my schedule and continued to run and work out.
Six months later, I learned that he had developed so much pain walking was difficult. The family consulted a new doctor, who recommended surgery.
Whether or not he continued running, this young runner may still have needed surgery. But the fact that he would not stop running, and that the adults in his life were not as adamant as I was that all running be immediately stopped, means we all failed.
This story demonstrates what can happen when too many coaches and agendas mean no one - and everyone - is in charge. It also makes one wonder: why do we push through pain? Unfortunately, this talented runner's push to continue running, with correspondingly poor results, did nothing for his team, nothing for his college prospects, and certainly did nothing for his long-term health.
As it stands currently, a year and a half later, this athlete is still sidelined. I would bet everything I have, double or nothing, that in every state and every town in this country, this exact scenario is currently playing out. The question remains: why?