Four-time Team USA gymnast Riley McCusker will officially be missing the World Championships due to mild rhabdomyolysis diagnosis. Mild rhabdomyolysis is a muscle ailment where muscle tissue suffers damage due to overuse, over exertion, and injury. The most extreme form can lead to kidney damage. This unfortunate diagnosis brings to light the culture of overtraining that is prevalent in MANY sports, with gymnastics being one of them. Mild rhabdomyolysis is a muscle breakdown that isn’t recovering or healing in time for the next workout. Not ALL athletes will end up with this serious diagnosis, but many (to most) athletes will overtrain, leading to muscle cramping, early fatigue, inefficiency and chronic injury. This is where “forced recovery” comes in.
AS AN ATHLETE FIRST, THEN A DOCTOR, I’m not telling you to rest, I’m telling you to force recovery in order to avoid the inevitable.
Overtraining is a real problem, and it is definitely not the athlete’s fault (incredible athletes with discipline and work ethic such as a Riley McCusker will continuously push themselves beyond their limits if they are not told to do otherwise), and you can’t blame a coach, or a trainer, or pinpoint “blame” on anyone when this is a massive cultural problem. When will the overtraining stop, and when will the forced recovery start?
Let’s take Maggie Haney, coach and owner of MG Elite for instance. I as a medical professional and an avid sports fan, know that there is a cloud hanging over Coach Haney right now, and I’m not here to discuss that cloud, because as an athlete, I respect what it takes to be the best at what you do as an athlete OR a coach... It takes a special few to exceed all others’ expectations. However, what I am bringing to light is the culture of gymnastics, and its blatant lack of muscle and mental recovery protocols. As I said, this is a cultural issue and I am not here to point a finger at ANY coaches in the gymnastics community, because I have nothing but the utmost respect for the time, energy and knowledge that they bring to USA Gymnastics -- especially Coach Haney, who has proven herself to be one of the best (if not the best) youth development coaches that gymnastics has seen. Nevertheless, I WILL point a finger at the culture of gymnastics and say that these types of injuries and conditions CAN be prevented. Forced recovery is not “resting” in the negative sense that we sometimes place anything that is not “actively training.” Let’s start thinking and teaching that forced recovery IS training.
My vision for R3 was not only to provide a space dedicated to athletes while providing athletic recovery services, but to make a statement, set a standard, and start a movement... A movement to truly establish sports recovery as a NORM in training regimens. USA Gymnastics athletes train 20, 30+ hours per week, and the best of the best push themselves beyond anything imaginable. BUT WHY do things like this still happen? As we as a society in athletics become more educated and knowledgeable, the “tough it out” culture needs to take a back seat (when it comes to injuries and recovery). It is common knowledge by now that overtraining and training while injured is detrimental not only on a physical level, but also on both a mental and emotional level as well. Riley McCusker’s initial injury that lead to the eventual muscle breakdown that is rhabdomyolysis should have been addressed from the get-go.
Let’s all stop a second to think of the physical pain that Riley McCusker must have been dealing with, to push herself to the point of this diagnosis. Now let’s stop and think about that fact that she is not the only one -- in recent years, an Oregon football player as well as several University of Houston soccer players have been diagnosed as well. The incredible thing about these athletes is that they do as told, they do “what an athlete does,” but the culture is failing them, and this needs to change. Medical professionals with an interest in sports, we have been failing them -- it’s our time to step in and change the culture in order to start preventing these injuries before they even happen, dealing with injuries in the proper manner, adding forced recovery into daily training routines, and monitoring & educating these athletes and their families on the sports recovery process and everything that is encompasses.
USA Gymnastics, this is an opportunity for you, along with Safe Sport to rise up and work with the qualified medical community regarding forced recovery and to FORCE PERFORMANCE RECOVERY SYSTEMS INTO ALL OF THE TRAINING of your thousands of USA gymnastics certified clubs. As mentioned before, I am an athlete first, and a doctor second, so I do believe in the need for extensive training in order to perform at the highest levels. I acknowledge the need for 20-30+ hour training weeks for gymnasts in levels 8 through elite. I am not pulling this rug from underneath you, but I am suggesting we slide a new rug underneath, and one that combines the incredible training methodologies of USA Gymnastics that has made the USA a shining star in the world, but then add a systematic forced recovery protocol that will only support our reign of world dominance beyond the years of the #GOAT Simone Biles.