Perception -> Reality: How Tommy John, a labrum surgery, and a failed baseball career helped me be
a better thrower by Liam Kahn
This Through the Point blog post was guest-written by Liam Kahn. I (Scott) greatly appreciate him taking the time to write it and be willing to share his story below
For the majority of you reading this that have no idea who I am: my name is Liam Kahn and I’m a graduate student and javelin thrower at Duke University. I’ve been friends with Scott for a few years now and so when he asked if I’d like to write a blog for Through the Point, of course, I said yes. So here it
Before I begin, let me give a very brief timeline of my collegiate athletic career. If you want to hear a more in-depth version of this story, feel free to reach out or check out my Instagram where I give more
Undergraduate Studies — Butler University (Indianapolis, IN)
Freshman Year: Walk-on to baseball team as a pitcher, turned to knuckleballer, redshirt.
Sophomore Year: Get cut from team 3 days before first game of the year, decide to continue training.
Junior Year Fall: Go to walk-on tryouts and walk-on to team a second time. Get approached by track
coach to try high jump. Initially say no.
Junior Year Spring: Realize I don’t enjoy baseball anymore, quit the team. Walk-on to the track team as
a jumper. See someone throwing jav, ask if I can try it because it looks fun. 5 weeks later, go to NYC for
Big East Conference and throw a PR of 59.87m and get second.
Senior year: Fall in love with the javelin, train incredibly hard. October rolls around and I tear my labrum and fracture my shoulder during a lift. Get surgery two weeks later. Rehab all year. 2 days before the first meet, COVID-19 cancels all NCAA sports.
At this point, I had made the decision to do a grad transfer year at Duke.
Graduate Studies — Duke University (Durham, NC)
5th year: Train hard with my team all fall, feeling prepared to throw far in the spring. December comes along, I throw and feel a pop in my elbow. Completely torn UCL. End up missing the entire season (although I did long jump in 2 meets because why not). And that brings us to this present time, where I am still rehabbing back from the torn UCL, and training hard to hopefully do something great next year. And as you can see, my career has not been linear nor has it been “fun.” But I have learned A LOT from the experiences I’ve had. And that brings me to what I want to write about today: how your perception can completely change your reality.
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Perception is defined as “a way of interpreting and understanding something.” It’s the way you view the world and everything in it, and shapes all the experiences of your life. And it’s unique to every person. What happens to you may not always be in your control, but how you react is completely up to you.
I still have a vivid memory of sitting in the baseball coach’s office at Butler as I was getting cut from the team, and I can hear exactly what he said to me. “You’re at a crossroads now where you can either quit or try and figure out how to come back, it’s up to you.” The reality of the situation was that I was no longer a member of the Butler baseball program and that I had nowhere to train and no coach. But my perception of the situation was that this was a bump in the road. And that perception led to me training for that whole summer in Indianapolis with people I became lifelong friends with and walking back onto the team that next fall. I perceived being cut from the team as an opportunity rather than a reason to give up, and now I look back at that experience as one of my biggest growth periods of my life, along with a fun summer of training.
Fast forward a year to when I’m on the track team, and I tear my labrum along with fracturing my left shoulder while doing a lift. Initially I was extremely upset and defeated; the doctor had told me I would likely miss most if not all of the upcoming season. But after talking to my coach at Butler along with my javelin coach at the time (Kevin Foster or as many know him Javelin Anatomy), I realized that this was, again, nothing but a bump in the road. I did my rehab religiously 6 days a week, and ended up being cleared 3 days before the first meet of the year, a full 2 months ahead of schedule. Again, one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.
The next day COVID-19 cancelled our season. Yet another bump in the road. And again, I took the time to reevaluate what I needed to throw far the next year. I focused on my diet, my mobility, and my javelin technique. I made huge strides that wouldn’t have occurred had the season happened. And I came to Duke with the hopes of training hard and throwing far.
I trained hard at Duke all fall with my teammates and my coach and made some strides technically and physically. But in December, I was throwing and felt a pop in my elbow. A full UCL tear requiring surgery 3 weeks later. And out of all the bumps in the road, this one was the toughest. It’s an intensive operation, demanding months of rehab and hard work. Although I loved cheering for my teammates, it was hard to see everyone competing when I couldn’t be out there. There were times my motivation dwindled and I felt defeated, and times that I grew incredibly impatient just wanting to get out there and do what I love to do. In fact, I’m still going through this experience, doing rehab multiple times a week. I’m still not allowed to throw a javelin for another month. But I’ve never trained harder than I am currently, because I know that this time is an opportunity for me to grow and get better.
I wouldn’t change my collegiate athletic experience. It sounds crazy to say I’m glad that I was cut from the baseball team, that I missed a season due to COVID, and that I tore my UCL. But all of those things made me who I am today. And through all these hard times, the one thing that’s never changed is the mindset that these experiences will only benefit me down the road. And this is what I want to leave you with.
There are going to be bumps in the road. There are ups and downs in everything we do in life, and especially in the sport of track and field. There are going to be injuries, times of doubt, and numerous other hardships to overcome. But if you can perceive these hardships as opportunities rather than reasons to give up, you may just achieve a reality you never would have thought possible.