There comes a time in every athlete's career where they are faced with a choice. You either sit on the sidelines and watch or you chase innovation, you chase your dreams, you set goals and keep working hard. No matter what life throws in your face, there is always a way around any obstacle.
While this is such a basic concept, there is a list of only a few elite athletes that truly understand this concept. People like Michael Jordan, Sydney Crosby, Shaun White, Ryan Villopoto, Kelly Slater, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods and others. Being an elite athlete doesn’t mean that you are just really good at a sport. There are many athletes that are really, really good at a particular sport, but aren’t seen as "elite."
Being elite is taking that extra step, having your mind, spirit and body in sync, working out for an extra 20 minutes, getting to bed early instead of going to the bar, waking up early so that you can get the butter sets, eating right, studying film and the list could go on and on. When you’re elite, it's your whole life. Pleasure quickly turns into business when you are on an elite stage. While some people are sitting on the sidelines, others are chasing new tricks and new gold medals.
That's who I want to be. I want to be just like Shaun White, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. I want to chase my dreams and accomplish things that people say are impossible. I want to be the guy that when all odds are against him, he rises from the bottom and shocks everyone. When it’s time for me to forever hang up my board, I want to look back and know that I really went for it and I want to go down in history as one of the best ever.
Now, will that ever happen? Will I ever be remembered as "the best ever?" Who knows? I will never know how people perceive me now and in 10 years, but I'm going to do my best to never be forgotten.
Now, while some riders are chasing down new tricks and gold medals, there is one word that lingers in every elite athlete's head; injury. This is a word that is like nails on a chalkboard to athletes. It’s a word that is always, always in the back of our minds. In some people’s minds, I think it controls them and this is why they stop their chase in progression. They get comfortable with where they are and they know that as they try new things, the risk of injury increases. But this isn’t enough for me.
It's not enough to learn ten tricks and be satisfied. I always want to be learning and pushing forward and being on the brink of a whole new level. Kelly Slater said it best: "I want to be a better surfer when I’m 30 than when I’m 20." This is exactly how I want to be. I want to always be pushing myself to the next level. While doing this, sometimes athletes, unfortunately, get injured. When you're on the pursuit of progression, injury is nearly inevitable. Every top performing athlete gets injured unless you're sitting on the bench. It's the way the game works. The injury doesn’t define the athlete, but how they are able to bounce back in their head is what defines them.
Recently, I suffered from my first major injury that is wakeboarding related, tearing my ACL. It’s been a week since the fall and so far it sucks – really, really bad. It’s going to be a hard road.
In my eyes, there comes a time in every athlete's career when they have to re-prove themselves, almost like lions in a pride. Sometimes the leader has to re-prove his worthiness. The last two years of my career I have used my time wisely winning the Jr. Pro Tour, as well as winning Rookie of the Year, Trick of the Year and a couple top three finishes in my rookie pro season. But now, it’s my time to re-prove myself, to show my worthiness to the industry.
When some people get injured, they get scared and slowly start to fade out of the industry and they are gone as fast as they came in. I know the question on everybody’s mind, "Will he ever be as good as he was before?" I have been thrown into the wolf pit, chewed up and spit right back out. But in my mind, there is no end to what I can do. I have to give more attention to my dreams than my fears and that's how you stay ahead of the game. There is no feeling sorry for myself and getting down and feeling bad. This is business and in business you lose some and you win some, but you always live to fight another day. I will rise from the dark abyss and get back to the top as I have done the last two years. Does this mean that I'll dominate the contest scene my first year back? Maybe, maybe not. But it does mean that I will continue to move forward, focus on what I need to do to get back to the water and keep striving toward my goals.
This situation brings a lot of anger to my mind. Now, there are six more months that I can't go out and continue to establish myself within the industry. But this situation has given me a new drive and a new level of confidence and comfort within myself. I know now that I am not indestructible and the injury itself leaves a burning inferno in my soul and a new ambition to come back stronger than ever and continue the pursuit of my dreams. With a serious injury I can see how it is easy for the injured to drive deeper and deeper into themselves with all of the questions, discomfort, doubts and negativity. Will I be as good? Will I tear it again? What will people think of me? These are all questions that I'm sure cross every athletes mind. While we all suffer from this, the ability to block out these thoughts is the greatest strength an athlete can have.
God has luckily given me the strength to solely focus on the things I need to accomplish so that I can make a healthy return to the sport. It’s going to be a hard road full of new obstacles to encounter, which will be fun to experience. It will be hard to watch my competitors and friends keep riding while I am going to be in the gym and rehab all day, but now is the time that I can build a strong business model and continue to push my name and brand until I can return to the water and continue to chase the progression that, in my mind, is the satisfaction I find through wakeboarding.
I would like to thank God and my family for the continued love and support they have given me and for providing the resources I’ve had that have allowed me to continue my progression, my girlfriend, Darriane, and my two pups, Riley and Maya, for constant love and all of my extended family at BuyWake, Nautique Boats, CWB Wakeboards, Red Bull, Billabong and Zeal Optics that have continued to support me through health and now at the start of a new chapter, injury.
You can follow Mike Dowdy on Instagram.