Ice Network

Hubbell's scope: Ice dancer pushes through pain

Partner Donohue lends invaluable support as she battles injury
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Madison Hubbell says her partner, Zach Donohue, has been instrumental in helping her stay positive in the face of adversity. -Getty Images

Hey, everyone! Last time I wrote I was headed to Colorado Springs for training camp, happy to be recovered from that irritating concussion. Yeah, I know, that was a while ago. I am not one of those people who never procrastinates or watches TV. C'mon, it's almost 2014, everyone watches a little TV. I like to write, but the focus and determination that I possess when it comes to training is kind of lacking when it comes to putting together a whole blog. I will say, as always, that I will do better from now on, but I fear that sentiment is losing its value. Anyway, I will pickup from where I left off in August.

Training camp went smoothly, and we were relieved when all the officials liked our programs. After already being sidetracked for a couple of months, our greatest fear was to be told to start back over with new material. But all of our hardwork in the months until my injury had paid off, and we weren't as far behind as we could have been.

This was confirmed when shortly after returning home from camp we were named as the third dance team to compete at Skate America. We were thrilled, and our focus turned from program development to preparing for a fast-paced international season. We had to have endurance and consistency in order to perform three successful events in only five weeks. That is when all the fun began.

We had one month between Champs Camp and the start of our season at Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany. We knew that the competition would be a good start for us, with some strong competitors, but not as challenging as a Grand Prix. We wanted to get our feet wet and experience secondhand the tension of an Olympic qualifying event, the latter of which was priceless.

The preparation proved to be more difficult than anticipated. I had obviously lost some strength and agility, because unlike most other injuries, I couldn't do anything physical to keep in shape. We had our main competition from Canada, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, training with us every day. It was hard to see everyone around me having a much easier time with run-throughs. It was the first time in my life that my strong will did not make up for any physical ailment. I told my muscles to keep moving, and they just wouldn't. Thank God for Zach, who was able to not only help drag me through those hard days but be there for me when I was doubting myself. It wasn't until we were in the middle of free dance at Nebelhorn that I realized we would always be strong together, no matter our individual circumstances.

The rest you may know. We were able to take home our second Nebelhorn Trophy, and we had two weeks until our Grand Prix season began.

What most people do not know is that I have another injury. A slight discomfort in my left hip while at Nebelhorn quickly transformed from manageable to unmanageable by the end of our Grand Prix season. The plane ride home from Germany was a source of irritation, and with only two weeks until Skate America, we jumped right back into training.

I tried to combat what I thought was muscle pain with acupuncture, massage, ice, Ibuprofen and whatever else people threw at me. Unfortunately, no matter what I did, the pain got worse every day. We tried to modify our run-throughs, taking out the elements and transitions that we thought aggravated it the most. But every morning when Zach and the coaches would ask how I felt, I would have to dissapoint them and say, "The same, maybe worse."

In the two weeks before Skate America, I was unable to complete more than a few full short dance run-throughs. But yet again, no matter all of the circumstances pulling us down, Zach and I came together to perform two solid programs.

We knew that doing it again in five days would be difficult, with no days off for recovery. At Skate America, I was able to hide my pain from the audience and officials, something I was unable to do at Skate Canada. We held it together OK for the short, fighting for our levels, but the weakness in the leg made things a bit shaky. As some people said, it looked like I threw him on the ice at the end, and then was mad at him for falling! :) I guess my "out-of-breath, in-pain" face looks a bit like my mad face ... oops!

After the adrenaline from yet another performance died down, I was left with more pain for the free dance. The practice for the free dance was emotionally rough, and between the pain and stress, I broke down and left the ice crying. The doctor and physical trainer did everything they could to make me comfortable, and my coach sent me to the hotel for rest and to decide if I could skate the free dance. Zach was incredible, more concerned for my health and well-being than for the chance at our first Grand Prix medal. But we had been working for that medal too long for me to give it up without a fight, no matter the pain. In the end, we did what we had to, and I now have my first ever Grand Prix medal sitting above my fireplace at home.

Our assignments couldn't have been more perfectly arrannged this season. What we thought would be an unfortunately tight schedule -- with no time to work and improve between events -- turned out to be crucial in my ability to compete. Not only did I have the least amount of time to have to train through pain, but with an early finish, I had time to get a diagnosis and treatment plan without interfering with training for nationals.

The week after Skate Canada, I headed to Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to see an orthopedic specializing in hips. I was able to have all the tests necessary to determine the nature of my injury. What I have is a labral tear, something that seems to be an increasingly frequent diagnosis in our sport. In my case, the doctor gave me the go ahead to keep training, with a treatment plan that is aimed to not only eliminate a lot of pain but also strengthen the area so that the injury does not get worse. At the beginning, I had to start slowly, and the pain was not much improved. But I am almost back to full training, and the pain is dwindling as I keep working the treatment program.

I know that this whole blog sounds like a downer, but I couldn't feel more positive. This season, we have fought through two injuries that have threatened to take away our dreams of the Olympics. It is the fight we displayed during the beginning of this season that proves to us we can accomplish our goals. Without a lot of pain, we can finally train the way we want to, and need to, in order to land on the nationals podium. Never before have we been so sure of what we want, and how to get there. I hope to see you all in Boston.

Until next time, enjoy the holidays, and if you are somewhere snowy like me, drive safe!