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Robert Levine was so used to feeling fatigue and soreness due to his training that he didn’t even realize he was in the depths of a major injury. Here is his story of sacrifice in his own words …

The day I arrived for the National Championships in Kalamazoo this past August was the one-year anniversary of my spinal surgery. It was a very long year, which makes it difficult to describe the feelings I had that day.
I found out about my injury through a series of events. My back felt sore for a few months, but it wasn’t until it became too painful for me to even serve a ball that I finally went to see a doctor.
The first doctor told me that I had severe inflammation, but no real injury. He recommended six weeks off, and said I would likely feel perfect again. After zero training and wearing a restrictive brace at all times, I felt the exact same level of pain. My next doctor studied my MRI, and a series of other tests, to find that I had a very rare L5 Avulsion Fracture. This means that there was a time when I fell, and the ligament in my back pulled away a chip of bone. When my body tried to heal itself, it formed an abnormal calcification. I would need surgery to remove the thumb-sized mass sitting on my spine.
The surgery was successful, and my pain slowly eased. However, the road to recovery in front of me was long. During my surgery, the doctors had to cut through the muscle in my lower back. These muscles are very important for stabilizing any athlete. Since mine have been cut apart, and then sewn back together, I need to do more stretching than I ever could dream of, to keep my muscles from tightening. This pretty much keeps me stretching all the time to stay loose. Physical therapy sessions are a regular part of my schedule, and have taught me a lot about my body’s needs.
RobertSmall SACRIFICE: ROBERT LEVINE PLAYS DESPITE MAJOR BACK INJURYIt was an easy decision for me to continue playing tennis. After my surgery, I tried to keep a normal schedule. I did a lot of extra schoolwork, and went to countless physical therapy sessions. After a period of time, I was allowed to hit a tennis ball again.
My first day back, I played mini tennis for just ten minutes. I couldn’t believe how tired it made me. I was so happy to be on the court, but I never imagined the baby steps it would take for me to really come back. The months that followed might have seemed agonizing to others, but for me – and the people who believe in me – those months were filled with regular days of hard work.  
I think a lot of athletes know that patience and perseverance are critical to success, but athletes who are coming back from an injury find out what this means on a whole new level. When I finally started playing tournaments again, I had some unexpected losses. My coach and doctors told me stories of other athletes in similar situations, which really helped me stay positive and focused. Since my surgery, wins feel even better than before because I know how much time I spent away from the game, and how much extra work I put into earning those wins.
This experience has taught me many lessons. First, it is important for everyone to know that if you face a medical situation, immediately seek out the best and most experienced doctors that you can find. I also learned the importance of proper rehab and physical therapy while allowing the appropriate time for healing. Mostly I learned to appreciate the significance of surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you.
My advice for others facing a long-term injury is that even if it feels like things are moving too slowly, a successful comeback cannot happen without time. Don’t ever lose sight of what you are fighting for.

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