The second I felt the familiar jolt in my calf, I knew it had happened again: a muscle tear.
I stopped. Stood. Blinked. Hopped onto my other leg.
The music of my Zumba Fitness® class kept playing, but everyone came to a standstill, not knowing how to proceed. My heart dropped because I knew I was going to disappoint them. I took in a breath and put my weight down on my left foot. Ouch. The familiar achy strain was there. Not as bad as last time, but nevertheless, there in my other calf. I hobbled over to the stereo and turned off the song. A confused silence washed over the group.
Not again, I thought. How could this happen twice in the span of nine months?
I faced my participants and let out a long breath, trying to expand the time between the present second and the moment I had to tell them that I’d injured myself again. But there was no use in hiding it. They’d watched my face scrunch and contort. They’d seen the way I’d leaned on my right leg, in need of support. They knew. Any words I would say would just solidify their observations.
“Um,” I stammered, holding back tears. “I think I hurt my leg.”
Faces of concern stared back at me. I felt the wall of stoicism starting to crack. I didn’t want to cry, but it seemed inexorable. I choked out an “I’m sorry.”
The participants began gathering their things, and two approached me quietly. That’s when the damn broke.
“This can’t be happening again,” I whimpered.
“It’s okay,” Steffi consoled. “It’s not your fault.”
“It seems like right now, it’s just one thing after another. It hasn’t even been a year since my last injury.”
Those who didn’t know me well murmured their “get-well-soons” and “it’s-not-a-big-deals.” But I’d failed them. I’d injured myself again instructing Zumba.
My mind kept flashing to last time, nine months ago, directly after lockdown. I remember the sudden snap of pain in my muscle—my brain processing it as if someone had pelted a lacrosse ball at my leg. It was here in this same gym where I’d torn my right calf muscle, which had taken me out for four months. Four months. Unable to exercise (or even walk at first), I’d gained 10lbs, felt the surge of depression of an injured athlete, and lost all hope of ever being able to do Zumba again.
At work, I hobbled on crutches through the school building. Students would pout and say, “Miss Hardy—I’m so sorry.” I felt sorry for myself, too. When I attempted workouts, my calf tear would bleed into my shin and leave deep purple bruises. So, I stopped. Needing rest after walking around for an hour was a new, absurd occasion for me. I hated it.
I rushed my healing process. After a few weeks, I had started to feel good and then did too much, reminded by the clench and spasm of the muscle that it wasn’t yet good enough. I’d done the weeks of physical therapy and mobility training, drank a lot of water, ate a balanced diet, then, when given the okay by my physical therapist, I fearfully begun teaching Zumba® again. I was so scared in my first class that I hardly did the movements. I was paralyzed with the memory of the muscle tear.
Steffi, helped me down the stairs to the physical therapist’s office, who said to ice and rest it. If I could walk, it probably wasn’t a tear as bad as last time. Perhaps it was just a strain.
I would pray for a strain but intuitively knew it was more. In these cases, you always know. The body always knows.
I drove home, discouraged and sobbing, considering my fate. Setback after setback. This was the theme of the two years of pandemic: a frustrating series of setbacks. I got in the shower and washed away the salty sweat from my body. An avalanche of necessary tasks toppled down on me. I would have to send messages, cancel other classes, get to my general practitioner for a referral to the orthopedic doctor, then wait for hours to be seen. All the things I didn’t need right now. Exercise was a key element in my mental health, and I was unwittingly abandoning it again.
After the first injury though, I was wiser. There was a balance in healing, I knew, rules an injured person must obey. You mustn’t overdo it, but you can’t stop completely. You mustn’t push too hard, but you must push a bit. You mustn’t start back with your old routine too early, but at some point, you must restart. It’s complex and individual and unpredictable and frustrating and enraging.
I had high hopes (in my denial) that it was just a fluke, but when I finally brought myself to go to the orthopedic doctor, my fate was sealed. Not only a muscle fiber tear in the left leg, but the right calf had never truly healed. The scar tissue was out of whack and not lining up the way it was supposed to.
More phone calls and cancellations. More disappointment I was causing. More people who would anxiously await my return. I knew deep down that everyone wished me well and didn’t hold this unfortunate event against me, but there was a lining of guilt in every conversation. A tinge of remorse. An ounce of grief.
Because…well…I actually didn’t feel sad about not teaching Zumba anymore. Actually, I felt kind of—free.
For almost 11 years, I’d given up two to three of my after-work evenings to teaching Zumba classes, which comes with an array of ramifications. There were days when I was completely drained, in which I would drag myself to the gym to motivate others with a smile. There were days I thought to myself: I can’t believe I got through that one, as well as days in which I was absolutely pumped to be an instructor and laugh and be crazy to music—it could be cathartic and necessary.
There were songs I loved and songs I learned to hate. There were fun choreographies I repeated over and over and ones that I dropped after two run-throughs. I’d taught classes every day of the week except Friday or Sunday. I’d taken part in events and even seen Beto, Gina Grant, and the gang live in Hamburg, Germany. I’d gotten the kindest, most amazing (as well as at times pretty hurtful) feedback on my teaching style and my classes.
Furthermore, Zumba had served as a huge part of my life—the way I’d met most of my friends as an ex-pat in Germany—people who’d become like family to me. Zumba grew my confidence and feelings of success. It had opened doors and taught me so much about myself and joy. It was almost part of my identity, ironed onto my soul.
And now I was just done? And felt relieved about it?
But deep down I knew why.
Chapters open and close in our lives. We mature and we evolve. Values and priorities shift. We grow out of certain things and into others. These are rites of passage in a life—undeniable truths of the human condition. If we hang on too long to things that are not making us happy or fulfilling us, we grow to resent them.
Or we get injured.
I’d grown out of Zumba. I knew it. I felt it in my bones, even while trying to ignore it. And my wise body almost slapped me in the face about it. After the lockdown of 2021, my body was ready to retire, but I pushed it to continue and then tore my calf muscle.
Now, with a second tear, all signs point to stopping. If I had to teach a class here or there once I was healed, fine, I would suck it up, but I knew my heart was no longer in it the way it once was, and there would always be the lurking fear of getting injured again. That was incredibly hard to get over.
Walking away always comes with a load of grief and rose-colored glasses that focus only on those good old times. And I do cherish them—absolutely. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Zumba and all it has provided me with. Now I’ve been out of the Zumba fitness instructor lifestyle for nearly a year. Do I miss it? Actually—no, I don’t. Maybe I miss being in front of a group and leading them. I was known as “gute Laune Amy” (good mood Amy.). I have since moved on to strength training and HIIT classes. Every once in a while, a song will come on the radio, and I will remember my choreography to it and smile.
But walking—or dancing—away was the right thing to do.
If you want to see some of my moves, check out this link and dance along with me.
*Author’s Note: I do not blame Zumba Fitness for my injury. They are not liable. It was due to my own lack of mobility and movement during the pandemic lockdown periods.