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Dr. Mandelbaum for U.S. News & World Report: How Elite Athletes Overcome Complex Injuries


I'VE LONG SPOKEN ABOUT elite athletes' ability to cultivate something I like to call the "victorious spirit." The premise is this: Adversity can be a catalyst for incredible opportunity and resiliency.

Even a couple years ago, Tiger Woods exemplified this spirit. Back in 2018, Woods had already faced many health and personal setbacks and challenges. Frankly, those setbacks would have been enough to make most of us throw in the towel. But Woods didn't. And now, even given his recent accident – and the back and leg injuries it caused – I still believe he will put in a valiant effort to emerge victorious in life and sport. In that kind of perseverance, there resides a lesson for all of us.

As an orthopedic surgeon, my experience and time spent treating elite athletes have shown that these individuals have honed the skill and ability to overcome complex injuries – usually more successfully than the average person. That honed skill, I believe, is the ability to use adversity to their physical, mental and performance advantage. Rather than allowing misfortune to affect their confidence, elite athletes use it as motivation to fuel their competitive juices and set their sights on achieving the “impossible.” They develop a keen and laser-like focus, and they fight on, able to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It is this spirit, mental focus and emotional intelligence that drives them to be great.

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