In March 2010, English soccer star David Beckham, then 34 years old, tore his Achilles tendon playing for Italy's Milan. "It's broken, it's broken!" He yelled desperately at the substitute bench. Traumatologist Bert Mandelbaum, his doctor at Los Angeles Galaxy, the team that owns his pass, was watching the game on television from California and saw "the agony on his face," he recalls. "It was obvious that it was something very serious." Subsequent examinations confirmed the magnitude of the injury and, also, that Beckham was going to miss what would have been his fourth and last World Cup, to be played in South Africa four months later.
In the dressing room, the player cried disconsolately. And the next day he had surgery in Finland. But, immediately, he decided to look ahead, lead his own reconstruction and program the return step by step. "Everybody thought that Beckham was finished, that injury usually requires a year of recovery," says Mandelbaum a Más, in the lobby of a Buenos Aires hotel in Puerto Madero. "But he told us that he wanted to return to the courts in six months, and although he did not make it to the World Cup, he had his best season in the Los Angeles Galaxy and he was champion in 2011 and 2012."
For Mandelbaum, author of the motivational book The Win Within, doctor of the United States football team in five world championships, member of the Fifa Medical Commission in the Olympic Games of Rio 2016 and co-director of Medical Affairs of the Institute of Sports Sciences of the Cedars Sinai Medical Center, in Santa Monica, Beckham's rebirth from the sports abyss depicts the "victorious spirit" in action: an inner strength of the elite athletes that allows them to face their recovery. And that can also be released and exploited by anyone when facing adverse situations.
- Do we all have an "inner athlete"?
-Exact. Throughout evolution, when developing our brain, we were able to create tools to transform ourselves into hunters and not into prey. And the same attributes that, in our DNA, made us successful hunters, are still in us. In other words, we are genetically programmed to be predatory or successful in our biological environment. We are not designed for failure.
- And what do you call "victorious spirit"?
-It is a physical, mental and emotional response to the fight. When we are in a situation of stress, our brain works to find food, make a shelter, shelter from the cold or defeat the enemy. It is then that we liberate that "victorious spirit". And we create a reaction that becomes an engine to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
-A peculiar aspect of his profession is that he has met many elite athletes at their worst moment, when they are injured. What can we learn from them?
-The serious injury in the athlete generates fear, worry, disappointment, depression and anxiety. They ask themselves: "Will I be what I was again?" However, the most gifted deploy the victorious spirit to evaluate and confront that struggle. They visualize the return. Small objectives are being set until the great objective is achieved. Anyone can take lessons from them. I remember, for example, the Olympic gymnast Tim Dagget. Seven months before the Olympic Games in Seoul 1988, during an easel jump, he suffered a horrible fall with exposed fractures. He had to undergo surgeries and skin grafts. No one thought that he could recover in time. But he conveyed confidence: "Doctors, do not worry, you have to be encouraged to dream." That's the advice: you have to be encouraged to dream.
- Do you suggest that people who face adversity should do it like athletes facing an injury?
-Totally. Because we are all athletes. The challenge is the same. We all have the same aptitudes (to recover) even when the Messi, the Beckham or the Daggett are special people. The face of joy and the pose of victory are also the same, making a goal in a World Cup or in a dive in Rosario.
-Another key seems to be adaptation. In his book, you say that an accident prevented him from continuing to practice his favorite physical activity (running) and then he turned to cycling.
-I had to encourage myself to dream. And take a different path. "I can do it," I told myself. I became a competitive cyclist. And I learned to enjoy it as I enjoyed running. As human beings, we are bred for adaptation. Cliff Meidl also taught that to me. At age 20 he received a discharge of 50,000 volts, he had to be resuscitated and he suffered burns so severe that he almost lost his legs. It went through 14 operations and grafts. But he told me: "I'm going to compete again." Instead of running, as he did before the accident, he started rowing.
And he did it so well that he was an Olympic kayaker in Atlanta 1996 and he carried the flag of the US delegation in Sydney 2000. That's also the victorious spirit. Know how to adapt and be prepared for change.
The nightmare of footballers
From Marcelo Ortiz and Franco Mussis to Fernando Gago and Darío Benedetto, a dozen Argentine footballers suffered during the second half of 2017 ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament: a serious knee injury that usually requires at least six months of recovery. In March of this year, Emanuel Mammana joined, who had chances to be summoned by Sampaoli for the World Cup. For Bert Mandelbaum, who came to the country to speak about this pathology at the 54th Argentine Congress of Orthopedics and Traumatology, the incidence of this injury in football is very high and one should have "zero tolerance" with it. He recommends not rushing back to the courts: "The risk of a new injury between months 6 and 9 is very high, and then goes down." And he assures that the sustained adoption of certain exercise routine that he designed for Fifa (for example, to learn to land better after a jump) could avoid 72% of the cases. "That's a number! If I could prevent 72% of the cases of diabetes, heart attacks or stroke, I would not be a doctor, I would be a sorcerer!" He exclaims.