Mental Challenges Just As Difficult As Physical Recovery For WVU’s Alec Sinkfield

Mental Challenges Just As Difficult As Physical Recovery For WVU’s Alec Sinkfield

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Coming back from an injury is often a two-stage challenge.

There’s the physical side, sometimes including surgery, followed by rehabilitation. Then there’s the mental side – and it too, has multiple parts. Initially, frustration and disbelief with the injury itself come to the fore. Once that’s dealt with, there’s the grind of getting the injured area back to its original functionality, which rarely occurs at the desired speed. Finally, there can be doubt – is everything as good as it was before?

West Virginia running back Alec Sinkfield (20) applies a stiff-arm to Baylor’s Clay Johnston (44)

WVU running back Alec Sinkfield has been through all of that over the past few months, and now that he’s finally on the other side of it,  can talk about it openly. While going through it though, that was another matter.

“It’s definitely an internal conversation,” he said of working out the doubts about a return to peak performance.

For athletes who are used to performing amazing physical feats that many of us can only watch with wonder, that’s not a surprise. To admit doubts, or discuss them with others, might be viewed as a weakness by some. That’s not the case, of course, but the culture of today often does just that.

Sinkfield, though, has dealt with the injury and recovery process as well as could be imagined.

He started out the 2018 season in promising fashion, gaining 43 yards combined rushing and receiving and scoring a touchdown in WVU’s wins over Tennessee and Youngstown State. However, he then sustained a severe high ankle sprain, which kept him out of West Virginia’s next four contests. He returned to account for 55 yards against Baylor, but it was clear that he wasn’t his normal slashing, hard-cutting self. He played in just two more games the rest of the year, and the frustration as he tried to deal with it was evident.

“It’s nothing to do with the injury,” he explained. “It’s all mental. Getting to understand you can’t do something you love, and having to get your body back was the hardest part. Once I could go back to working out, that helped me get through it.”

Sinkfield said his ankle didn’t really feel right until about a week after the bowl game. During all of the intervening rehab time, the flip side of the mental challenge kicked in.

“The ankle at some point seemed weak, so you  have to get back to understand it’s OK to plant hard off of it, it’s OK to run as fast as you can on it,” he said, echoing the thoughts of many athletes who have to learn to trust their bodies again. ” You have to be confident that the trainers know what they are doing, and that they have a plan for you.”

In a way, it’s similar to one friend letting another down. Trust has to be built up again, and that might not be the quickest of processes. As Sinkfield went through the rehab process, his trust in what he could do returned.

He has been carrying that to a new level this spring, putting himself to the test in any way possible.

“I am trying to do as much as I can just to make sure I am on the field,” the redshirt sophomore from Delray Beach, Florida said.  “If running back isn’t the main focus, then I need to  take receiver and kick returner and punt returner or whatever serious enough to be successful in that spot.”

He’s leaving no stone unturned. Through the spring, he was on all four special teams (placekicking being the obvious exception) and is becoming a leader for the renewed emphasis that head coach Neal Brown is putting on them. His offensive resume might expand, too, as he has lined up a few times at receiver in order to take advantage of his pass-catching skills. That’s a new challenge, but after facing the much more difficult hurdles he cleared during 2018, he figures to be well prepared for whatever roles await.

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