Shattered, Not Broken...3 Life Lessons From a Shattered Knee

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I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was October 4th, 1986, 35 years ago. It was the day my knee was shattered to oblivion and my dream of playing professional football came to a grinding halt. 

Of course that dream was a long shot, but I believed in my heart it was possible. It ended up being an unrealized dream as 280 pounds of an offensive lineman came crashing down on my knee as my foot was firmly planted on the artificial turf at the University of North Dakota.

The lower half of my leg went in a direction it wasn’t supposed to go. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. The moment it happened I knew my career was over and that my life would never be the same.

I was devastated by the loss of my dream. My identity as a football player was stripped away in a fraction of a second. I lost my tribe. I was no longer part of a team. I was alone and isolated trying to figure out who the hell I was if I wasn’t a football star anymore?

Not only that, my knee was jacked up. In the words of the orthopedic surgeon that put humpty dumpty back together again, it was the worst he had ever seen. My knee was shattered with an injury called the Terrible Triad, meaning I tore three out of my four knee ligaments. I have two scars totaling about 36 inches on both sides of my knee, scars from the staples that were used to close the incisions and a screw that slightly protrudes from my leg that holds my knee together.

But I am grateful. It could have been worse. I could have broken my neck. I didn’t see it at the time as we never do when we are in the midst of our greatest battle, but that moment where my life was forever altered, has helped shape me into the man I am today. It was a tough time in my life, but I persevered. I continued on with my education and my life graduating magna cum laude.

Talk about a challenge, try being on crutches in Grand Forks, North Dakota in the middle of winter. I remember on one particular day “crutching” to classes with a thick layer of ice on the sidewalks. Both of my crutches would slide out from under me from the dense ice from the freezing rain from that fell the night before.

I recall driving to a handicap spot close to campus with my right leg casted from the hip down perched on the front seat while using my left foot to control the brake and accelerator. Not something I recommend, but somehow I made it to class without crashing or falling on my face with my crutches being useless on the frozen tundra of the UND campus.

I can look back now with appreciation of what I went through and apply the lessons that I learned from that challenging time in my life. I went through some dark days of feeling alone and depressed. 

I changed my identity from Troy the football player to Troy the bodybuilder and became consumed with building my physique. Now my identity is the only one that truly counts and can never be taken away from me. Troy, the beloved son of God.

Through my shattered knee and unrealized dreams I have learned three valuable lessons on my journey over the past 35 years since that catastrophic day. Through my story and experience I hope that you can find some value in what I am about to share with you and apply it to your own personal life as I believe we can all learn from one another. We all have a story to tell that is relevant.

Life Lesson One: Love Ourselves For Who We Are

On this journey of life the hardest thing for me to do has been learning to love myself knowing that I am enough. I don’t have to earn love. I have nothing to prove. I get to be me knowing that is enough.

I don’t have to be a football star to earn love.

I don’t have to make a lot of money to prove that I am successful.

I don’t have to have the perfect physique to prove my self-worth.

I get to be radically free to be me, physical and emotional scars included, and all that comes with being human.

Why is it so hard to love ourselves? Why do we feel like we are never good enough? I have come to learn it’s because we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us.

We judge ourselves, but God doesn’t judge us.

We condemn ourselves, but God doesn’t condemn us.

We shame ourselves, but God doesn’t shame us.

What if we got over judging, condemning and shaming ourselves and we stepped into loving ourselves unconditionally. That’s a hell of a novel thought isn’t it?

What if you went to the mirror right now and looked at yourself square in the eye and told yourself that you loved yourself. I know it’s weird and awkward, but why? Why is it so hard to love ourselves?

I am learning to forgive myself for my past poor choices. I made them because I was ignorant. I am wiser now, so I choose better. I get to move on from my past and live in the present moment full of joy, peace and happiness.

I get to love myself for who I am. I am not perfect and I am not a saint. What I will own is that I am human and I am also divine. I am going to live my life every day knowing that and not apologize for being me any more.

When we start to love ourselves unconditionally and see ourselves the way God sees us, as his beloved children, it doesn’t really matter what other people think about us. The need for external validation gets tossed out the window. That my brothers and sisters is true freedom.

Life Lesson Two: Inner Strength Comes From Our Battles 

We all experience challenges and battles that forever change the course of our lives. It may be the loss of a loved one that breaks your heart, a disease that strips away your health or a loss of a job that leads to financial ruin.

One of the biggest battles in my life came from the loss of my identity as a football player. Today I am dealing with a knee that gives me a daily reminder through chronic pain of what happened on October 4th, 1986 where my knee was shredded and my dream of being a professional football player ended. 

My other battle in life was overcoming a devastating divorce that dropped me to my knees. As tough as those two defining experiences were in my life, I find gratitude and an inner strength that has helped me become the spiritual warrior that I am today.

Our inner strength, fortitude and perseverance comes from our challenges and battles in life. I don’t know what you are facing right now, but I pray you find inner strength and courage to not only persevere, but to come out the other side with more love and compassion for yourself and a deeper connection to God.

Life Lesson Three: Our Story Is Still Being Written

As long as we still have breath, our story is still being written. There is still hope and possibility beyond our wildest dreams. I think about where I am today and how much I have grown from where I was just a few short years ago.

I was battling codependency, an exercise addiction, and a love and relationship addiction with no idea who I was as a man. I lived my life from a place of a low level of sadness with this deep need for external validation and approval from others.

I didn’t know what it meant to find true joy from within. That just sounded like a pipe dream to me. I always needed things outside of myself to make me feel happy. But that feeling never lasted. It was up and down like a nightmare roller coaster that flips you upside down and plunges you into the depth of despair at 100mph that leaves you gasping for air. That was me. That was my life.

Now my life is defined by true freedom and joy doing what I love. I have an inner peace that I never thought was possible. I do my inner work every single day. I am doing what I love as a spiritual mentor for men. I am traveling the country as a digital nomad having life experiences and a personal intimacy with God that is transformative.

What’s really cool is that I feel like I am just scratching the surface of finding out who I am. I am finding the courage to share my voice and be bold and not shrink back for the first time in my life. I am finding that I actually like myself, no I take that back, I actually love myself and who I am as a man.

I am a man who is highly sensitive and I am going to own that. I have been ashamed of that side of me for years. I am a man who has a deep compassion for people, but also values my time of solitude. I am a man who wants to change the world by first transforming myself. I am a man who is deeply spiritual, but not religious. I am a man who follows Jesus and believes that he is the greatest spiritual warrior of all. I am a man who is rebellious, but from a place of goodness. I am a man who is starting to own my uniqueness and honor that I can both stand out and belong at the same time.

My story is being written anew every single day as I learn more about myself through the deep exploration of my invincible soul. I am learning to overcome my fragile male ego by exploring the depths of my soul, seeing myself as a beloved son of God.

What story are you writing for yourself? What has happened to you in the past doesn’t define you. Your story is still being written. You are goodness. You are not broken. You are not your ego that you have to defend and prove. You are an invincible soul that is loved by God. The question is can you love yourself for who you are?

We are all worthy of love. That is the story we all get to write for ourselves. Step into that and start to live the life of your dreams. You owe it to yourself.

With Love and Compassion,

Troy Ismir

Spiritual Warrior Coach

Founder and Creator of Barbells & Brothers



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