Commentary: Take care of yourself; learn your limit

By Tech. Sgt. Heath Fortenberry: Flight Safety NCO

On the artificial grass of a new and fancy flag football field, I sat nursing a sorely strained and possibly pulled hamstring. This newest injury I just experienced led to an epiphany for me. This sudden realization was that I seem to get these nagging injuries all the time. What’s worse is that they seem to happen more frequently as I get older.

I absolutely love flag football, softball and basketball. I try my best to play all these sports during their intramural seasons, that is, when I am not nursing one of my constantly recurring ailments. Unfortunately, I am learning that it takes a lot of work to keep up with these 19- and 20- year olds the Air Force is letting in these days. I don’t know what they put in the water, but that has to be where that young man found his blazing speed. If I would have only accepted that he was younger and faster than this old tech. sergeant, then my hamstring might not hate me right now.

I am not sure my damaged pride (another commonly recurring wound of late) will let me talk about this most recent injury anymore, so let’s get back to the epiphany.

I have experienced a lot of these sports related problems since joining the Air Force back on Sept. 27, 1995. Reminiscing about these gridiron gashes, sports scuffs, or war wounds, whichever you prefer, I began to mentally list these injuries:

l Playing basketball I have sprained my ankles severely enough for the bruise to go half way up my calf, pulled my groin, and partially tore my Achilles tendon

l Playing softball, while trying to show off my “big arm,” I ensured that my rotator cuff will never be the same

l Playing flag football I have broken or sprained at least five of my ten digits, making typing this article a little more difficult than it should be, and pulled the afore mentioned hamstrings

l And the be all to end all, playing a 3-on-3 pickup game of pickup basketball, I tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus cartilage in my right knee

With the exception of the knee, I did not go to the doctor right away, if at all, and nursed all of the injuries myself, at least until I couldn’t stand it anymore. What’s worse, I would continue to play the sports on days immediately following the injury.

I am sure that anyone and everyone could look at my actions and point to a hundred things that I did wrong. Some of you may be thinking things like: he didn’t warm up enough; Heath needs to learn how to stretch; or maybe even something as simple as, that old man needs to stop playing sports. Even I look back and wonder what exactly was I thinking and doing.

Even though all of the above proposed solutions would probably be right, after joining the wing safety office, I discovered something else that I did wrong in each of the instances that was much worse that failing to stretch. Out of ignorance, I did not report any of those injuries to my Unit Safety Representative.

AFI 91-204 paragraph 1.8.1 tells me that since I am an active duty Air Force member, I am supposed to report every injury I sustain, both on and off duty, to my USR and fill out a mishap worksheet (ours is the Cannon Form 40) so the mishap is properly reported through safety channels.

Some of you may be thinking the same thing I did when I learned this nugget of truth: “Really?!” Well, the Air Force uses this information to identify trends, and ultimately to prevent future mishaps.

So everyone, learn from my mistakes. Either don’t play sports (which will never happen in my case), learn when you are too old to keep up with those bionic young airmen, and/or report each and every injury both on and off duty to your USR.

Keep it real while keeping it safe.