37 | Former WNBA Player and Ph.D. Candidate ShaRae Mansfield: Coping with Chronic Pain

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“It was like being a part of a book and finally figuring out the cause of all the pain, the cause of the injuries. Everything started coming together. Just thinking back, I had to ask myself, how in the world did I continue to play?”

ShaRae Mansfield was a superstar on the court during her four years at Western Kentucky University. In 2001, she was a third-round draft pick for the WNBA’s Houston Comets.

All this success came despite the fact that ShaRae was in near-constant pain. By the time she graduated, she’d had six surgeries on her ACL. She loved the game, but her injuries eventually cut her career short, a development that sent her into what she calls a “basketball depression.”

Unsure of what to do next, she went back to finish her degree, then sought help from a psychologist. Little by little, she began to grasp the ways in which losing her athletic identity impacted her, and to work through it. Then—a decade later—a surprising medical diagnosis helped her comprehend all that had happened in her body.

Out of all this pain and challenge came a fierce determination to help others in similar situations. She’s now an advocate for people with chronic conditions (and leader of the Beautiful Warriors support group). And, as a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, ShaRae is studying the difficult transition period out of sports—aiming to smooth the path forward for the next generation of retiring athletes.

A huge thank you to our sponsors for this episode: Fluid Running and 2Toms. Fluid Running makes it possible to maintain your peak physical fitness even when you're injured through the power of deep water running. And 2Toms provides advanced sweat proof, waterproof blister and chafing protection products that keep you moving. Listen for special discount codes in the episode!

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How injuries are viewed in basketball—and the struggle not to see them as weaknesses (6:40)
  • Her earliest experiences with injury and pain, and some of the red flags that popped up as early as elementary school (11:19)
  • The biggest regret she has about her collegiate career (13:53)
  • The huge high of being drafted into the WNBA, and why it was tempered by a feeling of uncertainty (19:15)
  • The “soul-crushing” news that came after that (21:51)
  • The challenges she faced when her career was truly over (30:48)
  • The big revelation, a decade later, that finally explained her extensive injury history (36:58)
  • What it felt like when she finally was able to move without pain (43:56)
  • What she’s studying now, and how she hopes to help other athletes (54:34)

You can subscribe to The Injured Athletes Club on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you like what you hear, please leave us a rating or a review in Apple podcasts. That helps other injured athletes find the show.

Resources/links:

  • ShaRae’s Beautiful Warriors support group for people with chronic conditions
  • More of her story on the Arthritis Foundation website

To access more resources for injured athletes:

DISCLAIMER: This content is for educational & informational use only and & does not constitute medical advice. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical or health related advice from your health-care professional because of something you may have heard in an episode of this podcast. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult with a qualified medical professional for proper evaluation & treatment. Guests who speak on this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions, and The Injured Athletes Club podcast hosts nor any company providing financial support endorses or opposes any particular treatment option discussed in the episodes of this podcast and are not responsible for any actions or inactions of listeners based on the information presented. The use of any information provided is solely at your own risk.

60 episodes