Unyielding – Ella Räsänen, who has experienced a hellish cycle of injuries, has risen from the canvas time and time again

Unyielding Ella Rasanen who has experienced a hellish cycle

The summer of 2021 is already nearing its end, when Ella Räsänen steps his physiotherapist Peetu Lehmus reception in Helsinki. They hug. Tears flow down both of their cheeks. This time they are not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. Behind is a long and tough road, with countless adversities.

The work done together had received a big reward when, a few days earlier, Räsänen participated in the Kaleva Games for the first time in 9 years. The break had been long. Much longer than anyone would have imagined.

Standing at the starting line, Räsänen’s mind was calm and stress-free, happy and relieved. There was no other goal of success. At the same time, however, I was nervous, because the competition routine had disappeared a long time ago.

The final race of 400 meters turned out to be a tough one. Of the eight women, no less than six ran their own record, and one ran her season’s best. Räsänen was not one of them. He crossed the finish line last – 3 seconds slower than his own record.

However, time and placement didn’t really matter. Räsänen had dragged himself back to the athletics championships after almost a decade of injury hell. There would still be injuries after this, but the curve had turned upwards.

They had worked hard for it, and the outburst of emotions after the Games was not the first of its kind.

– A few tears have been cried at Peetu’s reception. Few probably know what all has been done and what it has required.

Now, however, it is not at Lehmus’ reception in Helsinki, but at the pilates studio in Tampere. Räsänen himself has suggested doing the interview here.

The wall between the large windows of the studio opened in the old sock factory on Satamakatu is decorated with the building’s original red bricks. Studio owner Minna Kurjenmäki introduces the places with a friendly smile on her face. There are five pilates machines equipped with cables and a sliding bench in the hall.

– Pilates is like an adult woman’s Särkänniemi, she laughs.

Räsänen laughs too. This is a place he clearly enjoys.

Räsänen, who suffered from back problems when he was young, has been practicing pilates for a long time, and it has become part of his weekly exercise program. Pilates is an excellent form of exercise for back health, as it strengthens the deep abdominal muscles that support the back.

Pilates has also worked as therapy for Räsänen. Diagnosed with depression in 2015, Räsänen went to pilates even when the depression was at its worst. It has been a spiritual hole that has also supported the psychological side.

– This has repaired the body, both externally and internally. I find peace and balance with myself.

The 29-year-old Räsäse, who won a total of six individual SM golds as a teenager, has a shocking number of injuries behind him. A stress fracture was already found in the spine at a young age, and the back has broken three times. Both heels have been cut, the hamstring has sprained, the body is overloaded and the Achilles tendon is inflamed. There have also been many minor injuries along the way.

The most difficult phase in Räsänen’s life took place in 2015-16, when he was diagnosed with moderate depression, which he has talked about before. A normally extremely active, capable and accomplished person could no longer manage to do anything at all.

– It was the darkest moment of my career and life. There was no real physical injury then, but I was in the yard otherwise. Those years passed in a blur.

Symptoms related to depression began to appear already in 2014. Räsänen was no longer enthusiastic about things, and he had to force himself to practice.

The previous year had been the best of my career. At the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, Räsänen ran a time of 52.37, which is still the adult indoor SE and 19-year-old European record. The teenage sensation had been in quite a mess for a long time, and no one knew how to whistle the game in time.

Finally the wall came up. The body did not recover, the mind was broken.

The next 2-3 years were spent learning a new everyday life and running the basic building blocks of life. Suddenly, the sights were no longer the Olympics, but getting healthy.

– It felt really miserable at first. Accepting the situation was difficult. Getting better required a lot of thinking. But on the other hand, I think you have to be able to bury the old to be able to give birth to the new. It has been a long but rewarding process.

– It felt really miserable at first. Accepting the situation was difficult. Getting better required a lot of thinking. But on the other hand, I think you have to be able to bury the old to be able to give birth to the new. It has been a long but rewarding process.

One key factor in the healing process was psychotherapy. Räsänen is still in therapy, but more in the form of a sports psychologist.

2017 was already a good year. Räsänen was able to train again after a long break. Doing it regularly brought much-needed rhythm to life.

– That started a positive flow. At first I was physically in worse shape because I hadn’t been able to exercise at all for a few years. Targeted work started when I was ready for it. There were a lot of stretches where I could train well.

However, misfortune struck again. This time in the form of heel injuries. Two surgeries and more rehabilitation lay ahead.

The floor rumbles at the Kauppi Sports Center when iron gets a ride on the third floor of the sports center located east of Tampere. Räsänen and two other athletes belonging to the same training group are warming up on the adjacent 50-meter-long and blue-painted running track.

The atmosphere is relaxed, but focused. The group clearly enjoys being together.

The quality of the work next to the track is monitored by the coach of the group Petra Stenmanwho has also served as Räsänen’s personal trainer for years.

– There is a great word in the Finnish language that perfectly describes Ella. It is “unyielding”.

Coach Petra Stenman, who has traveled a bumpy road with Räsäsen for a long time, is by no means the only one who hears the word “unyielding” when talking about Räsäsen. This character trait is the reason why he has dug himself out of the hole time and time again.

The coach’s job includes pushing the athlete forward, but sometimes also braking. Stenman remembers a race run in Raasepori. He happened to be followed when Räsänen tried to fight through the pain with the power of medicines.

In the end, it had to be stated that the heel must be amputated. It was Haglund’s syndrome, where Räsänen’s sharp heel bone pressed on the Achilles tendon. It was a difficult ailment to treat.

– There was no guarantee that Ella would pull spikes on her leg again. He has always wanted to come back, but sometimes I doubted if he would make it, Stenman recalls.

However, the operation went well, but the heel of Räsänen’s other foot met the same fate two years later. This time the rehabilitation was more difficult.

Physiotherapist Lehmus, who joined the coaching group, had his hands full. Sometimes you had to say that the plan wasn’t working and go back to the drawing board.

The work was not only done to rehabilitate the physical disability, but the psychological side was strongly present and the conversations often became long and emotional.

– For many, the work would have been left unfinished. And many people are left with much less, Lehmus states.

Both Lehmus and Stenman praise Räsänen’s intellectual edge. The athlete who swam in deep waters never turned against his coaches. The faith was preserved despite the adversities.

– That’s the quality I value the most in Ella, Stenman praises.

Pursuing quick wins has never been part of Räsänen’s style. If he wanted something, he had to be ready to work for it.

– From a young age, we have been taught at home to be persistent and take responsibility for things ourselves. It’s not wrong to fail and try again, Räsänen reflects.

When he was young, Räsänen was an extremely talented athlete. The success train was going fast until it derailed and everything fell apart. When an ambitious athlete who is used to competing can no longer even make it to the starting line, it is an extremely hard blow mentally.

Despite the difficult years, Räsänen’s sports identity never died, but sometimes it was really hidden. It had to be put there so that the mind and body could heal.

Rehabilitative work can be extremely mentally taxing, especially when there are repeated setbacks and the work has to be started from scratch each time.

One key part of an athlete’s life is setting goals and working towards them. In Räsänen’s process, the focus has been on smaller things, even though the steps have sometimes seemed endlessly long.

Dreaming about the Olympics had to be put on the back burner.

– Otherwise, it would get messy pretty quickly. Of course, there are those dreams and dreams about bigger things as well, but in order for them to be possible, you have to find those small goals in everyday life.

Räsänen has become familiar with crisis management in his own life and working in the midst of challenges. In the event of a new injury, he does not sink into gloom, but wants to get back to work as quickly as possible.

– The trip can also accommodate those crappy days. Sadness, anger, bitterness and everything. It’s such a rollercoaster. Being able to do something right away has been key for me. Then you feel that the package stays safe and your mind stays fresh.

Dreams kept the flame alive

Since autumn, Räsänen has been in a good situation, both mentally and physically. He has been able to train normally for months now, and there is little need to apply them anymore in terms of old injuries.

Räsänen, who previously preferred training alone, has made a change in the direction of group training in recent years. There is an even stronger support network around. Family, coaches, common-law partner, and now also the training group led by Stenman.

– It gives really badly. Let’s have a good chat and talk about things other than sports. It’s a huge asset for me.

Räsänen’s life is in the balance. He is completely healthy and he is able to live the everyday life of a competitive athlete. The best results in ten years have been achieved during the administration.

Räsänen is finally in a situation where he can set his sights on the top. It’s been missed.

– We have been building to this point the whole time. I never stopped dreaming. It’s the one that keeps the flame going.