From Olympic-Bound to Burnout: How Acupuncture Helped Me Heal from Overtraining

By Dr. Hilary Patzer /

From Olympic-Bound to Burnout: How Acupuncture Helped Me Heal from Overtraining

I have been a competitive athlete, and person since I can remember. I have never shied away from a healthy competition. I was born to push the limits, raise the bar, and put my head down and go. My determination and focus blends to provide a recipe of a peak performer, in almost everything I do. I am a striver, mover, and a shaker.

This pushed me to reach international competition in three sports, my doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, and now my master’s in Health and Performance Coaching. My journey is not for everyone, and that is the beautiful reality of our diverse world, but it has been right for me. I was built strong, but every bump in the road has reinforced that and clarified my vision and goals. Even though it is not right for everyone, I am hopeful that you can gain a few perils from my successes, mistakes, and journey.

As I mentioned above, I have been a competitive athlete for as long as I can remember, and cross-country skiing is the sport I realized my first legit successes. I was a bit of a late bloomer and I was “late” to the sport. I was still very young, but many of my competitors developed before me and had been skiing for many years before I joined the mix.

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I was used to getting beat, but I was quickly climbing the ranks and breathing down my competitor’s necks. And then one year at Junior Olympics in Bend, Oregon, I “popped” a few races, and that was that. There was no turning back, I had tasted glory and I wanted to win. I continued this upward trajectory through college, eventually being the fastest American woman in both the classic and skate races that year at NCAAs Division.

People were taking note and I was having a blast pushing my body to the brink. I was invited to ski with the US Ski Team the following year and I happily accepted. What I did not know was that there was a ghost brewing in my closet, I had started my long and very emotionally painful journey to overtraining.

What Are Some of the Effects of Overtraining?

Joe Park, an orthopedic surgeon with the University of Virginia Health System, told the Chicago Tribune that injury is the first warning sign of overtraining, but overtraining isn’t always manifested as a physical injury.

Sleep disturbances, moodiness and lack of motivation may all be due to hormonal changes that can occur with overtraining. But the area is not well understood. Cortisol - the stress hormone - plays a role, but it is not clear how. For female athletes, missed menstrual periods can also be a sign of overtraining and should not be taken lightly.

An important takeaway from this quote is that very little is known about overtraining, its causes, repercussions, and lasting effects. I personally experienced hormonal and emotional changes, and while my body broke down, I didn’t suffer any injuries, just bone chilling fatigue. Everyone is different and every treatment should be as well.  Being driven is one of my greatest attributes, but it also became one of my downfalls. I thought that I could train harder and faster and that would translate to racing faster. However, that was not the reality, I pushed too hard, too often, and for too long, and my body paid a price. I hit rock bottom physically and mentally and had to pick myself up by my bootstraps.

The hardest thing to do as an overachiever is to rest and wait.

Physically I had imploded. I had no energy, yet I could not sleep at night. My cortisol levels were the same as someone who had pulled two all nighters and my body ached from lactic acid just walking across the room. I went from a bullet train to a big wheel. Mentally I was watching my dreams, my goals, and my passions disappear. How could I have been one of the best skiers in the country one season and the very next I could hardly run a mile. I knew there was something more profound going on, I just had to be patient and receptive.

How Acupuncture Helped Me Recover

I have since learned that one of the worst things to experience is to watch your child fall flat on their face. I cannot imagine how my parents handled my despair. And they probably hardly recognized me… I was losing myself.

My mom suggested that I start getting regular acupuncture treatments. I did and I loved them. I had found the reason for my fall, I was going to be an acupuncturist, and I was going to pour myself into my new chapter and help countless people.

I am now a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a Level lll Fascial Stretch Specialist and certified in Cranial Sacral Therapy and Neurokinetic Therapy, and I recently completed my second Master's degree in Health Coaching. I use a combination of all of these skills to help elite athletes and peak performers reach their full potential. You can learn more about me and my practice here!

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