When Ceedy Duce, previously known as C.J. Gardner-Johnson, collapsed with a non-contact leg injury on the second day of Lions training camp, Detroit held its breath. The city exhaled in relief, learning Duce would soon return. However, the initial relief from learning that he avoided a major injury was short-lived. Duce later suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, an injury that threatened to end his season.
Fast forward 95 days, and Duce defies expectations. He’s back on the practice field, preparing for a comeback before the season’s end. His rapid recovery from an injury slated for six months of rehabilitation is nothing short of miraculous. But for Duce, the physical healing was just one aspect. He acknowledges the mental battle as the toughest part of his journey.
The Mental Game: Battling More Than Physical Pain
“I’ll probably say I had more dark days than good days,” Duce confided to the media while sitting content at his locker in Allen Park. “I’m by myself…I’m an athlete, everybody expects everything to be fine and dandy but you take football away, what you going to do? It’s our life.”
His struggle resonates with athletes who know the loneliness of injury recovery. As a former University of Michigan baseball pitcher whose professional dreams were torn after a labrum surgery, I understand the mental toll of injury. You lose more than just physical ability; you lose a part of your identity. Duce’s journey underscores the mental toll of being away from the team, the sport, and the life you know.
Duce, isolated from his team, faced long, solitary days of rehabilitation at his home in Florida. Despite the medical support and physical tools at his disposal, the emotional void was palpable.
“I had a rough off-season. Lost the Super Bowl. Just lost one of my brothers. So, you gotta think about it, ball got taken away quick. So I had to really like, think about life and who I was. I think that’s why I’m back so quick. Cause of God, you know?”
Duce’s faith and determination played a crucial role in his comeback. Facing the same temptations and procrastinations as anyone else, his unwavering focus on returning to his team helped him overcome unprecedented challenges.
Confronting Fear and Faith: Duce’s Introspective Journey
Now back in action, Duce’s presence is unmistakable. Standing at 5-11, his impact transcends his physical stature. His positive attitude and competitive spirit are infectious, both in the locker room and on the field.
“It’s not just being a football player,” Duce shares, “it’s being a player and a person. I think the joy I bring to myself, I think I should be able to spread it out in this locker room and everybody smiles and just understand that you don’t get this opportunity to actually come back and help a team to make a run, so I’m happy.”
As the Lions stand on the brink of clinching the NFC North for the first time, Duce’s fear of re-injury looms. Yet, his commitment to his team and his love for the game outweigh his fears.
“I pray every night about this situation, cause it could happen again,” he shared, expressing his awareness of the fragile nature of an athlete’s career. This spiritual grounding has played a crucial role in his healing.
“I’m scared,” Duce admitted candidly about his return to the field. This fear, however, isn’t a sign of weakness but a testament to his human side, a side often obscured in professional athletes.
I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, so I gotta face my fear somewhere by just going out there and doing what I love. So I think that was the biggest thing right now, just facing my fear and messing up again. That’s all. Messing up, injury, letting you guys down…I just want to make my teammates proud. I don’t really care about nobody else. As long as they know I’m the same person before I left, I’ll be good.
This vulnerability reveals a deeper layer of Duce’s character. His fears are not just about physical injury, but also about disappointing his team and fans. Yet, it’s this very fear that drives him to push beyond his limits and return stronger.
Ceedy Duce’s Remarkable Recovery
As Duce steps back onto the field, his journey serves as an inspiration to many, showcasing the importance of resilience, both mentally and physically, in the face of adversity. His presence on the team boosts their chances of making NFL history. For Duce, it’s not just about playing football; it’s about rewriting history for Detroit and for himself.
Ceedy Duce encapsulates the spirit of Detroit and the Lions: “This team got a chance to change the city’s history and just change their history of their names.” His role in potentially leading the Lions to a championship will immortalize him in Detroit’s heart, no matter the name he bears.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK