Injured to New & Improved

ACL blog_knee brace
My lovely full leg brace pre-surgery

I want to share a piece of my fitness journey with you. This particular time in life changed me and my view on my health and fitness quite a bit.

I had gotten back into workouts regularly and was eating well for a solid 2 years by this point. I was likely in the best shape of my life.

In February of 2013, I went on a ski trip with friends to Park City, Utah. I was pretty “green” to skiing, but took a lesson each time I went on a ski trip.  So, I was getting better, but still a newbie.  On the 2nd day, we went out to Brighton. On my 1st run down the slopes, I took a fall and could tell that something wasn’t right with my knee. I wasn’t in pain, but my knee would buckle if I completely extended it or tried to pivot on it. So, I spent the day hanging out with the locals in the bar while the rest of my crew played on the slopes (not a bad consolation prize if you ask me). That night I bought a cheap knee brace so I could ski the next day…which I did. I actually was skiing better than I had been. I think it caused me to really focus on my form.  Anyway, the rest of the trip was fantastic and I thought I just irritated my old patellar tracking issue that I dealt with all through collegiate bowling (Yes, I bowled in college but that’s for a different blog day).

ACL blog_ski crew
My ski crew!

Upon returning home, I made the smart decision to have my knee checked out by a Dr.  When he said “well, your ACL is really lose and I’m pretty sure you tore it, but lets run an MRI to find out”, my heart sank. What?!?! A REAL INJURY?!? I don’t even know what to do with that. I’m in good shape and I’ve put a lot of time into getting to this point. I can’t have an injury!  Needless to say, a week later I learn that I have, in-fact, torn my ACL completely through. The good news: nothing else showed any damage.  The Dr was surprised that I had no swelling, full range of motion, and zero pain at all. He even asked if his Vanderbilt student interns could come in to perform the tests on my knee to see what a fully torn ACL actually feels like without any barriers to it, since I had no pain.  Since it was a learning experience, of course I obliged.

At this point I had a decision to make, either have ACL replacement surgery or live a less active life because my knee wouldn’t hold up to the things I had been doing. This wasn’t even a decision. I immediately said “schedule me in as soon as possible”. I made the choice to use cadaver tissue, instead of my patellar tendon for a couple of reasons. But the main reason was to get me back to work and back to normal life and rebuilding my strength as quickly as possible. I was determined to not lose momentum on my health and fitness…and go skiing on the trip the following year.

Surgery was a breeze. Best. Nap. Ever.  And I had some fantastic nurses taking care of me after surgery.  Thanks mom and dad!!! Overall, I didn’t have much pain. I remember one instance of pain where my pain medication wore off in the middle of the night, but it quickly subsided after taking the pain medication. I started physical therapy a mere 24 hours after surgery. Let me tell you what isn’t fun… trying to rock stationary bike pedals back and forth with a knee that has just been beaten up through surgery. Through recovery and physical therapy, the PTs and my Ortho kept telling me that I was the “model patient” because I was doing my exercises multiple times at home and never missed an appointment. Every time I was there, I was asking if I could do more. They were worried I would push too far and cause problems, but I followed their orders strictly and progressed much faster than they anticipated.

 

Along the way, I learned so much about myself and my mental struggles. Being stationary when you are accustomed to being extremely active is VERY, VERY exhausting. When you can’t release stress and you aren’t around your normal friends, you start to feel lonely. No one seems to understand what you are going through, no one really cares that you are “bored” or “bummed” or whatever…and honestly, they shouldn’t have to deal with it. I needed to learn how to manage my own mental struggles, so I did some searching about recovering from ACL surgery. One of the biggest struggles and most common complaints was the lack of support and how hard it was to get through each day being less of a person than you were before. At least that’s what it feels like to most that tear their ACL, because most are very active athletes. The very thing they live for has been ripped away from them (for a fairly extended time). I decided to search social media for like-minded people. I was surprised to find that there was a large #ACLFamily on twitter. I very quickly immersed myself in this group and chatted about the struggles, good days, bad days, how to overcome the mental challenges, etc…  This twitter group was such a huge part in my recovery!! It made me realize how important support from like-minded individuals really matters in everything that you do.  I owe such a great deal to these amazing people for being there for me and for allowing me to attempt to help them as they dealt with their own challenges.

ACL blog_PT
Physical therapy or circus clown for their entertainment??

A few months later, I was released to start doing basic exercises. Shortly after, I was released to do my normal workouts. Soon after I was released for regular sports, including skiing!!! Yes!!! Success!!

Now it was time for the real work. Time to get ready for ski season! Stability work and strength were going to be very key. I amped up my workouts and stressed my body like I hadn’t ever before. By the time the ski trip rolled around, I wasn’t necessarily in better shape than before surgery, but I was definitely stronger. My balance was incredible and I could certainly lift quite a bit more than before.

Having this goal really pushed me to make changes in my approach to fitness. I was working toward strength, instead of weight loss or looking a certain way. It made the gym fun again! I was no longer working against something (fat), I was working with something (muscle).

Since then, I have modified my workout regimen, goals, and approach in the gym many times. More to come on some of those changes in future blogs. The injury allowed me to completely shift my focus and realize that even in fitness, change is the way to growth. And with those changes, support is always needed.

Regardless of your challenge or goal, find other people that like to see you succeed, have similar goals, have similar passions, and keep them close. You will need them and they will need you. You will challenge one another and grow from it.

 

Just a side note:

I did gain about 10lbs through my “down-time”, but I lost that weight quickly when I was back to being active and eating properly.

 

ACL blog_brighton
The beautiful scenery at Brighton the following ski season. Mission Accomplished.

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