Torn, but determined

Apr 17, 2018

This is me three weeks after I had torn my ACL in my right knee, but I didn't know it at the time. I had hurt my knee in #soccer three weeks prior. The ER doctor and my primary doctor told me, "you sprained your knee, take it easy, ice, etc."
So, you may look at this picture and think, "WHOA, she did a race with a torn ACL!"
No, I didn't.
I just hopped a wall because I was going to accompany my son on his little one-mile race. The picture right after this shows a severe grimace as I felt the pain and anguish of that torn ACL. Some irrational part of my brain had been thinking that I could have completed my own #Spartan race which would have involved 25+ obstacles, bigger and more complex than that little wall. I had been feeling down because I was letting a sprained knee hold me back from doing my race.
What stands out to me in this picture is my shoulders. Do you see the muscles there? Those muscles make me proud. They took about two years to develop. Prior to my knee injury I was in the best shape of my adult life and it had been no small feat to accomplish.
In the spring of 2015 I started making life changes. I had see-sawed with fitness and seemed to constantly rely on others for direction and assistance. Coaches, fitness instructors, husband—I always relied on someone to motivate me or show me what to do. But that spring I decided I wanted to try an obstacle course race in the summer, the #RenegadeRage in #Pasco. Once I committed, I knew I had to do all that I could to get ready. From spring to summer, I became a trail runner. I sacrificed summer sleep-ins and would wake up at 5 a.m. to go run. I played on monkey bars, built upper body strength, and worked on getting callouses.
My #fitness snowballed, and it was awesome. The Renegade in July was a blast and I felt good. That rolled into me doing my first Spartan in August and I was hooked on OCR races. I kept up a running routine and re-joined my old gym. In November, I returned to 'my sport', my passion, my first athletic love—soccer. I couldn't believe that at 35 I was reunited with my old friend. I was not fast; I was not nimble; I felt weak and out of shape; my footwork was not there; my confidence was low. But I was so happy to be playing again.
Fastforward to summer of 2017, my fitness had improved a great deal. I had been playing soccer year-round for a year and a half, 2-3 times a week with recreation and competitive teams. I had done another Spartan and Renegade race. I was hoping to do a Spartan Trifecta in 2018, or at least before I turned 40. Aside from soccer and trail running, I was going to my gym a couple of times a week. I felt so thankful for all of this. But, I also knew that I had to be careful. I would pray before every soccer game and 'hope' that I didn't get hurt. Many of my soccer teammates wore knee braces and had injured their knees. I would always tell my husband that, “I don't want to mess up my knees.”
So, on a smoky evening in the summer, the night before my family was going to go on a big camping trip, I went to play soccer. I was very focused on staying fit and wanted to be ready for the upcoming Spartan. My workouts were scheduled, and I didn't want to miss one. I loved the challenge of playing in the heat and the smoke. In the first half of the game I was sprinting towards the corner of the field and was easily the first person to the ball. As I prepared to connect with the ball I was facing the corner of the field, but I wanted to shoot the ball in the opposite direction towards the goal. As I planted my left leg towards the corner, I kicked the ball with my right toward the goal then tried to plant my right foot again. My body's direction and the plant of my leg diametrically opposed, and the results were disastrous. I heard a loud pop and immediately tucked and rolled when my leg buckled. As I lay in the humid grass and my teammates gathered around, I was so disappointed. I knew this was not what I wanted to have happen. I was immediately humbled by the experience of being carried off the field, handed ice packs, and even driven home as everyone offered to help me. At the Emergency Room, I started to cry because I was worried that I had screwed up our family camping trip and I was worried about the damage I had done to my knee. When I left though, I felt a little reassured as the ER doctor thought I had just sprained my knee and I would be able to still do my Spartan in three weeks.
After following up a week later with my primary doctor, she recommended that I take it easy and continue to allow my knee to heal. Because I didn’t want to further injure myself I decided to postpone my Spartan, but because my kids were going to participate, and we already had a hotel reserved we went to the event anyway. In the back of my mind I kept thinking that maybe I could do it anyways. Unfortunately, after hopping the wall in my son’s race I realized there was no way.
Six weeks after my injury I tried to go play soccer. Throughout the game I kept falling over because I couldn’t plant my leg. I guess it should have been obvious to me at that point that I had really screwed up my knee, but I still didn’t think I was that injured. I could walk just fine, I could jog and kick a ball, and I was even coaching my children’s soccer teams. Around nine weeks out I spoke with an acquaintance who is in Sports Med. It was then that she suggested I look at getting an MRI and verifying if I had torn something.
I still didn’t think I had done anything too bad to my knee and that it might just be a partial tear to one of my ligaments. After the MRI, I was surprised to hear that I had very clearly torn my ACL and possibly my meniscus. Surgery was scheduled, and the talk of long term recovery and physical therapy began.
In December of 2017 I had surgery to repair my ACL. When I woke up from surgery I was told that my meniscus was also injured, had needed repair, and I would be unable to put weight on my knee for six weeks. Crutches, for six weeks. Everything became a challenge, stairs in the house, getting in and out of the car, not driving, trying to cook, go to the bathroom, bathe. Around the four-week mark, when I was just about fed-up with my limitations, the joint pain in my elbows, and I wanted to throw my crutches out the window, I was humbled by the thought that I was so blessed that my experience was short term. I switched my frustration to thankfulness that I would be able to regain the use of my legs. I would be able to walk again, run, feel, and so on. I wasn’t paralyzed. I still had my legs. I just had to get through the experience and keep working towards the long-term goal of recovery.
Four months later and I am still on this journey. I have had to reframe so much of my attitude about what I can and cannot do, for now. My ‘biggest’ victory so far was being able to jog for a total of three minutes at my last physical therapy appointment. There is a lot I am still hoping to do in the long term. My goal of completing a Spartan Trifecta before I turn 40 isn’t out of reach. I really hope to play soccer again, but I also want to be able to be active in other areas of my life. Maybe I will need to reframe what that means and engage in activities that don’t require cutting, like soccer. Maybe I’ll just focus on strengthening my body for Obstacle Course races, maybe at some point I’ll compete in a Physique competition. For mental well-being, physical well-being, for my family’s well-being, physical health is an important part of my life and though I’m in a rebuilding and recovery stage, it’s not over yet. If you’re just getting started on such a journey, it may take a while, there may be set backs, but keep persevering. There is no doubt that the benefits are worth it.
Might you get injured?
You might.
But, if you don’t, you might also face a lot of other health problems that will be more damaging to your body, your finances, and your well-being overall.