From American Fitness Jan/Feb 2014.
Before I tore the ACL in my knee, I was invincible. Nothing could stop me from pushing myself and the students in my fitness classes to new levels of achievement. I did sprint triathlons through rough ocean waves and urban streets, and regularly biked 50+ miles. I drove the older ladies beyond their comfort zones in water aerobics, and rolled my eyes as I led menopausal house wives on power walks.
Then I skied into a challenging mogul field, and wound up watching riders on the chair lift pass over me as I lay in the ski patrol sled.
I’d experienced a laparoscopy, a neck injury, and a sprained ankle, but none of those prepared me for the pain of a dangling ACL. I couldn’t focus on the ER doctor’s x-ray explanation, but I knew surgery was in my future.
A nurse encouraged me to get on a stationary bike and keep my knee moving immediately to prevent scar tissue, but all I could manage was my vial of Vicodin, a box of Kleenex, and a permanent position on my couch. By the time I was seen by the orthopedic surgeon, my leg was as stiff as a utility pole, and depression from the pain and immobility had taken hold.
Post-surgery, the pain increased, and I couldn’t get through the therapy exercises I learned in the hospital. The weeks of estimated recovery stretched into months. My boyfriend accepted a promotion, and still on crutches, I moved with him to a new city.
My new doctor got me off the painkillers and the crutches, and suggested I try massage, swimming, or whatever I could tolerate in addition to physical therapy, or a second surgery would be guaranteed. If I couldn’t improve my situation, she thought I might need anti-depressants too.
My injured leg was an inch smaller in diameter than the other, and I had gained so much weight my workout clothes no longer fit. I had a good cry over my downward slide from fitness professional to de-conditioned basket case, then bought myself a new bathing suit and joined a gym.
I found a personal trainer to help strengthen the muscles around my knee, and a massage therapist who applied deep work on the scar tissue. I tried acupuncture, and Feldenkrais exercises, and finally my physical therapist charted range of motion improvement. I could swim fifteen minutes, then twenty five, and eventually I could again manage a mile.
Slowly, I got back into teaching. Only this time, having been the overweight, unfit participant who could barely walk from the locker room to the pool, I offered a multi-level class to ensure everyone’s success. I knew to ask if anyone had injuries or other issues, and I was surprised by how many raised their hands.
As I learned about my clients’ hip replacements and spinal surgeries, I signed up for continuing education in muscle imbalances, arthritis, and rehab. I now teach a variety of pool classes, and I’ve incorporated stretching and balance work into my land classes. I have a network of complementary practitioners for client referrals.
My own surgery and recovery offered insight into ways to help others struggling with injury and illness. But most importantly it taught me that when clients want to talk about their plantar fasciitis, their C-section, or even their divorce, instead of rolling my eyes, I look down at the scar on my knee and ask, “How can I help?”