Just a quick update to let you know that, on 5/3, exactly 18 months post-ATR, I ran my first-ever marathon (longest previous race: 10k) in Orange County, California. Final time 4:06. Pretty stoked.
The message for those of you starting out, part way through, or still going through post-ATR in some way is that, when you look at that NYC marathon chart on the blog and it seems like a long way away or that you’re not progressing like you want, know that you CAN and WILL not only make it through recovery and rehab, but you can still achieve things you never even did (or maybe never even dreamed of doing) before ATR.
Good luck to you all!
One year exactly since surgery. So many firsts: general anesthetic, going under the knife, a cast, being broken (not just bent or bruised) enough to have get put back together. The beginning of the healing process from the ATR I’d suffered on 11.3.13 playing flag football with my team, wearing the colors of the university I love so much. The day that changed so much—and put in motion so many changes that will be with me (hopefully) for my whole life. Seeing that NYC Marathon graphic on my blog … I almost can’t believe I crossed that finish line today—literally and metaphorically (more on that later).
This is a long post. I really appreciate it if you make it to the end, and I hope it resonates with you in some way. I humbly admit to how self-serving that is. Just back from a 3.5 mile run, lifting weights, and doing yoga on a freakin’ gorgeous November afternoon, which would have felt so routine before . . . now it’s just pure joy to be able to do it. I hope I never lose that feeling, and I felt like sharing my thoughts and feelings with you on this day.
It’s hard to articulate my emotions today. It’s actually always been hard for me to do that. I was always supposed to be the happy, laid-back one who just let things slide off or go. Ha! I was voted “Most Likely to Become President” in high school (and actually was president at my law school). But that’s not real life, and it’s not me. This whole process—from ATR today—have made it so much easier to talk about things, to be who I am, and to be ok with that. Blessing in disguise? You better believe it. I think it’s easier sometimes to write feelings down than speak them aloud, because it allows you to really think about them, to roll the words around in your head before typing them, to hit “Backspace” when you think of a better way to say it, to see them and be able to manipulate them in context before clicking “Publish.”
The overwhelming thing I feel is gratitude (yes, the kind in the scene in the JJ Abrams re-imagining of Star Trek when Spock expresses gratitude to the Vulcan Science Academy for considering his humanity a “disability”, but also the genuine “wow, really, THANK YOU” kind). Gratitude to my mom for coming to DC and looking after her boy for a week, and mom & step-dad for spending Turkey Day with me; to my dad, step-mom, & little sis for the visits and check-ins; to my surgery team for doing an amazing job; to the partner at the law firm I worked for 10 years ago for calling and referring me to the surgery team; to my physical therapist for getting me back in game shape; to my colleagues at work for hooking me up with an anti-grav chair, a box of hot sauces, weeks of telework, and so much support; to this community for its advice, help, and understanding; to the countless friends, family, and total strangers (especially on the P6 bus) who all stepped up in various ways; and to my amazing girlfriend (with whom, at the time, I’d only been on like 4 dates!) who not only stuck with me, but really helped me recover and thrive, doing little things and big, even to the point of helping me transition sports (hint: she’s the distance runner in our home). But for all the gratitude, there’s still …
Pain and weakness, meekness and humility. When people ask if I still feel it or notice it, I tell them the truth: “every day, every step.” I was prepared for that, and it doesn’t bother me; it’s just there, like the sun on my pale Anglo-Frisian-Celtic skin—something to be managed and vigilant about. But it’s still there, and always will be. It’s a constant reminder of the thin strands—literally and figuratively—that stand between being able-bodied or injured. You can substitute “rich or poor”, “free or jailed”, or so many other concepts to illustrate that fine line between what we want and what we don’t. And today is Veterans Day. There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and normal folks like farmers protecting their homes and families around the world who sacrificed for their countries, their values, and their people who are going through what we’re going through (in terms of catastrophic injury and recovery), but most of us were just playing a sport when we did it. Those brave women and men were risking their lives for others. So I feel an incredible amount of humility today, and will every 11.11. But there’s also …
Hope and wonder. So much of it. About the human body’s ability to heal itself. About living in an era in a city that has the resources to put the body and the mind of a middle-class rec sports dude back together. Imagine this injury 100 years ago, before general anesthetic, before digital imaging, before surgical and recovery techniques, before the ability to really come back from this. Or imagine this injury today, in 2014, in parts West Africa, currently being ravaged by the scourge of Ebola, or Haiti, still recovering from that earthquake and tsunami years ago, or the poorest parts of my own country and continent, where the resources can’t get there without substantial cost and time, if they can get there at all, and even then, only to the very rich or well connected. The Dalai Lama once said that it doesn’t matter how many times we fall, but how many times we rise. That line got recycled in Chris Nolan’s Batman: “why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” It gives me an expansive and expanded sense of …
Understanding and empathy. About what the disabled go through, even though I only tasted it for 8 weeks. About the importance of a legal system that recognizes that a nation of people who are given the opportunity to be productive can and will be. The dip in the sidewalk, the bus that kneels, the ability to telework, and so many other little things. How many nations throughout history can say that they thought about the needs of their neediest, and decided to do something about it because it was not only right for those individual suffering, but also for the greater good because then those people can produce not only goods and services, but also the opportunity for diversity and understanding with themselves and others.
Blogs are necessarily self-serving. I type the words, hit publish, and hope what I’ve said is relevant to someone out there, but it’s also a tonic in itself FOR me (and, I would postulate, all of us who belong to this blog). It’s an online diary of sorts, a cathartic practice that can only come from sharing challenges in an intimate way with a community that “Gets It”, but is open to the world. Would I mind if anything I’ve written on achillesblog ended up above the fold on the front page of the Washington Post? Not a bit. But it’s still an interesting combination of and tension between those concepts: intimacy, challenges, recovery, community, global access.
It’s sounds freakin’ weird to say it, but it’s been a good year. A really good year. So many good things have happened this year, starting with what happened a year ago today: a successful surgery.
As I posted before, I ran the inaugural Across the Bay 10k over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Sunday to mark the anniversary. I raised about $1000 for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; I couldn’t help but feel the connection between running over the Bay and thinking about my recovery and Bay’s own need to recover. It felt good to give back, but honestly, it felt the BEST to RUN. To RUN! And run I did: I set a new 10k Personal Record of 50:36, an 8:09 mile pace. Not fast by anyone’s standards, but still my best, and after ATR. That felt damn good (sorry for the language, moderators). And it’s not over; that amazing girlfriend I mentioned above? Signed us up for the real thing. Yep, we’re signed up for my first ever marathon (her third) in Orange County, CA next spring.
I’ve signed off each post on this blog with “=\\=“. It’s meant to symbolize a ruptured achilles. One year later, of course it’s all healed and bionic. The calf is smaller, the body weaker, but the will stronger than ever.
Whew. It felt good to say all that. If you made it this far (and I don’t blame you if you didn’t … this was one long post!), thank you for reading. If you’re one year or more out from ATR: you might be smirking a very understanding smirk. If you’re just post-ATR or post-op; NWB, PWB, FWB, or two-shoes; or hitting your stride in PT: yes, you still have a long journey ahead, but YOU CAN DO IT. The Persian poet Rumi once wrote “you were born with wings; why prefer to crawl through life?” In a way, the past year has helped remind me that we all have wings, but we need to WORK to unfurl them and fly, especially when one of them gets clipped a little.
I wish you all the best with your own recovery. I’m going to sign off now, and enjoy a beer on my roof. The sky is blue, and the sun is shining.
=//= no more
Hi AchillesBlog Community,
Here’s my 11-month update:
Strength, endurance, and muscle tone are all back to almost-normal. I have a ways to go with certain lifts like squats and legpress because I held off for so long. Biking is as good as ever, maybe better since I do it so much now. I played some softball this summer and I’m back to playing flag football — somewhat gingerly, I admit, but it’s great to be back on the field. I’m definitely slower, but part of that might be psychological; i.e., not wanting to push myself too hard, and part might be for lack of training for speed, and of course, part might be that my repaired leg just isn’t as fast as it used to be.
I’m also getting into distance running (’cause if I can’t run fast, at least I can run far), and ran my first 10k training run since surgery on Sunday. It actually felt surprisingly good, after a pretty slow start, finished at an average 10:12 pace. I’m running a real 10k in a month (to mark my one year anniversary), and looking to be around 56:00, or a 9-minute mile.
Still some stiffness in the morning, which is helped by pre- and post-sleep stretching and foot pumps. I get some heel pain in both feet, especially in the morning, which is kinda weird, but helped by stretching, rolling, and massaging, so I’m thinking it’s a little plantar fascia inflammation, fatigue, or tendinitis. The calf is still about an inch smaller in circumference than the healthy one. I have some scar tissue at the top of the tendon that just won’t go away, but it doesn’t really get in the way either. The scar gets rubbed raw pretty easy, which is helped by coverage, keeping moist, etc.
I also find that I get out of shape way faster than pre-ATR, and it’s way tougher to get back into shape, too. More reason to set goals and keep working at achieving them. Push off / explosiveness is still not there; I’m at maybe 75%. Still working on that.
One thing I would recommend to everyone: COMPRESSION SOCKS. They’ve made a night-and-day difference when I travel, when I run, and when I play sports, both in terms of in-game performance and recovery. I use both 2XU and CEP brand socks. I find the former slightly better in terms of performance and the latter better for comfort and longer uses, like coast to coast flights.
Another piece of advice: keep up the PT. I still stretch, do heel raises, etc. because when I don’t for a few days, I can really feel the weakness and lack of motion. Biking is probably my favorite recovery exercise because it’s low-impact, great for cardio, helps flex the tendon and build the calf at the same time.
As I look at the NYC marathon graphic on the right side of my blog, I can’t help but remember sitting on my couch last November, looking at that graphic, thinking I’d never get out of Brooklyn, much less all the way to Central Park. But, here we are, one month away!
So, I wanted to share some big news: I signed up for my first-ever *actual* marathon this coming spring. It’ll be back home in So Cal. I’m pretty nervous, having never run anything close to that distance, and a little worried about whether my mid-30s body can adjust to the new sport. But, I have an amazing training partner, some bright, shiny new gear, and a plan and a goal, and it’s having goals that’s really helped me get this far, so here we go!
All the best to each of you and your recoveries!
Hi Achilles Blog community,
It’s been a while since I checked in, and hope you’re all doing well. I have a question that’s been bugging me lately: once you completed PT and are back to full activity, how do you get over the “plateau” and back to full strength and speed? I’m at 9 months 9 days post-surgery, have run a couple 5ks and Warrior Dashes, and was feeling solid. Back in the game right? Not so fast …
I started playing softball again, and noticed how my jumping and side-side motion was off by about 25-50%, not to mention my speed around the bases. Ok, understandable and completely foreseen; this is a one-year recovery. Then I did a Spartan Sprint, and felt like garbage; my worst OCR ever. Admittedly, I could have trained harder and better for it (and 95 degrees + humidity in Southern Maryland in July isn’t ideal), but it really woke me up to just how difficult it is to get back to full strength and speed — and maintain it! — than just getting back to full activity.
All that said, I’m incredibly thankful to even be having this “problem” after everything that ATR can and does mean. By way of anecdote, a good friend just partially tore his “good” AT (he had a full ATR last summer on the other leg), and will have to go through more rest and rehab, so I’m very mindful that I’m in a good place, all things considered, and that it could have been a lot worse. But at the same time, I don’t want to use this “plateau” as an excuse to be a less active person who accepts a larger waistline and is weaker and slower.
If you’ve gotten back to full strength and speed (whether it be sports, running, weight lifting, etc.), how did you do it?
For me, just getting back to the training and activities I was doing before the injury isn’t cutting it. I’m still carrying around some post-surgery weight, especially in my mid-section (which I really want to get rid of), and still have less endurance, jumping ability, and speed (some of which is probably related to the weight, some to the AT and lower leg, etc.). Do I need to train harder in order to get back to pre-injury form and function? Really try to focus on good nutrition and eliminating bad habits? Or something else? What works well and what doesn’t?
I appreciate your thoughts and advice, and good luck with your own recoveries!
Today marks seven months since I went under the knife to repair my torn left Achilles. I’m happy to say, I’m about 80 per cent back to normal! Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. Since then I’ve
- Gotten medically cleared for full activity and finished PT
- Ran a 5k warrior dash (doing another this weekend, and a 4mile spartan in July)
- Biking to work everyday
- Played some softball
- Ran a 7:30 mile
- Planning for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 10k for my one year anniversary of surgery.
There is still some morning stiffness, or tension after a lot of activity, air travel, or sitting at my desk, and the scar is pretty dry. So, I’m keeping up with stretching and at-home PT, plus athletic training.
Reading your stories continues to be a major source of motivation and inspiration. For those that are just starting out, know that with hard work, patience, and a positive attitude, you CAN GET THERE!! And that the journey continues …
good luck with you recoveries and keep writing!
Good news, AchillesBlog community!
I had my 5 month post-op checkup today (on the actual 5 month anniversary) and got the ALL CLEAR from my OS to resume full physical activity! I’m as overjoyed as I’m sure those of you who’ve gotten to this point have been.
Had my final PT session on Weds, too, and my PT was like “dude, you were skiing black diamonds in Colorado last week and doing so much in here we had to think of new exercises for you. I’ve got nothing left to make you do.” That felt good too, haha.
Which reminds me — skiing last week went great. It didn’t hurt that Colorado is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation snowfall year (we got another foot while we were up there) and I’m definitely not 100% (I’d say maybe 75%) but after planning to ski maybe a half day on the greens and getting three full days all the way up to black diamond bump runs and some nice powder at Breckenridge, I couldn’t be happier. My top speed was only 43 mph, but no complaints ;-).
The scar gets a little less “crunchy” all the time, though it’s still really dry and needs lots of Vitamin E and cocoa/shea butter. OS says that could last 12-18 months, and that’s all good. I’m doing single-leg heel raises about halfway up, so there’s still work to do there, too, and my mile time is only up to 8 min / 7.5 MPH. I know there’s still a lot of work left to do to get to 100%, and a lifetime of watching out for my new and improved tendon (I don’t plan on running a marathon just yet) but for now, with the good news and a gorgeous, sunny, mild spring day in DC, during the height of the cherry blossoms — the kind we get twice, maybe thrice a year — I’m really, really stoked. Celebration this weekend: St John’s v. Naval Academy Croquet Match, then hiking the Billy Goat Trail.
Thanks again for all of your moral support and great advice, folks. It’s been inimitably beneficial. I hope to continue posting and helping out others around here for a long time to come. See you around the blog!
Cheers and best wishes for your own recoveries,
Happy Spring, everyone!
Just a quick update to mark my 4-month post-operation anniversary (which was actually March 11, but I was traveling and didn’t have a chance to post).
The biggest news is JOGGING!!! Best feeling in the world. I’m restricted to 1 mile or 10 minutes every other day, but it’s feeling stronger and stronger, and PT Brian says it looks great, good motion, good pushoff, no hitch (which is a surprise, given the differences in strength and how long I was limping). So, that’s pretty awesome. I totally know how ron feels now.
I’m also up to about 1 hour or 10 miles on the bike, plus agility, pliometrics, heel lifting (single leg is now up to 2 x 10 reps, getting about 2 inches off the ground on each rep), and balancing. Things are coming along. It’s a long, slow climb, but I can smell the pine trees at the top!
I’ve found that massage goes a long way. It helps bust up scar tissue and prevents that “pulling” feeling we sometime get when doing exercises. I try to do at least a little massage everyday. Keeping up with stretching helps big time, too.
I’ve also started incorporating a lot of walking into my daily routine, and that is really helping. I still need to wear cushioned footwear; my heel, foot, and AT get tired if I don’t, but I always feel good for at least a day after, and it’s a great way to get some exercise, get the blood flowing down there, and work off some of the post-op weight gain. Mine was about 12 pounds, and so far I’ve dropped 4.
Finally, the importance of rest and nutrition: a can’t emphasize enough what a difference enough rest, a good diet, and moderating alcohol intake have made during my recovery. I can really feel the difference if I don’t sleep or rest enough, eat badly (read: fatty fried foods, processed foods, etc.) vs. goodly (lean protein, lots of greens and fruits, plenty of water), or drink too much.
NEXT GOAL: jog 2 miles or 20 minutes
GOAL AFTER THAT: ski half a day in Breckenridge on April 3 (5 months post-ATR).
6-MONTH POST-OP GOAL: finish a 5k Warrior Dash on 5/10.
1-YEAR POST-OP GOAL: run the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 10k on 11/10/14 in under an hour.
Here’s hoping your recoveries are going well, too, and please let me know if I can help!
Again, happy spring, and enjoy the warmer weather!
I’m about a week from my 4 month post-op anniversary, but in the interim, thought I’d share my progression in physical therapy and exercises for your info and for comparisons between treatments.
First, good news: I visited my OS for a check up last week, and he was pleasantly surprised by my progress! Both he and my PT noted that my ROM is better than an average non-ATR person, and strength and agility are coming back. We’re all agreed that I’ll start jogging weeks ahead of schedule, perhaps as early as this week or next. AND, I can do single-leg heel raises!! Of course, I can only get about two inches off the ground at this point, but hey, it’s something!
Second, I also want to publicly praise my PT Brian Kelly at Professional Sports Care & Rehab in Downtown Washington, DC. I’ve been very impressed by his professionalism, demeanor, and care. Thanks Brian!
Now, onto the sweat-fest:
1. Warm up with 6 mins on the bike at level 10 (this has gotten really easy; I can bike 30 mins at level 15 on my own now, and am riding up to about 5-7 miles around town every second or third day … when it’s not snowing).
2. Stretch: 3×30 seconds gastroc, soleus, and pro stretch
3. Active warm up: 2 laps each of buttkickers, side-steps, and kareoke
4. Heel raises: 3 x 1 minute on the trampoline; 3 x 15 staggered two-leg heel raises with 20 lb. weights; 1 x 10 single-leg heel raise
5. Strength: 2 laps walking lunges with 20 lb weights; 3 x 15 squats on fitter board; 3 x 10 single leg pistol squats (mini, I can’t get all the way down yet); theraband drills - 2 laps each of side step, monster walks, and squatting side step (two blue bands, one above the knees, one above the ankles).
6. Stability: 2 x 1 minute single-leg balance on fitter board (both ways); 2 x 30 reps throwing ball against raised trampoline while balancing on a really squishy ball that’s really hard to balance on even with the good leg!
7. Agility: ladder drills — 3 laps each of step-in-step-outs, football plant-and-cuts, 4-steps-per-square, and jump-out-on-both-land-on-the-bad-ones (I haven’t a clue what these are actually called); shuttle runs 10 laps.
8. AT massage and 10 mins of ice.
We can cram a lot into an hour! We don’t always do all of these, but this is what 2 sessions per week looks like now. I gotta say, I’m really enjoying it. Lots of cool rehabbers and PTs alike in that place, and it’s a real workout (at least for a post-op out-of-shape guy like me, haha).
I hope your own recoveries are going well! It’s inspiring to read your stories, and truly helps keep me motivated to keep going and keep working toward the goal!
Today is my 3 month anniversary of surgery. It’s sometimes hard to believe that it’s only been 3 months, but that’s kind of the nature of major life changes, right?
Not a lot to update physically. My limp is mostly gone and I can walk normally most of the time. Going downstairs is still slow, but improving. The AT is still a little stiff in the morning, but it’s nothing a few quick ROM exercises can’t loosen up. At PT, we’re up to doing weighted squats and lunges, heel raises with heel below toes, and my physical therapist thinks I’ll be able to start jogging at the end of the month (I’m really, really ready for that!), a few weeks ahead of what we’d originally thought.
My goal to ski at least one run this season in early April — and continuing my 30-year streak of skiing every season — is on track.
I also got to ride my bike outside for the first time since ATR! It was cold but totally worth it. I’m looking forward to bike commuting again (once it warms up a little more).
All of that, combined will still not having any major setbacks, feels pretty good.
Best wishes to your own recoveries, and thanks for your continued support!
10 Week Post-Op Update:
Progress at PT continues. Last week I started seated heal raises (3 sets of 10) and closed out the week with standing heel raises (just 10 to start). Still doing band work, squats, lunges, lots of balancing exercises, stationary bike, etc. Left upper patellar tendon was acting up a little, but not too bad.
Got cleared for the elliptical and tried it out for the first time in my life. Apologies to anyone at my gym that had to see me flailing around on that thing! Can’t wait to get back on the treadmill, but if the elliptical is how I can get cardio in for now, I’m on it.
Checkup with my OS was good; he’s impressed with the healing and progress, and said “see ya in 6 weeks.”
Took my scooter (the one with a gasoline-powered motor, not the one with a right leg-powered motor) out for the first time in 2 months. That felt really good; a little cold but totally worth it.
Still limping, still swelling after a long day, still a little sore/stiff in the morning. Sometimes the scar dries out. I’ve started using Derma-e scar gel. Any other scar care recommendations?
Crabtree looked awesome again. What an inspiration for the ATR healing process!
Next week’s goal: getting outside on my bike for a few minutes (not during the polar vortex, of course).
Cheers to all of you and your recoveries!