As I sit here considering my 4th knee surgery, I look back and wonder why I am here in this position. In 2010 I was performing a rep in a pursuit drill for football where a ball carrier (me) had to run up the sideline and allow a defender to take a good pursuit angle on me and drive me out of bounds. I tore my ACL on a drill where all momentum from both participants should have been moving forward and out of bounds.
That particular rep, I was told that I was too fast for the drill and to allow the defender a 2 second head start so he could get where he needed to to have a chance at hitting me. The entire drill was changed because of this and my teammate, who should’ve been running beside me, was waiting for me about 15-20 yds out. I accelerated to prepare for a head on collision at 20+ mph. While I was successful in taking out the defender (which wasn’t the point of the drill), I took an extra step after to “finish” as always encouraged to do. My teammate was put in a position where he had the choice to allow me to finish or make a last ditch effort to get me down. He opted for the latter and a snagged jersey tackle on my very next step did my knee in. I don’t blame him for this, as it wasn’t his fault he was in that position to injure me. The drill should’ve been over before it started, it should’ve been over after the initial contact, and it was finally over after my knee blew apart.
I went to the doctor for an evaluation and upon reading my MRI, the doctor diagnosed me with a sprained knee and allowed me to continue participating in football after a two week rest. He prescribed me a neoprene sleeve and wished me well. Being eager and naive, I allowed my love for football to cloud my judgment to get a second opinion. So I played 6 more games on my knee injury. 2-3x per week, I would re-tweak my knee and be out of practice for a few days before jumping back in. All medical staff continued clearing me, at times my integrity was questioned, and people began to call me names that insinuated I was soft and trying to get out of practice. “You’re running 100mph and trying to tell me your knee is bothering you? It’s not adding up for me...” I eventually got a second opinion and was told I needed surgery ASAP. My new doctor told me everything was torn and that I was playing with fire by ever playing again without undergoing surgery first.
After getting surgery and going through a ton of PT, I was placed on an accelerated return to play program due to the immense progress I’d made in such a short time. I had surgery in October and was sprinting in February, competing in my first track meet in March. I was so proud to have been cleared in time to compete that I didn’t really think about nor care about anything else. It ached from time to time, but I was competing, so I was good, right? It continued to ache and I kept “being tough” about it. I ran a 5 year career at Iowa on it, training and competing at the highest level. I noticed some weird bony growth, but didn’t think much of it until PT school when I realized it was arthritis developing. I wanted to get ahead of it and get it checked out if it was too bad so I could avoid a knee replacement in my future. I see patients with them all the time and it looks totally miserable. Plus I want to enjoy my youth and get back to what I enjoy doing to the best of my ability with no restrictions, no pain, and full range of motion.
The doctor has suggested I allow him to take my STEM cells, grow my cartilage in a lab, and reimplant the cartilage in my knee. He also would perform an ACL revision and my spring would essentially be over. However, I believe it would be worth it to avoid a knee replacement.
This isn’t a woe is me post or a post meant to point fingers. I went through a perfect storm for injury and damage my junior year of high school between my choice to go out for football, decisions made on the field that were outside of my control, decisions made by medical personnel that were outside of my control, and a series of wonderful news at the time that ultimately probably wasn’t in my best interest. I’ve fallen in love with physical therapy because of this experience and it has ultimately shaped me into a stronger, more resilient, and overall more durable human being. I just wanted to air out my reflection on this, as it often keeps me up at night wondering what could have been? Whether on the football field, the track, or elsewhere. Could I have done something different? Did I ever get to reach my pinnacle of performance? Will I ever be pain free again with full range of motion and not on a trajectory for replacement? Was this preventable? Was it a singular event or a series of events that did this? Will there ever be a treatment I can undergo to reverse what has been done so that I can explore these things? The world may never know...