That time I stopped being a cripple

Yesterday, I did box jumps. Lateral hops. Mobility drills with the ladder (à la football drills). NBD, right? That’s how boxers train. 


In Grade 5, I dislocated my knee doing a glissade (aka the simplest ballet move EVER). Typically an inconvenient but manageable injury, this freak accident was the beginning of a 5 year nightmare of hospitals, multiple weekly physio appointments, chronic inflammation, shattered cartilage, old-lady advanced osteoarthritis in one knee. During those years, between 10 and 15 years of age, I underwent 6 surgeries requiring general anesthetics; the shock of these drugs on my body, already undergoing the huge hormonal changes of puberty, resulted in permanent hair-loss. To this day, I am self-conscious about my noticeably thin hair. I spent more time in casts, requiring canes, crutches or wheelchairs than I did able to walk without assistance. I missed half of my Grade 9 school-year, and was home schooled by my mother, as I recovered from the first reconstructive surgery to my left knee.

My doctor was an preeminent expert in his field. He was also a dick. Infamous for his terrible bedside manner, I never had an appointment with him without crying tears of shame and humiliation. He treated my body like a piece of meat, would speak about me as though I wasn’t in the room. He deplored my lack of dedication to my rehab; when my mother pointed out that it was only reasonable that a teenager might have counter-will when faced with this bleak existence, he lectured her about being a good parent. Little did he know of the daily wars that raged at home as I tried to avoid the repetitive, painful, boring physio exercises, while my mom nagged, bullied, pleaded, bribed me into haphazard compliance. Rationally, I understood the link between the daily hour of physio and eventual health and mobility, but emotionally, it felt like my entire being had been reduced to being a cripple. I rebelled.

Finally, in Grade 10, the doctor deemed that I had reached the end of my rehab, and no further surgeries were required. His final prognosis: my osteoarthritis would degenerate until I required an artifical knee by the age of 30, and if I was very good, maintained a healthy weight (thinner than I was then – his words), avoided all weight-bearing activity other than light walking, and indulged in gentle swimming to keep the joint mobile, I might be able to delay the surgery by a few years. He reminded me that an artifical knee typically only lasts 5 years, and does not allow for a very pleasant existence. He wished me good luck.


My mother wanted the best for me. Being an invalid herself, with restricted mobility, she was distraught at my fate as a life-long cripple. She made it her business to remind me to never run, only walk, never jump, and always, forever, “be careful of your knees”.

When I started dating my ex, at the age of 20, I couldn’t go down stairs without limping. I couldn’t sit without falling – I didn’t have the muscle strength to control the motion. My knee would lock. The winters sucked: my arthritis was very painful, and I was petrified about wiping out on the icy Canadian side-walks and injuring myself again. My ex didn’t understand my attitude: the doctor wasn’t God. He didn’t have a crystal ball that determined my destiny. My weak muscles and limp weren’t set in stone. A former football player and weight-lifter, my ex set out to convert me to the joys of weight-lifting. Through his tutelage, I gradually mastered body-weight squats and lunges. My limp almost disappeared. I owe him for that.

When I started kickboxing, I couldn’t jump on one leg: I couldn’t connect my brain to my muscles. I was 25 years old. Under Voilàaaa’s mostly patient coaching, I worked on my mobility until I could hop slightly on either leg. Victory! I still was petrified of injury, and really, I was an idiot to take up a sport that requires so many snappy twists and slides. However, kickboxing allowed me to reject my decades-long identity of a cripple. I was lucky to practice that sport for as long as I did. After 4 years, when I eventually blew out my knee, I was convinced I’d just proven Dr. Dick right and had just sentenced myself to a permanently crippled lifestyle.


Coach has read, and continues to seek out, every article and book available about training, mobility, injury rehab, from all schools of thought. According to him, optimal performance is always possible, with the right information, tools, dedication and hard work. Sure, every body has its limits, and some injuries are harder to recover from than others, but it is ALWAYS possible to improve one’s quality of life through the proper training, and diet. Injuries don’t define an athlete – they are part of an athlete’s life, and require intelligent management.

For the past 3 years, under Coach’s watch, I’ve strength trained and conditioned myself to the point that I can jump 24in high, repetitively and easily. My body feels strong. Alive. I can trust that my legs will support me. I identify myself as an athlete. I’m 31, and my knee works just fine thankyouverymuch. Sure, it creaks and aches, and sure, one day it might wear out, but right now I can jump. For the first time in almost 20 years.

It feels like flying.

 

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20 comments

    1. Someone on my fbk page made a similar comment. 2 things:
      1) his prognosis was in 2000. Since then, the field medicine has made huge strides. I met a dude in 2002 who’d had the same surgery I had in 1999: my scar was 10in, his was 3in. I met another dude in 2006 with the same surgery: he had 3 1cm incisions.
      2) his 5 year estimate was taking into account that a 30yr (no matter how sedentary) will be more active than the typical senior citizen, and therefore the useful life of the artificial joint would be shorter (since there is a finite level of wear and tear that it can sustain).

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      1. Okay…but my grandfather got his artificial knees in the early 1990s! I get the sedentary thing, but my grandfather was actually relatively active until about three years ago, as in he went for long walks every day and took up curling again for a bit! Very odd that your doctor said five years I find.

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