"Well, it looks like your leg is 100%" my doctor happily told me. He added "You're free to do whatever you want". These were the magical words of my doctor, after examining my knee at the 6 month post-op evaluation checkpoint. I was overcome with joy, as I was finally able to get back to training and sports.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a conundrum. Baseball season was just around the corner, and I had to decide if I wanted to play. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE baseball, whether it is at the high school, college, or pro level. I just got kind of burnt out on playing baseball. Who knows, maybe the desire will return next year. But this year, I am hell bent on becoming a good track and field athlete.
A Little History
Back in mid-April 2004, I collided with the first baseman during a game while running to first base, resulting in a tearing of my ACL, meniscus (cartilage in the knee), and partially tearing my MCL, also known as the unhappy triangle of knee injuries. I knew it was bad as soon as it happened.
Six weeks later, I had surgery for ACL reconstruction. The surgeon took part of a tendon in my hamstring, and grafted it onto the place where my ACL had previously been. He also trimmed and tried to repair the meniscus as best he could. The surgery was deemed a success by my doctor.
Because of the meniscus repair, I was not allowed to put any pressure on my left leg for a month. The muscle size in my left leg had shrunk considerably. The only exercise I could do for my leg was isometric contractions of my quadriceps.
With the help of physical therapy, I regained a lot of flexibility, allowing my leg to go beyond 90 degree knee flexion. If it weren't for the College World Series on ESPN, I certainly would have lost my mind during that excruciatingly boring month.
After that first arduous month, things progressed considerably. I was able to start walking with one crutch, do the leg press, and balance on one leg again. Even though it pains me to admit I did the leg press and leg extension, it was an integral part of rehab to get my leg strength and hypertrophy back up to par. I then moved onto bodyweight squats and lunges, slowly but surely gaining back strength and balance from my left leg.
Surprisingly, my knee rarely hurt, and this lack of pain can be attributed to my skilled doctor. Obviously there was still a long road ahead of me, with my left leg being noticeably smaller than my right, the huge strength disparity, and my lack of endurance.
On My Own
A little after three months into rehab, my physical therapist and doctor agreed that I was capable of doing rehab on my own. This brought a smile to my face. No more generic physical therapy routines, no more fraternizing with grandmothers next to me on the exercise bike, and certainly no more leg presses. So that day, I went home, slumped into a chair, and asked myself, what do I do now?
Luckily, I am an avid reader of anything that has to do with strength or fitness. The book Core Performance by Mark Verstegen was garnering praise from just about all corners of the fitness industry, from the guys at Elite FTS to Men's Health.
After a week of waiting, the book arrived on my doorstep and I devoured it in a matter of hours. This was not your average namby-pamby inspirational fitness book.
Mark Verstegen is all business when it comes to fixing weak points and helping you get back on the right track. The workout was not exclusively written for those with knee injuries, or any other injuries for that matter, but just for those who could use some more flexibility and strength.
I cautiously started the program, gaining confidence and muscle in my leg. By the end of nine weeks, I had packed some muscle on my once-atrophied legs and gained more flexibility than I ever had in my life. I still had a ways to go, but I was on the right track.
With my newfound confidence in my knee, I began using heavier weights for lower body exercises like Romanian deadlifts and lunges.
Interestingly enough, I never really experienced any pain during this period in my knee or hamstring. My thighs in terms of hypertrophy were still unequal, but the gap was closing. I began dragging a weighted sled for more leg work and GPP (General Physical Preparedness) work.
Squatting was generally still taboo as the cartilage and hamstring tendon needed to strengthen before additional stress was to be put on it.
As of now, my left leg is pretty much equal in size to my right leg. The problems now are strength and doubt. I can't help but doubt my left leg on whether it can take the pounding of a game of basketball or cutting on a dime while playing a sport. That is why I will be doing the throwing events in track and field.
This article has two purposes. One is to show how one could come back from a serious leg injury, such as a torn ACL, and still be a major player in sports.
The second purpose is more for me than for you, the reader. I need the motivation. If I write periodic updates on my progress, I will be pressured to train. I may fail. I could be the absolute worst javelin or shot putter athlete in the whole United States. But at least I would have tried.
I know older people who just gave up after tearing their ACL. I think I would learn more by trying to come back, instead of wondering what could have been.
You may have noticed that in the title, this will be a multi-part series of articles. You will also notice that this article is being written and published in present time. This series is not about events that happened 6 months or a year ago, its happening right now.
Here Is The Roadmap Of This Series:
Part 1 - History of my injury and progress up to pre-season.
Part 2 - Plan of exact strength, nutrition, and regeneration plan for pre-season, in-season, and post-season.
Part 3 - Reporting of my successes and failures in practice and in track meets.
Part 4 - A look back at what went right, what went wrong, and plans for next years track season.