It’s hard to believe, but it’s been more than six months since my knee surgery in February. I feel overwhelmingly “back to normal,” but there are lingering reminders that this surgery, in particular, left its mark – physically and mentally.
My sports surgeon has suggested that I don’t do squats anymore. Like ever. I explained to him that as someone who squatted 180 pounds on her back the day before surgery, this really wasn’t an option. We agreed on a compromise: squat to bench or box. What does this mean? You simply squat down, gently touch the box (with your butt), and then immediately squat back up. You’re basically doing a quarter squat that limits range of motion but ensures that you consistently and safely hit the same depth each time.
Recently one of the trainers at my gym approached me in between squat sets and said, “Hey, if you’d like to work towards getting your full squat we have an intro to power lifting class and informal power lifting team here and we’d love to have you!”
I thanked him and explained the surgical limitations of my joint. He was super cool and responded, “wow I would’ve never known you’d been through that given the work I see you putting in here. If you ever decide to come to a class we could work on deadlifts or other exercises that you’re approved to do.”
I thanked him and let him know I may check out the power lifting team at the end of summer/after my upcoming vacation, and since then I’ve been wondering if this is where I take my training and competition focus next…
As most of you probably already know, this surgery revealed that the damage in my need was far more severe than we originally thought. As a result, I’ve stopped running for the foreseeable future to try to slow down additional damage and to hold off on having either a cadaver cartilage transplant and then a knee replacement for as long as possible.
Not running effectively means not racing, and I’ve been feeling really lost as a result. I’d only just reclaimed my identity as an athlete, and here’s my disease trying to rip that away from me yet again. To cope, I invested in a new bike back in May. I love it, but the summer heat has made it difficult for me to ride as consistently as I’d like. But, even more than that, I’ve struggled to stay consistent without a race on the calendar.
Cycling and bike racing is a totally different ball game – one that I have ZERO experience in. There are classes and clinics and memberships required, and it’s all a little overwhelming – not to mention expensive. And while it’s certainly worth the investment, I’m not ready yet. I’m still trying to work up the nerve to find a local riding group with the hopes of meeting a potential race buddy. It sounds so simple in theory, but I HATE being the newbie and I’m terrified of slowing others down.
So I’ve avoided it and instead added swimming to my training repertoire. I hadn’t swum a lap in ~20 years, and the first day in the pool was humbling. It also exposed another problem joint – my shoulders. Muscular endurance? No problem – have you seen my delts?! But the pain of the repetitive rotating movement took the breath out of my chest. In the quiet of the water, I could literally hear the bones and debris and multiple cysts grinding against one another. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. The lowest impact exercise on the planet and it’s still somehow problematic for my body.
I’ve stuck with it these past few weeks, but I’ve yet to transition away from the breaststroke which I can do with a lot less pain. I can feel my breath and endurance improving and my strokes are getting much more efficient, but I’m still not ready to try freestyle again. I see my orthopedic surgeon in a few weeks and I plan to talk to him about my shoulders at my appointment – until then, breaststroke it is.
Despite my initial frustration, I’m coming to appreciate swimming as a great way to diversify my training. I love the quiet. I love not even wearing headphones. I love putting 100% of my focus into every move my body makes in the water. Part of the reason I started swimming was with the hopes of competing in Aquabike events – swim and bike combination races that typically take place as part of triathlon events, but now I’m not so sure… Doing so would definitely require the addition of a swim coach and mastering freestyle, and right now I’m pretty content to just enjoy getting in the pool twice a week.
I know that I’ll race again, but not knowing when or what type of event nags at me daily. Seeing my friends’ “medal Monday” posts give me hope while somehow also making me feel impossibly sad. There’s magic in crossing finish lines, and in those moments I truly feel like I’m winning the war against my disease. I need those victories – they’re what I cling to in the darkest, loneliest moments of suffering.
Or maybe there’s a future for me in competitive power lifting.