KneeHab: Betting on the long, hard road to ACL recovery |

KneeHab: Betting on the long, hard road to ACL recovery

Close-up of the author's left knee about three days after an ACL injury on Feb. 21 at Beaver Creek.
Eli Pace / Special to the Daily |

KneeHab 101 series

Knee injuries are a part of sporting life in the mountains. Over the next few weekends, the Summit Daily sports section will print weekly articles about ACL/MCL injury, surgery, rehab, recovery and prevention, featuring interviews with local doctors, physical therapists and pro athletes. They’re the only knees you’ve got — show them some love.

Have a suggestion for the series? Email sports editor Phil Lindeman at

Week 1 — “A club I never wanted to join,” injury column

Week 2 — Anatomy of an ACL/MCL injury

Week 3 — Yoga for ACL/MCL recovery

Week 4 — ACL surgery 101

Week 4 — “Slice, dice, make it nice,” surgery thoughts and fears column

Week 5 — Myth-busting for knee injuries

Week 6 — Post-surgery recovery, rehab and physical therapy

Week 7 — Man on the street: Summit locals talk knee injuries, video

Week 8 — “Long, hard road,” recovery column

Editor’s note: This article is the last in a weekly series about ACL, MCL and other knee injuries, featuring professional and first-hand info on surgery, rehab, recovery and prevention.

If I were a betting man, and I can be, I’d say it’s a safe bet I’m not the only person staring at this late-April snow with a mix of awe and almost hatred.

I say “almost” because I can honestly never hate snow. This surprise dusting must be a rude slap to the face down in Denver, where the trees were already blooming in 80-degree sunshine not even a week ago, but I’d also bet that’s why Loveland and Arapahoe Basin were so packed with Front Rangers over the weekend: When it’s snowing all across Colorado, why not go play in the mountains?

And if I were a betting man, I’d take the bet to the next level, because why not double down when it’s a sure thing? I’d also say it’s a safe bet I’m not the only person forced to almost hate this surprise snow because I’ve got a bum knee, and there’s nothing I can do about it: can’t snowboard, can’t tour, can’t hike, can’t walk the dogs easily — can’t do much of anything but stare at it coming down. By now, two months after the injury and five weeks after ACL-meniscus reconstruction and repair, I just want to ride something already, preferably something faster than crutch speed. I hate crutch speed.

But all you can do is play the cards in your hand, as my grandma might say, and right now I don’t even have a pair (pun intended). So I’ll sit and watch the snow refresh, doing my leg raises and calf pumps, eating vitamins and saying no to booze, trying to avoid videos of the goods out at A-Basin, Vail Pass and every backcountry hotspot in the state. I knew this was going to happen, but it doesn’t help with the cabin fever.

I also knew it was going to be a long, hard road, and I’m lucky to not walk it alone. In the past few weeks, I’ve been in touch with more than a dozen people who have suffered some kind of knee trauma, and it’s wild to hear the variety of stories. Sure, I can now spout stats about who’s most likely to rupture knee ligaments and where and how, but that really only tells half the story. Anyone can blow out a knee — it’s how you recover that matters.

Beginning sometime in early May, I get started with real recovery. None of this leg-raising, calf-pumping, clamb-shelling bulls*** — lunges and box jumps and biking. The surgeon recommended six weeks on crutches to let sutured menisci heal and I listened, for the most part. With any luck I’ll be cleared to start bearing weight exactly six weeks after the operation. That means no more crutches and short walks outside (outside!) when the asphalt dries, plus plenty of work on my shrunken quad and calf muscles. I keep joking about “baby steps,” but I seriously can’t wait to be taking steps of any size. Babies have it good.

Without noticing until now, I’ve been thinking this past week about the last time I went through knee rehab and the snowboard season immediately after. I was the strongest I’d ever been, like stomp-anything strong, and I was fresh out of a broken leg. But then I got lazy, and by this past season I was feeling the effects of “age,” which at 28 years old are more like the effects of piss-poor fitness.

So while everyone else is playing in or hating on the surprise snow, us ACLers will be coming up with ways to return better and stronger and more pliable than before. I know it’s doable because it’s been done — I was there: until breaking my leg I struggled to touch my toes — and determination is a hell of a talent to pick up during rehab, along with plenty of patience.

Now all I need is a “carrot,” as my PT would say — something dangling in front of me during the next five or six (or seven or eight) months of getting back to normal. And I think I’ve found it: a sprint triathlon in Avon this August. The run might suck, but if I were a betting man, I’d say bet on the carrot: I can finish a tri, easy. By then I’ll at least have a pair, and that beats nothing.

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