January 5, 2019: the first Saturday of my new year, the first time I had ever really been terrified. I wasn’t fearing actual death, per se, but I was completely absorbed by the fear of losing something I had always taken for granted—my ability to stand on my own and to run.
A snowboarding accident had left me in a vulnerable position and in the most intense pain I’d ever experienced. There I was, on the top of a mountain, stopped in my tracks, screaming in pain, searching for an immediate way out—which of course wasn’t coming anytime soon. In an instant I was broken and helpless, relying on the strength of my boyfriend, son and ski patrol to pull me through. A distal spiral tibia and fibula fracture had rendered me lame and powerless. I surrendered to the roller coaster of life. In a blink, I went from being fully independent to completely dependent on others, a true fear of mine realized.
I couldn’t rescue myself from my situation. But what I couldn’t see at the time was that this was actually an opportunity in the making. My silver lining, the chance to put myself to the test— piecing my life back together and coming out stronger in every way. A process that couldn’t be planned. I had to feel it out, every step of the way. Hospitalized, I remember thinking “all I need is surgery and I’ll be OK.” Was I in denial? Perhaps. Two titanium plates and 15 screws later, I was “fixed,” but only beginning my journey to recovery, which would require more than a year.
The next three months were some of the hardest, most frustrating, stressful times of my life. The most continuous pain, the hardest financially and depressing on my psyche. Nothing but sheer determination, courage and my natural gift of stubbornness would keep me going—the reasons I’d survived traumas before. My progress was slow but steady, gradually claiming back bits of independence. Finally, after three long months, one fine morning I received the all-clear from my surgeon to start weight bearing. It was a magnificent moment. Taking advantage of it that very afternoon was the beginning of everything. I would run again.
I headed straight to Liquid Gym in Ottawa, a physio and rehabilitation centre for anyone with mobility issues. My consultation there led me to start using their anti-gravity treadmill, the first steps I had taken in months. Still in an air cast with 80% of my weight taken away, I walked again and felt hope and joy.
Two weeks later set the stage for the next steps of my rehab—the underwater treadmill, displacing 60% of my weight. Then I thought, “Shit, I have to remove my air cast, my security blanket.” That was scary, going it truly alone, but again I felt more anticipation than worry. I was nervous at first, shortly followed by an amazing sensation—the realization that I was standing tall. I had a renewed sense of power.
Once I began that therapy, I realized how significant it was not just for my recovery and my ability to start walking and running again, but because of how it tremendously boosted my self-confidence. An essential ingredient that expedites the healing process: a positive attitude. Progress is success in every step we take, in every hurdle we master.
After three months of four weekly Liquid Gym sessions, combined with two weekly regular physiotherapy visits—and of course staying diligent with my “homework”—I graduated from taking steps to running in the water. My time at Liquid Gym immensely accelerated my recovery, allowing me to get back on my feet more quickly then solely using conventional physiotherapy. Plus, it greatly reduced the impact on my leg without compromising the healing process, or my installed hardware. (Side note, I am officially bionic. Gotta say, it’s kinda cool.)
The initial three months I was post-op and constricted to an air cast resulted in losing 6cm of calf muscle. As with anything in life, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The underwater treadmill sessions enabled me to rebuild those muscles. Being submerged and running in the water provided the added benefit of resistance, working every muscle harder—making me that much stronger in a shorter amount of time. I am now in better shape than I was before my fall.
At my six-month post-op checkup last month, I received the go-ahead from my surgeon to start running unassisted, with full gravity. It’s the next challenge to overcome.
How did my first run go? “Well, it sorta felt like dragging a lead weight around,” is what I told my boyfriend with a chuckle. It was awkward, painful…but not too bad, and most importantly it felt incredible to run again. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to once again run like the wind.”
All my life I’ve been physically active, playing numerous sports throughout the years, including track & field. That was so many years ago. I was 15 and unbeatable in the women’s 3K, but as a rather “wild” teenager—ahem—I fell out of sync and continued with my rebellious ways. However, even after I stopped competing, I never lost my love of running. I sensed the freedom, the high of pushing past one’s limits and kicking ass!
Why I ran then and why I run now has changed. Now I run because I can, because I no longer take my legs for granted. From this moment forward, I will continue pushing myself, claiming my bounce back and feeling it out. I am bionic. I am back.
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