As I prepare to have knee surgery in five days, I cant help but reflect back on where it all began... I came across the image above from a post I had written exactly one year ago, and am reminded and encouraged by the woman I was. A Fighter. However, through the fight, I can say I am even more excited about the woman I am becoming. Instead of being Defined by my goals or my injury, I am being Refined by the process. Perspective has a funny way of showing up when what you THINK is most important, has been stripped away.
At the time, I was competing at the highest level of success ever experienced within my running career. The season had just started and I had kicked it off with 5 podium victories, a VO2 engine that was stronger than ever and the exciting anticipation that I had just began to scratch the surface of what I was capable of. And then, like any great tragic irony (or so I thought at the time) I was struck with an injury that would alter the course of every single one of my goals. What I didn't know at the time was how it would also alter the course of my life.
I walked into my first physical therapy appointment, March 8th 2016. I was a hot mix of pain, anxiety, anger and uncertainty. Yet still, the competitor in me felt that this was something I could conquer. I told myself this was just a minor blip in my training that would "force" me to get back on my strength and stability game. After all, I had coached many athletes in my career ranging from youth to Olympian. If I was one of my own athletes, I would of never allowed the training flaws I was guilty of.
A Quick Step Back:
Prior to my first appointment, I had talked to 5 different Physical Therapy practices. None of which left me feeling confident they could address the specific needs of an elite runner. Nor have the time or understanding to break down the complex myofascial binding I had all the way through my kinetic chain. I didn't just want to be treated for symptoms. I wanted to understand, why? What were the dysfunctions or breakdowns that caused me to become injured in the first place? After all, in ultra running, small deviations over many miles often lead to injury.
So back to March 8th... I met my physical therapist, who after a long journey of seeking out the "Best Manual Therapist in CA" led me to, Jessica Snyder DPT. She was referred heavily by both recreational and elite athletes. As a competitive runner herself, she understood the demands both physically and psychologically of a competing athlete. And as disastrous as I was walking in, Jessica was patient, extremely thorough and immediately began to explain the cause and effect of what was going on and assign a plan of care to address the issues that lead to our meeting. I remember thinking, "Finally. Someone who gets it. Gets me." For the first time in being bounced around from Doc to Doc in my injury, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was encouraged. I had a team.
My early days in PT were humbling. I struggled to do basic movements and exercises correctly. I was confused. How could I be so strong yet still so weak? I had just crushed a tough mountain race, yet basic single leg hip extension was a battle. The body has an incredible way of adapting and unfortunately, if we are not actively working on positive adaptations for balanced strength, we will often end up with synergistic dominance. For example, underactive glutes (a primary mover) can lead to overactive hamstrings (helper muscle). When you force synergists to do double duty, you can end up in double trouble.
Yet even though I had moments of breakdown, shame in simultaneously being overtrained and undertrained, I began to understand that this wasn't my "ending." I was just walking into my beginning.
Not only was I growing stronger and more balanced physically, I was also growing a deeper appreciation and passion for closing the gap between sports performance training and the clinical side of physical therapy. An ever increasing respect grew for the creativity, intelligence, specificity and clinical decision making of my PT. I later joined the CA practice as their Sports Lab Director. There, I had the opportunity to take my experience as Olympic Coach, Elite Athlete, and Patient to create specific sports performance, injury prevention and return to sport programs.
Yet still, I began to recognize the changes in health care and how that was limiting practitioners and effecting quality of care. I still recognized major gaps in injury prevention and sports performance. I began to see an opportunity. My injury had a purpose. My frustration had a purpose. My experience had a purpose. What started out as (what I thought) a shattered dream, was only rebuilt, repurposed and redefined into a dream bigger than I could have written...
A year later, my life has changed in unimaginable ways. My injury didn't define me, but the process is refining me. My goals may have shifted but they are more exciting than ever. I believe firmly that our challenges are never in vain. Not only has my injury lead me to becoming stronger physically and mentally, but the journey has led me to Montana. It ignited the passion to open Physical Therapy Elite with the incredibly talented Jessica Snyder, DPT and has provided a platform to be a catalyst for change in a challenged system.