8 August 2016
And I know that came as a bit of a surprise when I posted my post-op, caught-pudding-handed photo six weeks ago. So for those of you who are emotionally invested in my right knee, I will fill you in.
Towards the end of December last year, my right knee started bothering me. We had recently revamped our time doing dryland and I assigned the bit of pain I was feeling to that. Skating position isn't a particularly natural place for our bodies to be in and over the years I have grown accustomed to dealing with the aches that follow increased loads of down time. I followed my usual pattern and spent a little extra time in our training room with ice and recovery to help my knee along. In early January I was in Milwaukee for US Championships and my knee was still refusing to improve. I could manage skating but I wasn't at 100%. Going up and down stairs was becoming an issue. That week, it became evident to me that I was dealing with something more than normal fatigue.
Once back in Salt Lake, our team doctor scheduled an MRI. In the days that followed, I had two physicians tell me that I had "a very interesting knee." My gut response was, "Nope, not interesting. Totally normal, boring knee here." The MRI showed a little more wear and tear than what was considered acceptable but not so much to raise all alarm. If we could manage the pain until the end of the season, a period of rest and time off should help it to recover.
At the end of January, we departed for World Cup #5 in Norway. On our first Monday morning there my knee felt good to go for training, so I completed everything that I felt comfortable with. Afterwards, it didn't feel so great. At this point I was still able to skate without pain, but I could no longer jog, which made warming up for races a challenge. That weekend's races were dismal, but I didn't let how my knee was feeling factor into my results. If I could skate, then I could perform. That was that.
By the time we arrived in Russia for World Single Distance Championships the knee pain had created small hitches in my routine. I found alternatives for certain exercises and had to adapt my off-ice warm-up. But I maintained focus on the skating - and on ice I felt capable. If you follow this blog, then you already know how World Singles went for me: not so great, not so terrible. Totally fine. My right knee was a nuisance, but one that still felt manageable - one that didn't feel like it was yet impeding my ability to be a speedskater.
The last weekend of February brought my final competition of the season, World Sprints. The plan was still to make it through this ultimate weekend as pain-free as possible and then reassess how to move forward in the off season. As a temporary fix, I received injections to lubricate my knee. These shots were essentially motor oil: the knee edition. I was the Tin Man, having an oil can administered to make my body move fluidly.
And so the season ended. I was looking forward to some time off and being able to fully recover. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Over the course of my off season, my knee not only said no thanks to recovering, it became worse. Hiking was now impossible as the descent wreaked intolerable pain on my knee. I hadn't jogged in months. I walked differently, favoring my left leg in all that I did. I often refused to believe that my knee was as bad as it was and would set off to do an activity only to return home minutes later in pain and confused as to why my own body wasn't functioning how I expected it to. This became a common theme as I struggled to accept my first major injury since I began competing on an international level. No amount of willing it to be better made it so. I failed to grasp the nature of a part of my own body, and that was incredibly frustrating. Why couldn't I fix this? I needed my knee.
Fast forward to June 23rd and I'm getting my knee scoped. Rest and interim fixes had done nothing to improve my situation and as a result, the decision was made to be more invasive. With the 2018 Olympic Games only a year and a half away, now was the time to take surgical action. The week leading into the procedure I alternated between feeling positive this was exactly what I needed and stressed that digging around in my knee was a bad idea. I was told it was wise of me to hang out between those feelings. I shouldn't be as excited for a surgery as I am for a doughnut.
I was hugely relieved following the procedure when my surgeon, Dr. Cooper, told me he thought it was exactly what needed to be done. And that I had a great knee. It turns out that the main cause of my pain was a flap in my cartilage. Dr. Cooper and his team went in and shaved that area down so it would be smooth and tear-free. I also had pieces of cartilage that had broken off and were just floating around, so they removed those.
So now my knee has been tidied up. The recovery process has had it's ups and downs, as I imagine all post-op recoveries do. My focus has been on doing as much as I can without adversely affecting my recovery and setting myself back even more in the long run. It has proven to be a tricky balance and I am constantly at odds with whether I worked out too hard or not hard enough. The secret, and by far the most difficult part, is to be patient. Time is on my side. While I can't skate intervals or bicycle up canyons with my team, I can aqua jog and stationary bike my heart out. I am the undisputed Strava Queen of the Mountain of my living room. And eventually, I will be back on the ice, ready to crush it once again.