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Pros to Blowing Your Knee Out

Lessons Learned from an ACL Tear, or Two

So I'm going to tell you guys a story...

Basketball has been a part of my life since I can remember. Shit, it was a part of my life before I was even born. My dad played, my brother played, my uncle played, my cousin played, I have two cousins who are currently playing, and my little brother is also currently playing. When basketball is basically in your blood, you can't imagine your life without it.

Quick Background

For those who don't know, an ACL is a ligament in your knee that's responsible for keeping it stable. Especially for an athlete, tearing your ACL is life changing. When your knee gets blown out, that stability is gone and you're unable to be physically active for a extended period of time. As for how long, that varies. Some return after six months and some take over a year.

You don't know for sure that your ACL is torn until after the MRI. This is an operation where the inside of your knee is examined. If the MRI confirms the tear, then it's time to get surgery. Before getting surgery, it's important that you strengthen the knee as much as possible. A stronger knee before surgery makes for a quicker process after surgery. Now once the surgery is done, you take some time to recover then you go into rehab. Tedious, time-consuming, and boring rehab... It intensifies as the knee gets stronger but rehab is slow for the most part.

How an athlete returns also varies. Athletes have come back less athletic than they were before the injury. Then again, athletes have returned even stronger since the ACL tear. A lot of this depends on how the person goes about their rehab process.

Now you may be wondering where my knowledge comes from. Allow me to explain..

My First Tear

This is January of 2015... We were seven games into the season. My senior season... I catch the ball on the right side of the court and I make my way to the basket. I was able to get by my defender and give myself an opportunity to score. When you shoot a layup, you get two steps without dribbling before you can go into the air to shoot your shot. So I pick up the ball and take my steps. Left foot... Right foot... I jump and... *POP*... My knee awkwardly and painfully bends inward as my ACL gets torn. Just like that, the season for me is over.

Having my knee blown out was the worst thing that could've happened at that time. As an athlete, I had some options for playing after high school but most of them disappeared. One, schools aren't sure about when you'll be able to play. Two, they don't know if you'll be the same player when you are able to play. I wasn't a high level athlete to begin with so tearing my ACL was a big shakeup for me. Fortunately, I still had a school that was willing to take me and my torn ACL.

Tear Number Two

My freshman year was the fall after the January when I first tore my ACL. To take some more time to build my knee back up, I decided to red shirt my freshman year. It just made sense when you consider how limited I would've been if I had rushed back. There was also a group of seniors playing already so there was no real need for me yet. I was cleared by January of that season, allowing me to be good to go by the next season. Let's get it.

So that next January, we're playing at home. I tried to make a pass but it was deflected. After an opposing player got their hand on the ball, it went up into the air. Naturally, my eyes are up, on the ball so I can try to get it back. As I'm focused on the ball... *POP*. I felt it and I heard it... Fucking player runs into my left knee. I was pissed. Afterwards, I'm back on crutches and going from place to place, trying to figure out what's going on with my knee. Next thing you know, MRI results come back to confirm for me that my ACL was torn. Just like that, the season for me was over. Again... Now hold on before you react.

Let's be clear..

The reason I tell these stories is that there are lessons in these experiences. I'm not inviting you to a pity party. I'm not asking you to feel sorry for me. All I need is your attention. No matter how shitty it felt at the time, there is wisdom in what happened to me. So pay attention..

It can all be gone in the blink of an eye.

For me, it was basketball. But for you, it can be whatever it is that makes life worth living. It can be soccer, football, volleyball, or whatever sport you're playing. It can be your ability to see, hear, speak, walk, or write. Shit, it can be life itself. With the snap of a finger, whatever you cherish can be gone. Don't let yourself be entitled to anything or anyone because it can disappear just like that.

Be grateful for everything that gives you life. It's all precious due to the fact that it could be lost. Make sure that you're keeping a certain level of gratitude and appreciation for life as you know it.

Luckily for me, it was just basketball. That's nothing compared to my family. That's nothing compared to having my eyesight, my ability to hear, my ability to communicate. There's so much to my life that I never truly acknowledged until my knees blew out on me. I realized there was so much shit that I took as a given when it's not.

So don't overlook all of the basic elements of life. None of it is guaranteed. Be fucking thankful. There's someone out there who lost what you still have and would do anything to get it back. Don't you dare allow yourself to feel entitled.

Patience is key.

As I said before, the rehab process is tedious. It's not entertaining at all. As you build strength, there will still be much restriction to what you can do. That means you can't just go around running or whatever until you officially get that green light from your doctor. There are no steps to be skipped in the process. As much as you may want to do certain things, you can't forego any part of the rehab. That means you have to be fucking patient.

Just as people, we are so hungry for results. We have an end goal in our minds, and we can't wait to get there. So much so that we look for shortcuts, quick fixes, anything that'll speed things up. But that's not how the process works. There is an end goal, yes, but there is much ground to cover before achieving it. There are small steps, short term goals, and minor objectives that need to be accomplished first. If we try to cheat that process, we cheat ourselves out of making it to the end goal.

Train yourself to be patient. Shift your focus from the end goal to the current goal. Put your energy into the steps rather than the mountain. If you're focusing on the end goal, you're not giving everything to the short term goals. That's important because the short term goals have to be accomplished in order to get closer to the long term goal. Like it or not, shit takes time. Stop trying to speed it up. You'll ruin the thing as a whole.

You want to speed up the process? Work harder.

The timeline is not the same for everyone. How long it took for me to return to the court is probably not how long it took for someone else. A part of what makes the difference is definitely work ethic.

I can't say this is the same for everyone, but I went to rehab one day out of the week. I'm doing the exercises while I'm there but that's only one of seven days. As for those remaining six days, my level of productivity is entirely up to me. What is also up to me is the speed of progression. The timeline when I'm just doing the exercises at rehab is totally different than the timeline when I'm doing the exercises five days a week. My doctor doesn't care about how much time has past. He cares about how strong the knee is and if it is ready for rigorous activity. So then the question becomes: how long does it take to build that knee back up? That's completely my responsibility.

Before you throw words into my mouth, this doesn't mean that balance is irrelevant. Work and recovery are equally important parts of the rehab process. Too much work turns productivity into damage. So working hard is big, but working smart is bigger. For me, I knew to stop when I started to feel legitimate pain in the knee. Me and my knee are in constant communication. I knew when it was saying to keep working and I knew when it was saying to stop.

The bottom line is that work ethic determines the speed of the process. Distractions, laziness, and the inability to focus are what slows everything down. There's a reason that some return after seven months and some return after a year. Productivity is the difference maker. Show up and do the work. The day that you don't do it because you don't feel like it is the day that your results get pushed back.

Find closure with your pain.

Blowing out my knees sucked. It sucked the first time around. So to go through the rehab process and return, just for it to happen again was shitty.

The experiences were hard to let go of because I felt that it set me off course. Had I not had my ACL torn, I felt that I would've been in a better position as a player. Later on, I had went through some struggles at the university where I was playing. There was a rhythm and overall feel for the game I had when I was in high school that I seemed to have lost.

I carried a sense of resentment towards those experiences. That resentment held me down for years. It wasn't on my mind every day but it was always there. To be stuck in the past like I was is an unhealthy way to live. I blamed the past experiences for the struggles that came later instead of myself. Don't do what I did.

The process is only stalled when you fail to take responsibility. There are three main components of this process: confrontation, acceptance, and closure. In order for us to move forward, we have to learn to look our shit in the eyes. By bottling it up and burying it, it will only get worse. I would've handled things a lot better if I had just taken some damn responsibility and dealt with my shit.

Whatever it is... whatever brought you pain, anger, frustration... please make your peace. These experiences were handed to us for a logical reason. For whatever reason that is, what happened had to happen for you to grow. Set aside your emotions and begin to find the wisdom in your pain. Learn to accept it, find your closure, and put that shit behind you. That's how we can begin to live our best lives. 

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