Episode 133 | Athlete Wins 7.0

Show Notes:

In this episode, we dive into 3 different ACLer stories, their process, and where they’re at now. We pull lessons from these wins (and losses) and what it took to get to get them to get where they are. It’s not all linear or sunshine and rainbows. And, no journey is the same. If you need a little lift, this one is for you.

What is up team, and welcome back to another episode on the ACL Athlete Podcast. Today, we are coming back with an Athlete Wins episode, Athlete Wins 7.0. If you’re new to this podcast, welcome, this is an episode or a series, if you will, that we’ll do periodically, where we just like to talk about some of the athletes we’re working with and really just some of their wins. This process, in general, is very up and down, it’s non-linear, and there’s a lot of times where we can get in our heads. It’s always uplifting to hear, especially athletes who are getting through this process or having these wins and hitting these new milestones and graduating. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

In this episode, I’m going to share briefly about three different athletes all playing college sports in various forms. While we do work with the whole spectrum of athletes from middle school, high school, college, next level pro, to any recreational form, we see the whole spectrum and we love it. It makes it fun, it makes it very exciting, and we get to work with athletes all over of varying ages and different goals and sports. I do want to highlight today these three athletes and this college subset because we can really learn a lot about this. And I think it’ll be helpful to just dive into these wins, how these athletes’ journeys were, and then how they got to where they are now.

All are super different in terms of history, their experiences, and their surgeries. Today, all these athletes, I had the opportunity to work with them, mostly remotely and then some in person, especially over this summer as they came back to Atlanta and before heading back to college this month, which is August when this is being recorded. And we’re going to talk about these athletes.

Athlete number one, college athlete, and recreational sports. They played high school and then they just wanted to go to college and be able to play club and recreational sports of various forms. And so this athlete tore her ACL in her senior year of high school. She and her mom reached out in 2021. Now that seems like a long time ago, and I still remember this initial conversation. It was quite a long journey for this athlete and they initially opted for a very non-traditional route before we even met. And they were already in the midst of it. They reached out. They wanted my help in rehab and guidance so we decided to work together. One thing led to another during this process where it was ultimately decided to end up having ACL surgery. She had surgery at the end of last year. And she’s worked really hard over the past year, and guess what? She’s cleared now. She had a massive quad deficit over this period of time. And we had to really address this because she also got really strong in her unoperated side. 

She started loving the gym and lifting weights. This created, if you will, a bigger gap to cover because we wanted to still achieve symmetry while also making sure that that strength, especially in her quad, is coming back and marking up her body weight as well. It was a chase for a long time and sure there were some initial rocky starts with it, especially with extension. She had great extension going into the surgery and then coming out of surgery. She just had a really hard time getting her extension back. The knee was just not compliant. The quad, as I had mentioned, had a big gap that we had to address, and there were ups and downs.

And not to mention she was in the midst of college trying to get ready to get into her specific major. And so there was the stress of college, being just a college student. And she also just wanting to be able to just do the things she wants to do, especially actively. And also, has the plugin rehab. So that makes it really tough, especially for someone going through this process. But she worked really hard. She came in this summer with the tail end of this late-stage process, and really dialed it in, especially with strengthening and especially running, jumping, and cutting in all different directions. And she is now cleared. She’s good too, and she’s good to start playing in various recreational sports that she wants. We have a progression plan for her to start doing that, especially with basketball this year, which is super awesome. That is athlete number one, recreational sports, just getting to it. 

Next up we have athlete number two. He is a college soccer athlete going into his second year of competitive season with a scholarship. He honestly had a rough go from the start of his surgery. We didn’t connect until a month or so after he had the surgery. He was still locked in a brace, with lots of pain, swelling, and poor range of motion. Extension was lacking. Bending was really difficult, especially since he was locked in that brace.

The surgeon for some reason, restricted a lot of movement and weight-bearing for the first six weeks and locked him straight in that brace, which was really weird in all honesty, given it was just an isolated ACL reconstructive surgery, and it was with a hamstringing graft. But when we tried to grab information as to, well, why are we so locked up or restricted, there wasn’t really much of an explanation. It was just the way she did it. And so that’s where I’m seeing a fair amount of ACLs at this point. I do know one thing, and that’s the more that you don’t do things in the beginning, you’ll pay for it later. And this is a very good example of — there wasn’t really anything restricting like a bone fracture or a meniscus that was so complex that needed to be reconstructed — none of that stuff. It was just literally an isolated ACL surgery with a hamstring graft. 

And for some reason, they wanted to lock him into that position of extension for six weeks and not let him put weight on it. It really made a massive restriction initially in his process, and it caused a lot of pain, swelling, and whatnot. And this also made everything go to sleep. He actually has a lot of weakness in all the different muscle groups. We had a lot of work to do, and that was at the beginning of this year. But I’ll tell you, guys, what this guy worked so freaking hard. He was so committed. He communicated so well. He provided feedback. He pushed hard in the gym, pushed hard on his field of work when he needed to do it, and was super smart about the nutrition and recovery of this process. He was really dedicated to making sure he could come back better than he was before. That’s what I told him initially. He was down, wondering if he was actually going to be able to come back to play this year, or even if he would get back to the level where he was at before. 

And I told him, “Hey man, we can do it.” You have it in you. We just have to make sure that we take advantage of this time right now and make sure that we do everything we can and be very strategic and smart about our process. And guess what, 80% of this, 90% of this were all done remotely. We did not even work together in person. He’s just worked really hard. And as I said, he communicated and provided feedback, was in the gym, and had his dedicated time.

In reality, this can happen, as long as you’re aware of your body to some degree and being able to follow a structured and specific plan, this is possible. This in-person, feeling restricted to just geography of what you have close to you isn’t always the case. And this guy is a perfect example. And now, he is a month away from being cleared and going through our return-to-practice sports performance framework where he’ll be starting up with practices soon and eventually gameplay. I could not be more proud of this kid and the journey that he has taken.

Last but not least, is athlete number three. She tore her ACL in her sophomore year of college playing soccer. She is on a soccer scholarship and she wanted to come back for her senior year, which is this season coming up. And so this girl had quite the journey, I will say, at the least. We connected eight months after she had her ACL reconstruction surgery. She had a quad graft. She did the first eight months of her rehab at school. And this is where it got into an interesting place. She actually came back to Atlanta early after that to focus on her rehab and her mental health. It was just a tough place to be with her trying to rehab and trying to get this all settled and taken care of for her to get back to this next year. And she just felt like she was stuck. And she reached out and we connected and we got her in for an initial consultation and evaluation.

We just checked things out to see where she was. She had a 60% quad deficit, swelling in her knee, pain, lots of pain, and lots of donor site morbidity and pain. Her range of motion was limited. She did not have a full extension. She did not have enough flexion. There were a lot of things, even from the basics of what we need from the first phase of post-op, the quiet knee getting strong, getting it calmed down, wasn’t there. What’s even scarier was that she was practicing on this before she had even come. She was eight months out. I guess she had a green light to be able to get on the field and start doing all kinds of different movements. 

And I was just like so surprised and I asked, what was it that was clearance to allow you to do that? Not much testing guys, not much testing at all. Just kicking into the hand in the surgeon’s office. And then when I asked for other clearance testing, there wasn’t any. This really did not serve this athlete and it was a bit frustrating of a conversation, in terms of just hearing this, especially for an athlete who’s playing on a higher level. She felt like things weren’t right and she needed to do something, and so that’s when she took things into her own control and came back home to Atlanta.

We had four months to work together to get her knee calmed down super strong and back to a lot of the dynamic work and the demands of soccer that she’ll face. There were a lot of ups and downs initially because the knee was super sensitive. We had to collect some data points essentially to dial in a solid game plan and find the sweet spot. Eventually, we were able to find that sweet spot for her. Now she’s back at school, back at practice for her senior year, doing the graded framework of returning to performance I mentioned. 

The same as the previous athlete, we use that framework, but make it specific to their situation and we’ll be playing in her first game soon as a senior makes me so proud. She worked so freaking hard and I’m so proud of her. She completely deserves this. She is someone who is super independent and doesn’t have a lot of help. It really hit home because of my last surgery and it felt so similar. And while we had many athletes this summer and over this past year, and ones that I can mention in this episode, you guys all know who you are. But these were the three that I really wanted to highlight and share just because of the uniqueness of their journey, and wanting to get back to a high level of competition. You see all of these. What I want to share here are the big lessons and takeaways from these athletes and their journeys.

One is knowing that everyone is different. Seriously, you guys know this. If you listen to any podcast episodes in the past, run your own race. It’s going to be different no matter what, even if it’s the exact same sport, injury, surgery, or graft type. Let’s say you had a meniscus repair with it, same side, same tear, same repair. Not a single case I’ve ever had has gone the exact same way on the same progression. It’s all different. People are going to have reactions to certain places in this journey. It’s not always going to be smooth and seamless. Sure, there are people who may be incurred maybe less setbacks, or maybe their knee is calmer, or maybe it’s a simpler process. Maybe their body’s just responding really well to it. There are those people for sure. But it’s a whole bell curve here. That bell curve, as we know, most people don’t fall under the main bulk of that bell curve. There’s the outliers, and then there’s just most people across that average. What I really think from all of this and working with the ACLers I’ve worked with, going through this process myself, I’m such an example of that even with my own two ACL injuries. This ACL rehab is truly unequal to one experience, no matter the number of injuries and surgeries that happen each year. And when you go to compare it to other people, don’t do it. But when you do, you’re going to it’s different. And as I mentioned, I went through two very different recoveries myself, even knee to knee.

Now, number two, know that each of these athletes had ups and downs and setbacks along the way. No one had a smooth process. Mindset was huge. They had moments of doubt where they felt like they weren’t going to get back to it. It’s normal. It’s almost weird if you don’t feel that sometimes. But we cannot let that win, and they didn’t allow that to win. Mindset is such a big part of this process. Even though those setbacks all happen, guess what, you can overcome those. They overcame them. And you can move forward. It’s just a matter of staying diligent and showing up, which leads me to my third point here. 

They were all consistent, not every day, not even sometimes every week, but they were consistent when you look across this whole spectrum of when we work together, they were consistent. They kept doing enough to move the needle. They were working with their schedule. And sure, they got sick. Sure, there were those setbacks. Sure, those classes got crazy. There were all these things that happened. They took maybe a vacation, but we worked around all that stuff. Overall, they were consistent and they showed up to become a better average even on those hard days, even when those setbacks happened. 

Number four, they didn’t settle. They sought out care that they felt they deserved, some with parents’ help and some without. And as I mentioned on my third athlete, she had to do a lot of this by herself. And man, that hit home for me because I had to do something very similar. I had to do my second ACL process pretty much all by myself basically. Outside of my brother’s help to help me with that initial payment I couldn’t fork out $3,000 right off the get-go because my student credit card only allowed me to do $400 maximum. I was a broke college kid at the time. I tore my ACL. My out-of-pocket max was $10,000. And our surgeon wanted us to put almost $3,000 down in order to book our surgery. And so that was hard. And I was just like, what my brother said, we’ll figure it out. We put it down and I was responsible basically for the rest and figuring out how to pay my brother back. This is basically what I had to do, the rehab, driving myself, balancing school with it, balancing work with it at the time, and balancing making payments for the $10,000 out-of-pocket maximum that I had to pay back. So that was crazy and it made this process hard. And I still remember going home after my second ACL surgery to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving. 

Now, I do not recommend anyone doing this, especially if you’re someone contemplating this — have your people in the know. But my parents didn’t know I was having the surgery; my brother and I did. I had the surgery and drove home with a fresh post-op ACL. I showed up and my parents were like… what is this? And I said, well, I had surgery again. And the reason why I did it is because my parents were going through a hard financial time. They were small business owners and they did not have insurance. I was not on their insurance. I was paying for school insurance. That was just insane. And this is just where I was in that process. 

And I’m sharing with you guys this raw experience of my own financial situation and insurance and rehab because this really resonated with me with what she did. And she had to invest in order to make sure that she could get back to what she wanted to do. And so I had to do the same thing for my second ACL surgery, and I was paying on that for so long in order to pay back that $10,000 bill that I got as a college student, just paying it back $25 a month so it doesn’t go to collection. But it was important to me because I wanted to invest in this process. I didn’t want to wait at the time, and I just needed to make sure that I could take care of myself, and make sure I invest in myself. And so that’s the choice that I made. And I didn’t want to put my parents in a tough spot. And so that’s what I stepped into. And guess what, today, I can do the things and I’m not worried about my knees or tearing my ACL. And you know what? I’m able to share this experience with you guys and also just dedicate an entire company and a team and resources to being able to do this. I don’t regret any of it. All right guys, I’m off my soapbox.

Last but not least, number five, they set their sights on something they really cared about — a goal. And I’ve encouraged you guys to set a singular goal for you to set your sights on. They made sure that they sought out a clear plan and structure to get back to their goal. That’s what’s key here. And I just want you guys to know that this is really important. Because sometimes whenever athletes come and they’re like, well, I just want to get back to being active, that’s cool. But the less that your goals are set or more specific, the harder it is for you to just be more motivated and have that drive and almost have like a clear structure to get towards that. The athletes that do really well with us have a very specific goal that they’re trying to get back to, they have a clear and structured plan, they have support and they have testing, but they also provide incredible feedback and they communicate really well.

If you do these things guys, and you have these things in place, you will succeed in this process, just like these athletes did. They didn’t settle, they decided to take things into their own hands, whether it was with their parents or by themselves. And they were able to make the thing happen and now they’re out doing the thing. I hope that this is a sense of encouragement to you guys who might need it today, in this month of August, or whenever you listen to this. Because I know I needed it so many different times and this is why I just want to share our Athlete Wins so you guys can just continue to move the needle. If you have any questions, or if you need any support, you guys know where to find us. Look at the show notes. We have contact information in there if you want to reach out. 

Until next time, this is your host, Ravi Patel, signing off.

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