Episode 2 | My ACL Story

Show Notes:

In this episode, I discuss: 

  • My Dairy Queen “sponsorship”
  • My nickname Twinkie
  • My 2 ACL tears and surgeries
  • What I learned from these two experiences

Welcome back everyone to the ACL Athlete Podcast. Today is episode number two, and we are talking about my ACL story. So I have had two ACL tears myself and today’s episode is focused on what lead up to the first ACL tear. And for my second one, I just want to share my experiences with it. Whether the physical, mental, or even the financial, I think that all of these things are very important to tell. I just want my story to hopefully resonate with someone out there. I think it’s important to have these conversations and to know that it’s not just, oh, here’s an injury, you get back to sport and that’s it. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

So that’s why I want to share this story. But first, before we get started, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who is listening and who listened to my first episode. The amount of support and people who reached out just baffled me– from people battling their third ACL injury, to clinicians, to just friends and family. I cannot thank you enough for the support. And it’s what gives me the fuel to keep this going and the excitement to be able to bring as much as I can to this podcast and as much value to you as the listener. So thank you guys so much for that. 

First, I am going to give a background about me, leading up to my first ACL tear. And I think it’s important because it really does set the framework of, who I am as a person. I realized the battles that I experienced with these injuries really started when I was younger. These thoughts and feelings sneak back in, so I wanted to give you that full picture of what I was feeling throughout this entire process.

All right. So I hope you guys are ready for a trip down memory lane. This all started when I was super young. I love sports. I love playing sports. I love being out. I love the competitive nature of it. We would watch the Jacksonville Jaguars every Sunday. We loved them. We were big Jaguars fans. So we watched Mark Brunel play at quarterback, Kyle Brady at tight end. It was always fascinating to see these athletes just move and just compete at a high. I remember growing up, me and my brother went to a small private school and there weren’t any competitive teams, but we would just go outside and play for recess, play football, whatever it is.

My mom would come and pick us up around 3:30 and on our way home, there was always a dairy queen and it was always 50% off during the weekdays for students. So what does my mom do when two kids that are growing are really hungry? You go to dairy queen. So every day we would pull up to dairy queen place, our order, and eventually they got used to seeing us and knew our order by name.

So two hot dogs with mustard, ketchup. That was my jam. Don’t judge me. But I loved it. I was a happy little kid and guys, you would’ve thought we were freaking sponsored by dairy queen by how much we went, but I enjoyed it. And so we rode that wave for a long time and that led to me gaining a ton of weight as a little kid.

For some reason, it didn’t affect my brother, but here I am, this fat little Indian now getting into public school. That was a huge transition for me because I’m leaving my friends, but also I gained a lot of this weight. I wasn’t feeling very confident in myself. So I was told I should go and play rec sports.

Because I love sports so much, I tried out to for the football, basketball and baseball team. And it’s one of those things where you make the team regardless, but I wasn’t very good. I sucked. I was not very athletic. I wasn’t fast. I wasn’t strong at all. And it was one of those things where I was on the bench most of the time.

And it was pretty self-defeating. Also, an explanation about the cover picture. That was me in sixth grade baseball team. We were the top guns and we were supposed to pick a nickname for the back of our shirts. I didn’t really have a nickname; I was still new in public school. All my friends already had their nicknames and so I was asking around, and this one chick, she was like, Twinky

And so everyone started singing twinky. I was like, okay cool. So I was twinky as my nickname for my sixth grade year of baseball. In hindsight, that was so cruel. And I cannot believe that happened, but I still have that shirt and I can still fit into that shirt. 

And so we fast forward to seventh grade, I still continued with the sports and played football this time. I traded basketball in for wrestling because no Indian really makes it in basketball. But I do remember this one time at wrestling practice, we had some conditioning coming up. We did this thing called the Indian run, where you are running in a line, a leader sets the pace, the person in the back needs to speed up to be in front. And then that new person sets the pace. Anyone who has done this really knows, there’s always that one freaking person who tries to just sprint at the front and then you gotta sprint to catch up with these people.

And picture this little Indian kid, who has a lot of weight on him, trying to speed to the front. I could never make it. And so then there’s this one day where , I embarrassingly broke down crying. My coach and I had a long chat about it and there was just something about that conversation that really did spark turning a corner for me. I decided I was not gonna lose anymore. I was tired of feeling sorry for myself. So I really did turn a corner and I started to lose weight and work really hard. As I approached sports, I thought less about the physicality of it and started to use my brain more. I wasn’t always the fastest or the biggest, but I knew that I could out think a lot of the players on the field. It helped me work towards getting better at sports and use my body to be able to be as tactical as possible. 

So fast forward to April 2008, I’m a sophomore in high school and we’re at the spring football game. I’ve been working my butt off with spring football practices. We’re finally at the game where I can prove to my coaches that I can start the following year. I felt very good about my chance. First play kicks off –I’m playing bit of linebacker. I’m on a blitz to get the running back or the quarterback.

And so ball snaps. I run through the line. I’m like, okay, I’m gonna make a solid play. I cut with the running back and all of a sudden I felt a pop in my right knee. I fall to the ground. I’m not very sure. I’m more confused than anything. It wasn’t really pain. I just remember my knee felt like it dislocated. and came out of place sideways and then back. Then, I remember trying to get up. I couldn’t fully stand up or put weight on my leg and so I hobbled over to the sideline and was really still confused. The athletic trainer grabbed me and took me to the bench and asked me, what had happened, what I was feeling and started doing some testing on my knee. I was like, okay, maybe this is just like a muscle sprain or something, and I’ll get back out there.

 He started doing the Lachman’s test, which for anyone who is a PT or has had this done is where you move the shin back and forth. He didn’t have a really good look on his face . And so then he told me, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think you tore your ACL. That didn’t sound good to me.

I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I asked and he was like, this means your season’s over. I was in shock. I didn’t really know how to respond. I just saw all the work that I had put in leading up to that point, not just the spring practices, but everything before that. You’ve heard in this story, it just felt like it was getting wiped. An entire year of not being able to practice and play and do the thing that I love the most, which was playing sports year around. So that was literally my identity. At that point, I identified as an athlete, I identified as a hard worker and the physical aspect of training was just something that was a very big part of me.

At that very moment, it just got all taken away. And after that, I remember talking with my parents about what we were gonna do, and what’s the right steps to take were. We started trying to figure out a doctor to go see to get it checked. And so eventually we got a consult with an orthopedic surgeon. Turns out that insurance wouldn’t approve my surgery.

There was some issue with the insurance and the provider and all these different things. And, I’m 15, my parents don’t really understand insurance or healthcare. They’re immigrants from India. So we’re trying to navigate this whole process and eventually in July, three months later, I end up getting the surgery and they decided to do a hamstring graft.

I didn’t even know there were graft options. We didn’t know anything about this process, honestly, and I was just a high school kid. So who knows how much I paid attention to but I do remember never being presented with an option of a patellar graft or a hamstring graft or a cadaver graft. We just went with the flow because we didn’t know any better.

So I have the surgery and it felt so fast, like a flash of a moment, or like a quick nap. I wake up, I’m super disoriented. I see the nurse. I’m high on anesthesia. And eventually the surgeon comes and checks on me and is asking how I’m doing. He mentions to me and my dad that he repaired the ACL.

And I forgot to mention earlier when we got the MRI, it looked like there was a meniscus issue, but he went in and he ended up not having to repair the meniscus. So he said that was good . Initially, I didn’t have any pain for the first 24 hours. And what I came to realize is that I had a nerve block.

So anyone who’s had the surgery or has worked with someone, they will do a nerve block– a femoral nerve block or an adductor block into your thigh to make sure that it can help with the pain that you feel afterwards. And so I had, one of those and was feeling great. 24 hours later, I did not feel too hot. The pain started kicking in and I was like a little child.

And I pushed through it. I was just chilling on the couch. I was in heaven. I had my Chips Ahoy cookies next to me. I was playing call of duty. And honestly my natural default is to just be lazy so this was my world and I enjoyed it for a little bit. . And so I eventually started physical therapy and working on that.

 Because of my inactivity and eating without control, I started to gain a lot of weight again. And as you had just heard, that was a pretty sore spot for me. So I started to go through a little bit of depression that I wouldn’t really talk about. I just worked through it, but I was sad because I had worked so hard and I had something taken away from me.

 And now I started to see the physical changes of things that I had worked so hard. And so I started physical therapy and I remember it was very long and monotonous. It took a lot of hard work. I remember going in and there were days where I was just focusing so much on range of motion and working on the quadriceps.

It was all really a big blur, but I remember my physical therapist and she was so awesome and so supportive about the whole process, whether there were any questions or when I wanted to know why am I doing this or that? And she would always answer and let me know the rationale behind why she chose a certain exercise, which was really awesome and really engaged me into the whole process

 During this same time, it was football season and we started having practices and games and it was a really weird time because I thought that I was gonna be starting and now I’m recovering from an injury and trying to find my place to fit in because I’m no longer in the practices.

Even though the camaraderie’s still there, there almost feels like this disconnect a little bit. And if you’re listening to this and you’ve had an injury, or you’ve worked with some athletes who have been injured, what happens is you want to be present, you want to be with your team, but then it still feels like there’s a little bit of that disconnect of not fully with it, like you are as you’re competing or practicing and things like that.

I remember as time went on, I would start training on my own in the gym while we had weight room. And I remember for some reason, I just wanted to hammer the knee extension machine. My physical therapist never told me I needed to do tons of it, but for some reason I just enjoyed it a lot. And I felt like I wanted to get my quads really big and strong.

 I remembered during this recovery process, I hammered my quads all the time to failure, which in hindsight, now as a physical therapist, knowing how much the quads are important to ACL rehab I do think that helped me a ton with my recovery but training was a big part of my regimen at that point. I remember at the three and six month checkup for my orthopedic surgeon it was maybe two, three minutes at most. They came in, asked how I was doing, how’s progress. Great. Then they moved my knee around a little bit and then was out really fast. And so I was cleared for a sport and I was super excited.

I was like, okay, I’m ready to go. But I still had some hesitations. I had not been doing too much running and cutting … some, but not really. I wasn’t super confident in jumping. After that I ended up returning to baseball. Not too long after, I remember getting this bulky, bulky brace. I was really slow and I remember whenever I would run the bases or go to practice, I had this brace on and I would run very gingerly.

I would be very careful about how I was moving, but I did it anyways because I was cleared. So in my head, I thought, okay, if I’m clear, then that means like I’m safe to go. I just need to get over this fear of what I’m feeling. But at the time I just didn’t realize that was something that was missing, that I needed.

I needed that return to sport that I just did not get. So luckily that was coming near the end of athletic team sports for my junior year. And then I skipped my spring football based on some recommendations. Then I came back my senior year and leading up to that senior year, I had trained so hard.

I was like, I’m going to be as strong and as fast as possible and be the best athlete that I can be. So I can come back my senior year. And that’s what I did. I was able to come back, play middle linebacker, start all year, and it ended up being such a good year for me. I got to be back with my team. I competed and I ended up getting first team all region, which isn’t the biggest thing, but for me, that was such a huge deal at the end of the season, to be able to receive that award. After all the work I had put in with my ACL tear and the physical therapy and the training, all of that felt like it paid off and it was completely worth it. And for me, it created an appreciation of adversity and resilience and recognizing that I am more than an athlete and that I can handle something knocking me down and getting back up and working hard to get back to where I want to be.

So that was huge for me. And if we fast forward to my senior year of undergrad at the University of Georgia , I was playing flag football and I was playing quarterback. As you guys can see, football is not my sport. I love it, but my knees do not like football. And so I was playing quarterback and I remembered doing a jump pass and I came down and this time I didn’t feel necessarily a pop, but I noticed that my knee was not right.

And I landed on my left knee instead, which was just perfect. And so then, I felt like it was familiar. I wasn’t very sure though. So then I went through the process of going to the doctor and getting it checked and getting an MRI and turns out it was torn. And one thing that I vividly remember about this experience is at the current time, the financial situation of our family and my parents was not the best. My brother and I essentially navigated this process by ourselves. I remember I had shit insurance. It was not great at all. My out of pocket maximum was $10,000. But first I had to hit, I think my deductible was somewhere around 4 or 5,000. And so we had, I hadn’t hit any of that yet. I remember at the office, Richie and I had a conversation and we were trying to figure out, like, how are we gonna be able to pay for this? And he just whipped out his credit card and he’s like let’s make this first payment. That was $2,300, we’ll do that and then we will figure out the rest. That’s what ended up happening. I had the surgery. And guess what, a few months later, I got billed for $10,000 and still to this day, this is a payment that I’m still making.

 I didn’t realize that this was gonna be a part of the process, but when we had that conversation, I just could not foresee myself going forward. And at the time non-operative care or conservative care for ACL was not really a factor didn’t really know much about it. So I was like I need to have this surgery. I can’t be limited as a 22 year old, like I just want to be able to go out, play, not worry about my knee. So I had the surgery and we decided to pull the trigger. And the best part about this is that I was working at a physical therapy clinic in Athens, horizon physical therapy, and the owner and the PTs there were incredible. So I would work my shift as a technician, and then I would do my rehab there and they didn’t even care about any copays or whatever it was. They were just like, Hey, like we’re gonna make this happen. And so they helped me through this whole process. So my second. ACL rehab went really well.

 I had some people looking out for me and don’t get me wrong, the second ACL rehab was really hard, but I had already been through it once. And that was very helpful to set the framework of knowing what to expect and where to go with the physical therapy and the training afterwards. So that was huge for me.

And one of the big things that I point out about looking at my two ACL tears, but especially the more recent one, is the support system. So if you’re going through this process, the big thing here is making sure that you have people in your corner that is going to be there for you. Trying to do this alone and trying to navigate this road by yourself is very difficult, whether it is the physical side, the mental, emotional, all these things play into it.

And I don’t think I could have gotten through this without my family, without my friends, without the support of the medical staff who were in my corner the entire time, because the physical aspect of this injury. Whether it’s the pain of it, getting that range of motion back, getting stronger again, to even gaining weight, that was something that triggered something for me that I had never thought an injury would. Tying into the emotional side of dealing with some depression and being sad, having an issue with who I was as an athlete and even as a person to just the mental struggles of the day in and day out changes– there were so many setbacks.

There were so many times that I was fearful of getting injured. There was not really any testing through the process either, so even though I came back from these things those were all pieces of this entire experience that doesn’t get mentioned very often. And it’s something that can get missed because all it is is here’s a physical injury, here’s a surgery. Okay. Now go rehab and you’re back to sport. There’s not really much discussion about what it does to the mentality of someone or what it makes them feel. Not to mention the financial implications that people deal with, especially with nowadays with the climate of healthcare and how insurance reimbursement works now who knows that could have been $20,000.

But I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences because I would not be where I am today without them, whether it is the mindset that I have now, or my ability to relate to my patients. It’s why I became a physical therapist because of the experience that I had, not with my surgeon, but with my physical therapist during my first ACL rehab.

That is why I’m in this field. And that is why I want to help others on this journey. So if you’re on this journey or helping someone with this journey, just know that there’s more to this than just an ACL tear and getting through rehab. There are emotional sides of things. There’s mental sides of things.

The physical, financial, you name it. There’s way more to. And this is why I want to create conversation around this topic and why I want to help others on this journey. So that is it for episode number two, I’m signing off. Thank you guys for listening to the ACL athlete podcast.

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