Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Overcoming Obstacles

Scars are cool.  When you're a volleyball player, bruises, floor burns, and contusions on your knees become kind of like badges of honor. Every scar has a story.  Well, the scars on my knees are kind of a long story...

I was a climb-two-stairs-at-a-time kind of kid.  At 6, I was the girl organizing a bracket for foot races with all the boys on the playground.  Athletically, I was never extraordinary, but ever since I can remember I've always *wanted* to be the fastest, jump the highest, and be the best.  That desire drove me to make the jump to a big, public high school volleyball team after playing two years for Victory Christian (a small private junior high in Fair Oaks, CA).  Freshman year I was most-improved. Sophomore year I was most-inspirational. By my Senior year I was captain on Varsity.  I've loved the game ever since.

Flash forward to college - In 2004, at our last home match against cross-town rival Holy Names (during my fourth and final season playing at Mills College in Oakland, CA), I blocked a ball and landed on a hyperextended right knee, causing my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to snap and roll up like blinds.

That December, I elected to undergo ACL surgery.  I awoke from sedation with my sister Sarah and my mom by my bedside.  The searing pain in my knee caused involuntary tears to pour from the corners of my eyes and down my cheeks and soak my hospital gown.  For fear of this pain returning, I finished all the prescribed meds (which left me useless and drooling on my parents couch for two weeks).  Haha...  This half-baked state was perfect for appreciating my parents' two thousand cable channels (mostly TCM and the food channel).  My mind was a perfect *mush* when I went back to Mills on crutches to finish my Senior spring.  But I was prancing around in high heels by graduation day and, the following August, after 8 months of physical therapy, I was back at Mills getting taped up for the Alumni match.

I continued to play, and in 2007, in a qualifying match at an outdoor grass tournament in Detroit, IL, it happened again, but this time to my left knee!  After planting a kill cross-court on the three meter line, a crack sounded out that sent shivers down my spine.  I knew instantly it was another ACL tear. This meant another surgery and another year of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (ie, no running, no jumping, no climbing two stairs at a time, and, worst of all... no volleyball!).

Six months later... After my second elective surgery, I stopped the meds after the first day.  Falling asleep without pain-killers that night was a little like jumping off a cliff, but I woke up basically pain-free the next morning.  It sounds crazy, but being awake and aware and not all drugged up helped me meditate on my body's natural ability to heal.  I put some of the tools my college coach, Marla Mundis, had taught me to good use.  As I dredged through 6 more months of rehab, I visualized my recovery.  This may sound a little ridiculous, but I imagined a mini-construction crew going up and down the inner workings of my knee joint on scaffolding, soldering and smoothing over all the rough surfaces.  Being off the meds also gave me the presence of mind to focus on the challenge at hand...  REHAB.  Once again, I re-learned how to stand, walk, run, tip toe, kneel, climb, jump, land, cycle, swim, and play.

Over the long run - being hurt was an obstacle that created so many positive outcomes in my life.  I became closer to my parents and Billy (who I relied on incessantly during this time).  My goal of maintaining healthy knees drove me into the yoga studio.  I started coaching to stay involved in the sport.  Ten years later, I'm still using my knowledge of ACL injuries to teach proper mechanics in the next generation of volleyball players: how to jump and land and quickly change direction *safely* and how to improve leg strength in ways that will support the whole body.  The rehab made me completely unafraid of square one.  Today I am fully recovered...  And now, I would venture to say that *my wounds healed me*.

The original injuries were scary.  They made me feel broken and (albeit temporarily) strangely robbed me of my femininity.  Being hurt changed the way I moved through the world and the way I saw myself.  However, the surgeries were even more scary.  Afterwards, I felt physically, financially, and spiritually crippled.  Violated and maimed.  And then, of course, this was abruptly followed by the demanding uphill road of rehabilitation, which required time, planning, and - most of all - conviction.  After my second ACL surgery, it took me a good five years to get back where I was (that is, back to taking stairs two at a time).

Now, I'm not sure if I'll ever stop taking two stairs at a time, but I know that if I do, I will do so knowing that my strength doesn't come from knees.  My true strength as a human being comes from a deep hidden place within me that I discovered thanks to my knees.  :)


  1. No wonder we get along so well - I, too, am a victim of the ACL! Just one time, though, so kudos to you for working it out TWICE! Ha, this is why we're the "old Americans" overseas playing still! We know what it's like to NOT play volleyball, and we're all the more grateful for our opportunities!

    1. AHA! Agreed. PS - I must know more about you... :)