Shit happens. Sometimes it's good shit and sometimes it's bad shit. This time around, it was the latter. Through more than 20 years of training, I somehow managed to escape any kind of serious injury. Yeah, we all have our aches and pains and the infrequent tweak or pull, but being sidelined by an injury that requires surgery is a different beast. And over the years, as I watched several of my fellow competitors experience traumatic injuries, I counted my blessings, knocked on wood, and proceeded to crank it out with caution. After making it pretty damn far, I truly believed I would go the full distance with no serious injuries. Maybe my mistake was thinking that potential injuries only take place in the gym, and that so long as I used my head during training, I was in the clear. Maybe that was stupid on my part considering that most bodybuilders get injured outside of the gym. When you've been squatting 5 plates week in and week out for years on end, the last thing you expect is to blow your quad tendon slipping on some ice. And that's exactly what happened to me.
The feeling was unlike anything I've ever felt before–and I never want to feel anything like it again. It hurt like hell. As I began to slip on the ice, my knee felt like it was protruding outward and I had absolutely no control over the joint as it continued to bend. It simply felt like my knee was breaking. I felt and heard "pop, crack, snap" and then the next thing I knew I was on the ground in pain and shock. I remember lying in my driveway on top of some packed snow while a number of thoughts ran through my mind: "I can't move my leg... Fucking PAIN... This is bad... What about my prep for the NY Pro? Of all the injuries why did it have to be this one?" This was followed by: "Okay, get your ass up." So I pulled myself up by the door of my car, hopped around to the backseat, used my good leg to hoist up the back of my limp leg, and slid into the rear seat of my car. With my wife at the wheel, we drove to pick up a pair of crutches while I was popping Advil en route. From that moment on, the room for sentiment was crowded out by the necessity for action.
The technical name for the injury, I’ve come to learn, is a fully ruptured quadriceps tendon. What this means is that the tendon that attaches the quadriceps to the kneecap (and therefore the lower leg), was completely detached from the kneecap. This tendon cannot re-attach itself on its own. A surgeon has to drill 3-4 holes into the kneecap and then attach the tendon to these points. I quickly came to the realization that I could either waste my energy feeling sorry for myself or I could begin doing everything in my power to help myself. Fully aware of my own disappointment, pain, and physical limitations, I made the decision almost immediately to accept the fucked up situation for what it was and try my damnedest to fix it all. Sitting there with my fucked up knee, my phone, a pad and pencil, I spent every business hour of the next week on the phone with surgeons, their secretaries, and my insurance company determined to find the best surgeon. To be honest, it was a royal pain in the ass. But ultimately, I got things done.
In the immediate days following the surgery, I was in a lot of pain and didn't get up off the couch much. Even getting up to piss was too much of a chore–so I used a gallon jug instead. After a few days, despite not really wanting to move, I knew it was important to get up and use my body even if only to go to the other room. I've been bodybuilding long enough to know that when it comes to the body, "use it or lose it" is the rule. I'd be lying though if I said I didn't want to burn this fucking brace on my leg. It's now 7 weeks post-op and I'm still wearing it. This is partially due to the fact that it's uncomfortable and just plain annoying. Yet I think another part of it has to do with my ego. I hate knowing that I need to have it there for support. As a bodybuilder, I've always shied away from anything that could be used as a crutch, both figuratively and literally. In nearly 20 years of training, I never owned a belt or wraps or any bullshit like that. I like knowing my strengths and weaknesses so that I can properly use the former and adequately address the latter. But I know it's temporary and serves a purpose. I just keep reminding my body, "Listen bud, don't get used to this shit".
Truth is, I never allowed myself to feel depressed. I never felt sorry for myself. I didn’t say "fuck it" to my diet or to prepping food. Instead, I repeatedly told myself that I was getting better. For me, it's always been about the "small" things, the positive things. I've often said that successful bodybuilding takes place in the smallest of units: sets of exercises, reps within sets, milligrams of vitamins, grams of protein, ounces of food. We each have our own milestones. For me, benching 405, squatting 485, tipping 300 on the scale, and breaking 21 inches on the bicep measurement come to mind. Right now, being able to discontinue the use of Advil was a milestone. Being able to bend my leg was a milestone. Walking with one crutch instead of two was a milestone. There's a striking similarity between bodybuilding and body “re-building”–both require patience, mental fortitude, and the ever-present belief that you can and WILL get better. I'm going to strengthen this knee and then I'm going to resume strengthening my entire body. My best is yet to come. I'm already on my way.