Knees: A Painful Love Story

Mini jumper cables diffuse drugs into my knees and I'm thoroughly surprised. Ah, crazy medicine.
Mini jumper cables diffuse drugs into my knees and I’m thoroughly surprised. Ah, crazy medicine.

What I need to realize and surrender myself to is this: as long as I’m an athlete, I will be battling injuries in some shape or form.

Luckily, this season I’m not dealing with a traumatic injury but nonetheless, I’m injured. I have tendinitis in both of my knees. I can still ski, although my orthopedic doc advises that the best course would be to spend six weeks on a beach in Mexico drinking beer (how did he know that I love beer?!). Tendinitis is certainly not as bad as what ski racing phenom Lindsey Vonn will now have to recover from after today’s crash in the World Cup Championships, however, I still have to be aware and proactive about my knees.

The reason why my knees are inflamed and painful? I didn’t do as much strength training in the off-season because I was still recovering from my rib injury and my back issues. Healing from one injury has led to another.

I curse the gods, but I’m sure the gods care little about a skier. There are many more problems in the world than my two beat up knees.

Luckily, my knees haven’t caused me too many problems when I’m actually skiing, fornow. In fact, I just returned from the GS races in Gunstock and produced very good results: two wins! My knees certainly ached that night and the next morning and today, well, I’m in pain. The National Championships are in three weeks, so if I can take some time to rest, recover and see my physical therapist nearly every day, I’ll be okay. Come March, while the powder is typically dumping from the gray skies, I won’t be on skis (or at least, only ski if I have to. Like on a powder day, or something). Good thing Cole and I are flying to Washington D.C. for the annual Craft Brewers Conference. Beer will certainly take the edge off.

It strikes me as somewhat comical that  trying to honor my back and ribs and let them heal is what resulted in tendinitis. Basically, my quads, ass and other important leg muscles weren’t strong enough to hold the load that telemark skiing requires. The ski season started off to a rousing start and while I was in good shape, my knees weren’t up to the task of lunging down the hill. At first, I thought my knees ached because that’s what knees do at the start of the ski season. I thought, hey I’m in my thirties now and bodies ache. But when I tried to get off the plane after our trip to Vail in early January for a ski race and I could barely stand, I realized that something other than just aching was going on.

Earlier in the fall I wrote about my legs and how I was born with tibial torsion and I wore braces on my legs. I guess you could say that I’m focused on my legs. I’m focused on my body. I spent a lot of time and money (thank you, Cole, for good health insurance and for agreeing to marry a woman who’s prone to injuries) on health care, especially physical therapists. Our bodies demand this. And I’m not the caliber of athlete like Vonn or really any other top athlete. I’m really not that fast. I just love, love, love to ski. And to ski fast. Yet skiing hurts.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. To let my body weaken from inactivity? I don’t think so.

Plus, injuries force me to cope with my inner demons. Injuries teaches me patience and acceptance. The injuries I’ve racked up over the years have taught me that I’m not in complete control. Falls and wrecks happen. The body gives out. All of the skiers, and certainly all of the telemark racers I know are no stranger to this narrative. One of my teammates, Tommy, has torn his ACL twice and has worked his ass off during the summer to return to racing. ACLs get torn and shoulders ripped out from a collision with a gate. As much focus and determination it takes to learn how to telemark race, the same amount of drive is required to recover from an injury.

I find all of this translates well to writing. Seriously. I’ve  been taught this in the five months I’ve been working with my mentor, Mary Clearman Blew. Writing is so much like telemark racing. It takes the same amount, if not more, of determination, physical strength, and endurance. Sometimes in a telemark race there’s a blind jump–meaning that when you launch from the jump you can’t see the rest of course below you until you land. Blind jumps happen all the time in writing. I launch and I have no idea where I’m going to land on the page. Sometimes this works. Sometimes not. Like a good coach, Mary helps to place me back on track, back on the course, if you will. But ultimately  it is up to me to slide into that start gate, to start the clicky-clack of keys on a blank page. I have to ice my knees and stretch my quads to help my pain. I have to stretch my writing capacities by experimenting with writing exercises, to devise wacky short stories when I feel the crushing force of the current draft. Drills are important to the development of a ski racer. Writing has similar drills, and while they don’t take place on snow, they are just as vital. Telemark racing and writing take a lot, a lot of practice.

I think Mary and my physical therapist would have a lot in common. They know their subjects well. They know their knees from their metaphors. And they know how to best tap into their patients to get good results. They know that ultimately, they can’t completely heal their patients. It is up to the patient to take control, to continue to work hard and allow the body to recover.

For me, as a patient and as a writer, it helps tremendously that I have guidance; I have someone who will tell me to stay off the skis for a week and ice cup my knees five times a day. I have guidance in writing, a woman who will tell me to trust my scenes, to dig deeper and explore more in my writing. I have two people who remind me about who I am. And who I can be.

So, while I’m writing the narrative of my knees, I’m learning that my physical therapist and my mentor have more in common than I know. And for that, it’s simply a beautiful, if not quirky, love story.

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