Patient Notes: Lies and Greed
Breezy Johnson (Victor, ID) sustained an ACL tear in September that has sidelined her for the 2019 season. Throughout Johnson's road to recovery, she'll be sharing the ups and downs of rehabilitation here in a column of her own, entitled "Patient Notes," in hopes that you will follow along for the journey to learn how challenging it is both physically and mentally to return to snow at the elite level. Being an injured athlete can be challenging and lonely, and we're hoping that by writing this column, Johnson will be able to stay connected to the community and her sponsors.
Johnson kicked off her series with a poignant pre-surgery piece with Patient Notes: Volume 2, she brought you all the post-op nitty gritty, Patient Notes: Volume 3, she talked about ferocity and frustration and Patient Notes: Volume 4, where she talked about the mental ups and downs in the mid stages of recovery. She's thankful for your support and invites you to follow along on her Instagram. All of the words below are Johnson's thoughts, straight from her journal to your computer screen.
Enjoy the journey,
Alpine Communications Manager
1/20/2019: 4 Months (122 days) post-op,139 days post injury, 1 day post return to snow
Lies and Greed
I lied. I lied to the people around me; I lied to the public; but most of all I lied to myself. I told the world that I wasn’t going to race. But I wanted to. I planned to. I hoped that I would be able to return to snow in three months and make my return to racing in Cortina, a fitting birthday present to myself, I thought. I lied and thought that I would be able to complete the most remarkable comeback in alpine history. I thought I would be able to do more, push more, have more. We athletes are eternally greedy; when they tell us to slow down we decelerate, momentarily before racing forward at Mach speed. Greed, it’s a characteristic that for better or worse, when it comes to physical progress I have in spades.
To go back to the beginning I have to explain why I thought any of this was possible at all. I have to go into some confusing medical language, so bear with me. I tore my ACL, this is true, but I did not tear it as many do...and because of that I did not have the same surgery that many do. Instead of your standard mid-substance ACL tear I tore mine off of the femur, a proximal tear to the greater medical community. Moreover, I partially tore mine. Fibers remained. And so I opted for a different procedure than most. Rather than a standard reconstruction, where they take tissue from elsewhere to create your new ACL, I opted to repair my original ACL, to have the torn ligament reattached to the bone. This helps save the original ACL, which has some properties that I didn’t want to lose, and doesn’t suffer from some of the drawbacks of the different reconstruction harvests.
My doctor told me that the return to snow would take four months. As you can guess, I thought four meant three. I didn’t anticipate the atrophy, though I had less than some, I anticipated a quicker return to aggressive weight training and plyos. I may have been the greediest person to have ever walked into a therapy room, or surgeon's table. As my therapists can attest to, I was never satisfied in therapy. I nitpicked over the slightest deficiencies in testing and as my therapist told me ‘spent more time in the gym than many employees.’
I did not get on snow quite as soon as I wanted. I got back on snow on my birthday, one day shy of the four-month marker that my surgeon set for me in September. In many ways I was completely delusional thinking three months sounded reasonable. I was a bit insane, having never been through this before, as to how I would feel, and how strong I would be. Four months is fast, probably the fastest return in U.S. Ski and Snowboard history. And for that I should be grateful. And I am. But now that I am back, in the middle of January I need to set a few things straight both for everyone out there and, perhaps more importantly, for myself.
I will not be racing this season. I say that, with the feeling of twisting my own knife in my chest. I think I could. Perhaps if it were an Olympic year, I would. But the thing that is perhaps most difficult with an ACL tear is that they do not simply heal; you don’t just pass tests, get back on snow and you’re fine. ACL tears lead to more ACL tears. Re-tearing an ACL (as we define it at U.S. Ski & Snowboard: tearing the same ACL again or tearing the other ACL within two years of your first injury) is not uncommon in the ski world. One has to look no farther than the recent loss on the World Cup of Austrian Stephanie Brunner to know that re-tears are real and problematic in ski racing. I am strong, and I have passed my return to snow. But it makes much more sense to take my return to skiing slow, with more work in the gym mixed in, so that I may lower my risk of needing to go through this again, that I might avoid having to sit out another season.
I also think, while I am trying to be truly honest with myself, that it will be better for my skiing to wait. I need to be able to completely rely on every piece of my body in order to ski the way I do. A lot of my success, I believe, is about confidence, and I still need some time to regain that. But based on how quickly I have gotten my strength and power back to return to snow levels, I trust that my body will be feeling as strong as ever soon enough. I certainly have high expectations.
So to those who can’t wait to see me back, thank you. I love you and I am eternally grateful for your support. But you will not see me in the starting gate until Lake Louise next year. It kills me a little bit to say that, but the intelligent part - the voice that has an uncanny similarity to my therapist, Gillian Bower - thinks that is the right thing to do. I hear patience is a virtue, at least outside of downhill courses.