Going Big and Going Home: Jessica's ACL Story

by Jessica Rachel
(Tempe, Arizona)

I am a 21-year-old female, who spends her free time during the winter, snowboarding at an in-state resort, less than 3 hours away. It was my 28th day on the mountain, with my season pass, and I had just had the best day on the mountain, since I started this season. Luck would have it, my best day was St. Patrick's day, and in this case, happened to be "hump day" during this Spring Break of 2010. Unfortunately, my confidence from the day before was stronger than ever, but both the snow and my body were not warmed up enough for what I was about to do to myself.

It was my third time attempting this 15-ft gap jump, the first two attempts were the day before; this was my first (and last) attempt for the day. It was apx. 11:30am, near Flagstaff, Arizona at "The Arizona Snowbowl" ski resort, in their Sunset Terrain Park, and I had been warmed up on the first 10-ft. Probably my fourth run of the day, I decided after I "stomped" the first 10-ft gap, that I had enough speed, and went for the second jump.

Oh boy did I not have enough speed... almost, but no cigar. As I was coming in for the landing, which I thought I was about to make, I actually clipped a "lip" that came up from the flat of the gap, at the top of the landing strip. My front knee hyper-extended backwards, and POP!

I remember the light headed feeling kicking in immediately when I heard the sound, so I knew something was wrong. I don't remember snowboarding down to the bottom of the landing, but when I got there, I unstrapped and evaluated my leg... Nothings' broken... knee cap is not dislocated... probably just a sprain.

As I stood up to walk it off like a big girl, my knee disagreed and buckled as it gave way to my weight. As I slid on my water-proof pants down to my boyfriend, I tried to keep myself from freaking out and going into shock... wouldn't want to pay for an ambulance ride now would we? When I got to him, he recommends I walk it off. I told him I already tried, but just to show him,
I stood up again, tried to take a step, and history repeated itself.

After several hours with the doctor who told me "You're x-ray looks fine" (No shit... I could have told you that), I learned it was likely a bad sprain, but if I didn't feel better in a couple of days, to go get it re-checked up again in Phoenix (where I live).

Four days later, still on crutches and I can't walk. The orthopedic doctor calls for an MRI. Results? Complete ACL tear, grade I sprain on the MCL, and a partially torn meniscus. Apparently, the sheer force of the landing puts me into the category of a "trauma" injury.

This is where I differ from others. Lot's of people I am reading about can still walk around right after they tore their ACL. When I did this on my snowboard, my knee went into shock to try to prevent itself from further injury. It wasn't until 2 weeks after I sustained the injury, in which I began PT, and put weight on the leg for the first time.

It has now been 6 days since I started PT and I am making progress. I am still weak and cannot fully walk on my left leg, but I can put weight on it. I call this success!

I have also learned that if I want to remain an athletic, competitive snowboarder (let alone ride a bike), I need to gain as much strength as I can in my injured leg, BEFORE I get surgery. This means I have to learn how to be able to walk (without crutches), before I get surgery, and start PT all over again. With "trauma" injuries, this pre-surgery PT is crucial, whereas other's can get the surgery within a few weeks of the damage.

So when is the surgery? After I graduate college in May, so in another 6 weeks. It's already almost been 3 weeks. I can't be the only one out there that is doing this PT before surgery, right?

Also, my doctor told me to do my research, and to decide which kind of ACL reconstruction I want done. Choices are Patella, Hamstring, or Cadaver. What should a young, active, female snowboarder do, to ensure I can still ride when I'm 50?

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