Melissa Chan is a finance professional with a passion for Muay Thai. She started it out of curiosity but soon fell in love with the sport and began competing as an amateur until her knee injury occurred. Her knee has now recovered and she is excited to get back into the sport.
1) Can you share your ACL story?
It was just bad luck. On Friday the 13th, in the final minute of a clinching drill, I got swept and fell hard on my left leg. I felt my knee pop out and back in as I fell. It all happened so quickly that I was on the ground before I knew it. I went to ER and was referred to the orthopedic clinic where my surgeon confirmed that I had torn my ACL and MCL.
2) What was the hardest part of the experience?
Maintaining a strong and positive mentality throughout the recovery was definitely the most difficult part of the experience. Not only is the recovery period a long journey, but it is a tough one. When my body was healthy and strong, it was so much easier physically and mentally to push myself to my limits when I was training. But after sustaining the knee injury, it was a totally different story. I felt so broken and incapable. I was overly cautious in every movement. I was scared. As someone who is prone to doubting myself, I wondered if my knee could ever be back to 100%. At one point I even considered the possibility that my surgery failed. So even though I was highly motivated and positive in the first few months after injury, my mentality eventually weakened as time passed and my motivation fell apart. Once the negative emotions started taking over, it really affected my commitment to the rehab protocol.
3) How did you stay motivated throughout the process?
I’ll be very honest here – I lost my motivation halfway through my rehab post-surgery.
Initially, when I was undergoing the physio treatment prior to surgery I worked hard and pushed myself as I could still envision myself getting back into the sport. When people asked if I would ever go back in the ring and compete again, I didn’t even have to think twice about it and I would immediately say, “Of course!” My kru (in Muay Thai, “kru” means teacher), who I am truly grateful for, continued sending me videos of the weekly fighter’s training sessions. I still remember when he sent me the first training session after I was injured and tearing up as I watched my teammates.
But the road to recovery is a long one and I found it difficult to stay motivated throughout the whole way. Comparatively, physio was easier pre-surgery and I worked hard to rebuild the strength my leg lost. However, it was much more difficult post-surgery. Not only was it discouraging to see my leg lose its strength and range again, I also got sick of doing the same physio routine. I gradually lost the discipline I once had as an athlete and despite being ashamed of my laziness, I also felt weak and useless at the same time. Looking back, this was my lowest point in the journey as I had almost given up on myself and my dreams to get back in the ring.
My wakeup call happened in my 9 month post-op appointment with my surgeon. By that point I was absurd enough to even doubt the success of my surgery (sorry doc). But my surgeon tested the graft and informed me that it was strong – actually, it was my leg that was still weak as a result of my lack of commitment to physio. I felt like I snapped out of it in that moment. I was so relieved because my surgery was successful, but I also felt guilty and ashamed that I had given up on myself, and consequently, let down the people who supported and believed in me.
Now I am at 14 months post-surgery and I am much stronger after being more consistent with my physio. I have been back in the gym for about a month now and I am slowly getting back into the sport by hitting the bag and getting a feel of what I am capable of. My confidence in the recovery of my knee has improved so much and I can envision myself getting back in the ring.
4) What advice would you give to other athletes on the road to recovery?
Firstly, understand that the recovery process will be long and you must be patient. You are looking at about 9 months to 1 year of physio post-op so you should look at it as a journey with milestones along the way. Just like in training, there will be bad days and good days. Except you may find the “bad” days to be overwhelming especially during the initial phase of the recovery where nothing you do seems to work. But believe in yourself, work hard, and commit yourself to a routine because that is the only way your knee will recover faster and better.
Talk to people who have been through the process. By sharing their personal experience, you will be better informed about what it will be like and hopefully, be encouraged by their stories and support as they personally know what you are going through. Likewise, surround yourself with people who are supportive and keep you motivated throughout the recovery process.
Lastly, it is very important to have an experienced physiotherapist guide you throughout the recovery. My first physiotherapist tore both her ACLs and completely understood what I was going through. She made sure I understood the treatment protocol, the exercises, and was very involved throughout my pre-surgery rehab. She went above and beyond to give me all the attention and care I needed (e.g. during the busiest month at work, she’d work after the clinic’s closing hours so she could see me). With this level of medical care, I was highly motivated to work hard in my recovery.
5) Do you think this experience changed you as a person?
This experience has definitely widened my perspective on things. Unpredictable things can and will happen in life, but how you deal with it is the most important part. As much as I regret losing motivation at a critical point which delayed my full recovery, I choose to view this experience in its entirety and learn from it. I’m glad I was able to find the drive to pick myself back up again and I’m excited to finally return to sports.