Tasha Baber is a 33-year old power-lifter who loves exercise and has lost over 80 lbs in the past two years. She does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitively, but tore her ACL as a result of a very unfortunate trampoline accident.
1) Can you share your ACL story?
It's not even a good story, which almost makes it worse. For someone who does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I engage in a ton of "risky" behavior frequently. My ACL tear happened while I was at a trampoline park, but not while I was doing anything fun. I was standing watching my 6 year old play when a teenager came flying off the trampoline. He kicked me in the side of my knee and must have hit the angle just right because I went straight down. I knew it was bad when my first thought was "I need a doctor." In the end it would take three different doctors before I convinced one to give me an MRI. Initially my torn ACL was misdiagnosed as a sprained MCL. Apparently the muscles in my leg was holding my knee stable.
2) What was the hardest part of the experience?
For me, the surgery was the scariest part. I handle pain well and I don't mind hard work, but I hate being out of control. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to tell the anesthesiologist or the nurses if you are scared....I sure let them know!!! I needed some help once I came home, and asking for help can be difficult...but again, it is worth it and nothing to be ashamed about. Being away from my MMA gym was hard and losing weights on my lifts was hard, but in a different way. I can make up those goals and get back and become better. I don't mind backsliding a little as a result of surgery and I don't mind working hard to regain that ground.
3) How did you stay motivated throughout the process?
I had to let go of goals I had before surgery and sort of reset. If you accept your injured state as your new baseline, then you can set goals that are realistic to where you are. It was hard to go from training to compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to working on getting my knee to bend enough to be able to pedal a stationary bike, but that goal was just as (maybe more) valuable.
4) What advice would you give to other athletes on the road to recovery?
1) DO NOT DO WHAT I DID and eat EVERYTHING in sight. I gained almost 30 lbs from weeks 0-8 and then had to spend weeks 9-16 taking those pounds back off. Either meal prep pre-op, or stock up on protein bars and powder, or something....anything but eating a 3 lbs bag of Swedish Fish your first week home and then just going downhill from there.
2) Take it easy, kind of. I wanted to push and push and get back to things. My PT did an amazing job of pushing me while keeping my graft safe. You will get back to your life faster if you take the early days a little slower. Do your PT exercises as much as you can, obviously, but make sure you have a PT you trust who understands your goals. I was able to explain to my PT the movements that were important to BJJ and that I needed back and she was able to tailor my protocol to make sure I met those goals. Make sure your PT is familiar and uses a good return to sports testing protocol for graduation from PT.
3) Do interview a few surgeons. Ask them what population they work with. Ask them about grafts, tunnel placement, retear rates, ask them WHATEVER you want. Read research....real research, not what someone posts online (but read that too.) Focus on YOUR sport and YOUR body. The "gold standard" for a football player and the "gold standard" for you may not be the same. But....once you've chosen your doctor, trust them. You picked them for a reason.
5) Do you think these experiences changed you as a person?
I suppose. I still get a little angry when people say "I'm so glad this happened to me, I learned how strong I really am." I'd already fought and won against obesity and anxiety (well, anxiety and I will always fight, but the gym helps me with that). I already knew I was strong. But I guess it did show me that my love of BJJ and fitness wasn't a phase or a fad. It showed me I love my sports and I can't wait to compete again. It also showed me I have some pretty amazing people in my life; my gym teammates, coaches and personal trainer, my friends and especially my husband who went above and beyond consistently during my recovery. So while I hope I'm in the group of people who only tear their ACL once, I also know if it happens again I can handle it just fine.