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Dealing with the Injury Demons

By Dr. Michael Cerami

I decided to write this month about my experience in dealing with a knee injury that occurred 6 years ago. What seemed like a career ending event turned into one of the best things that’s ever happened to me and I hope it can provide some insight for other athletes. I hope it can provide some additional perspective while managing your down time and injuries.

For much of my life I was very fortunate to be uninjured and pain free. I ran a bit in my 20’s to stay in shape but really didn’t get serious until about 1990 when I was 33 years old and met my wife. I started by running a bunch of 10k’s back East where I’m from and then a few marathons with no problems. In those days you got most of your information from magazines and books about creating training plans and it seemed to work pretty well for me. In 1992 I started working with triathletes in my practice and got hooked on the sport so I started biking and swimming and completed my first triathlon in 1994.

I moved to Salt Lake in 1995 and everything was going well until the winter of 2005 when I had a hyper-extension ski injury that completely tore my left ACL.


The main thing I remember about the injury was being really depressed after the surgery because I was doing 2+ hours of personal rehab daily and getting very little results. The first doctor I saw said I probably wouldn’t be running again so the possibility of never doing another triathlon was very real. I then realized that over the years I had eventually and unconsciously identified myself as an “athlete” and was now faced with the prospect that I may be losing that identity. It was honestly very emotional and scary to think what I would be if that athlete piece of me was missing. If I wasn’t an athlete, what was I? I know it may sound trite (and it was compared to some of the other challenges I’ve had in life) but the concern really got a hold of me and it was totally unexpected.

What I eventually figured out was I can’t control what happens in my life and I’m going to have to “roll with it”. I thought I knew this already but the “gift” of this injury brought it home for me. I also understood that even though I couldn’t control the results of surgery and rehab (or the outcome of any event for that matter) I could control the effort I put in to solve the problem.

What this meant for me was taking a serious look in the mirror and telling myself that I would find the right people and do as much as I possibly could to solve this injury so I could get back to being an athlete. But (and it was a BIG BUT), if the result of my efforts weren’t what I wanted, I would have to be OK with that, knowing that I put the effort in and the ultimate outcome wasn’t up to me. In other words I could control my efforts but not the result. I wanted to be absolutely certain that 5 years post injury I could look back and honestly say I did everything I could to solve the problem. I did not want to think I should have or I could have done more.

This decision changed my life in a lot of ways. I came in contact with some amazing people and technology that not only helped me solve my knee injury but literally reinvented my professional life as well. I doubt I would have ever reached the new level of realization without what I thought was a horrible day on Snowbird. I wish you a wonderful year in your training; both your body and your mind.

Dr. Michael Cerami is an avid runner, cyclist and triathlete. He is available for a consultation one Saturday per month at Salt Lake Running Company (700 East store) by appointment. His next visit to the store will be January 22 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. To schedule a free consultation, please call the Salt Lake Running Co. at 801-484-9144. Dr. Cerami can also be reached at 801-486- 1818 or online at www.utahsportsandwellness.com

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