Lessons learned on the road to ACL recovery
I’m going to be real here, honestly knees suck and from personal experience I can attest to that. The crazy part is there is always someone in a worse situation with their knees, so be grateful for where you are. Even after years of physiotherapy and ACL surgery I was left astonished while in a room full of middle-aged men with knee full replacements.
Though this story isn’t about them, its about my journey with my knees and I think its an interesting one, but you will need to see for yourself.
This story starts in 2016, where most people Gen Z say it was the best year ever, for me it felt like the beginning of the end.
January 16th, 2016 – The beginning of the end?
January 16th, 2016. I remember this day very well, the day that may have altered the trajectory of my athletic career. My high school basketball team was 12-0 and our rivals in the city were also undefeated.
News reporters, full crowds and large egos were in full effect in this game. But I just wanted to get the win and be the only undefeated team in the city. The game was intense, every rebound felt like a fight for survival. One of my teammates passed the ball but missed me completely.
I went to dive for the ball before it went out of bounds. But unfortunately for me, the Raiders center also went for the ball. I tried to get the ball, but we collided and I hit the wall. I shrugged it off and got up but before I took a step I noticed that my knee was on fire, I couldn’t move anymore.
I screamed at my coach to sub met out and I sat on the bench for the rest of the game, we lost that game.
After 2 weeks, no lie I was trying to practice with the team while my knee was still injured, I'd be running drills and would fall as my knee buckled every few possessions. Eventually, Coach looked at me and was like "Omar, get off the court man".
Can't blame a kid for trying though right?
My knee kept me out for the rest of that season. But that was only the beginning for what felt like a century of knee related issues.
History of knee issues
My knee issues actually dated back to when I was 15, with patella femoral syndrome – a condition where my patella (kneecap) wouldn’t move correctly due to an muscle imbalance in my legs.
For roughly a year my knees caused excruciating pain, to the point where sitting became worse than standing. For the next 2 years I did physio to ensure my knees were as strong as possible.
Fast forward to 2017, my last year of high school. At this point I spent a whole summer of off-season grinding to make sure that I could still play football and basketball at a high level. I wanted to be able to play sports at the college level somewhere.
My knee felt strong, but it would creep up at the worst moments. Easy tackle would turn into a missed tackle because my knee gave out. Knee would pop out during a defensive set during a game and would impact my play for the rest of the day.
These mild inconveniences didn’t have a substantial impact on my athletic career, but they were a warning for what was to come when I reached the University level.
Tearing my ACL – Being lost
I was the first of 5 people to tear their ACL at the University of Waterloo during the 2021 season. It was our first Summer Camp of the year. I felt physically great, but something felt off when I moved.
After almost 2 years of no football my tackling ability diminished drastically. In scenarios where I should of made easy tackles my body would instinctively slouch forward and I would miss the tackle, It was frustrating because I couldn’t stop it; it was subconscious muscle memory.
Although I started to get the hang of my body, by the second practice of the day, was the beginning of the end.
I went in for a tackle and I felt my knee shift out of place. As per usual, I limped on to the sideline and laid on the bench hoping the pain would go away. It didn’t. I decided to play it safe and wait it out a couple weeks until it healed. Though I knew something wasn’t right.
Fast forward a couple weeks, my knee still didn’t feel right. Finally, after toughing it out I let Doc Chris look at my knee, I was prepared for a magical experience. Instead, he told me the worst news of my athletic career “That’s a torn ACL, sorry man”. I didn’t know how to react.
It was 9 am and I just basically found out I had a season ending injury. I couldn’t believe it. After the first practice I just went home, I couldn’t handle it. I’ve experienced my fair share of setbacks, this was different. For a few weeks I felt lost, I’m not going to lie to you.
For the first time in a while it felt like something was completely out of my control. From the perspective of my team, it was like I was a totaled car, written off and eventually forgotten. Coaches would approach me mid practice and offer their condolences, knowing that an ACL tear meant the end of a season and as a 5th year athlete, the end of my athletic career.
This was before the MRI results even came back, but Doc Chris is a very skilled and knowledgeable man, if he says its torn then it is torn. At this point all I could do was focus on my internship and watch as my teammates prepared for the season.
For context, 2021 was the year that the University of Waterloo Football team had to prove it to everyone. With arguably the best Quarterback and Cornerback in the country, including an elite receiving core and underrated Line-backer core, the Warriors needed to prove that they could achieve more than a 4-4 record, we needed to bring home a Yates cup.
That was my inspiration to come back, the opportunity to help bring my team a yate’s cup would’ve been phenomenal, especially playing on a torn ACL.
I sat out through training camp and focused on making my knee as stable and strong as possible, to make my knee even more stable I wore an ACL brace during ALL physical activities. I felt as fast and as strong as I did before; I thought the brace made me invincible.
However, my confidence was short lived as the brace only prevented my knee from hyperextending. I learned this quickly when a receiver ran an inbreaking route, I attempted to reacted with him but my knee shifted and I fell.
At that moment I knew that I couldn’t perform the same movements pre-injury. I could run, react, hit hard and make sound judgements but I couldn’t plant my leg in any capacity; think of a car without brakes.
When I tell you it was the most interesting part of my athletic career I am not kidding. Basically, I needed to alter the way that I moved and reacted while on the field (If not, my knee would explode).
After the first few games, it went successfully, and even after I got the news that my ACL was officially torn, I kept playing. By the end of the season the Linebacker core was devastated like I’ve never seen.
We had 5 ACL tears, including myself, and almost every dressing player was going through some nagging injury. I mean our healthiest player had over 4 knee surgeries (crazy right?). SO the fact that I was still out there playing was absurd. However, my luck officially gave out just before playoffs, except it was my ankle that gave out this time.
Hers’s some advice, don’t go easy on the scout running backs, them boys got something to prove and will make an example out of you if taken lightly.
It was difficult watching potentially the last game of my university career from the sidelines, but I was ready to support my teammates in any way that I could. I’m going to keep this short and sweet: we lost and could tell that our team gave it our all in the end. Emotions were at an all time high across the whole team.
After the 2021 season ended, I was officially a regular person (NARP). I could barely walk without my knee giving out yet alone play any sports without risking significant injury to my knee.
I wanted to get surgery, but I didn’t get a call from my surgeon’s office. The hospitals were battling COVID-19 infections and anyone waiting for non-essential surgery was pushed back.
When I got the call to confirm my surgery, I was finishing my final term of University; I was enrolled in 6 courses during the SUMMER. I didn’t want to wait any longer though, so I decided to take the surgery date in June. I still can’t decide if that was the best or the worst decision I’ve made in my life.
3 weeks after my surgery, I was casually (barely) crutching my way through campus. I didn’t have a handicapped permit, so I parked in the general lots. After crutching through campus for almost 3 weeks I felt some empathy for those with physical impairments.
Moving in an impaired state in radiating hear is not for the faint of heart. My forearm strength was at an all time high. After my surgery I had 3 goals: graduate, Get a job, and Dunk. I currently got 2/3 completed and I aim to be able to dunk by the end of the year.
My knee doesn’t hold me back, it’s the backbone of my existence.
Read that line again.
Without the adversity I’ve faced with my knees I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.
Tearing my ACL gave me the opportunity to reflect upon my life and determine the kind of life I wanted to enjoy. I’m looking forward to where its going to take me in the future.
If you read this far, please don't be like me and make sure to see professionals when you get sports-related injuries.
Coffee Consumed writing this post: 32 OZ and a Red eye.