My Last Pair of Running Shoes

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Twenty-seven years ago I had a life changing accident.  In the attempt to gentle a young horse to be ridden he freaked out and threw himself to the ground, I leaped off and as each of us were trying to get away, he hit me with his leg and put my left knee to the ground sideways and backwards.  I would later realize that the loud “shotgun” sound I’d heard wasn’t his hoof hitting a rock; it was the sound of my ligaments snapping. 
 
I tore apart the ligaments in the interior of my knee, the inner side of my knee and even laid open the cartilage sack that holds the knee joint together in total.  The surgeon said it was, “as if I’d guillotined the joint.”  Many surgeries and a year and a half of brutal physical therapy later that joint carried me to a soccer scholarship that helped me become a first generation college graduate and after that a multiple-time state racquetball champion. 
 
However, once a knee suffers that type of damage it wears unevenly — like an out-of-balance tire.  In my case, this has ground down the cartilage on the inner compartment of my knee.  And now, after many flare ups, adjustments, and clean up surgeries the wear and tear has finally come to a head. 
 
Over the last several months I’ve had a golf ball sized lump of inflammation on the inside of my knee and I have been hurting!  I was recently interviewed on TV and they videoed me walking upstairs.  It was cold and I was wearing a big winter coat and my doggone knee was so sore that I sort lumbered and lurched up the stairs.  When I saw the footage I thought, “Good Lord. I look like a Grizzly Bear!”. 
 
So this week I saw the orthopedic cartilage expert.  I was hoping to hear that there had been some sort of breakthrough in cartilage regeneration and I had options.  Nope.  As X-rays and examinations would reveal, not only has my cartilage thinned, but the replacement ligaments have worn and stretched and bone spurs have grown in an attempt to stabilize the joint.  With all the screws and staples in my knees the X-rays look like a frickin’ hardware store! 
 
The long and short of it is I can do a couple of cortisone and cartilage enhancement injections but, barring a miracle, I am headed to a knee replacement in the near future AND – this is the biggest hit for me – my running and racquetball days are over.  I now have to stop running in order to be able to continue to keep walking, hiking, biking functionally. 
 
This is very hard for me.  So much of my identity has been that of a hard-core, hard-pounding athlete.  Now I have to let that go.  It’s another piece of the huge identity redefinition I’ve been undergoing over the past 18 months. 
 
I cried a bit and worried a bit with thoughts like, “Will I gain weight if I can’t run for exercise?”  And, almost just as frightening, “Will I have to give up good, microbrew beer to not gain weight?!”  But seriously, much more importantly, will I still be able to stay as strong and fit and physically capable as I’ve been lucky to be able to be so far?
 
And yet, surprisingly, mixed in with those fears there’s also relief.  I have worked and worked out so hard all these years, and because of the injuries that has involved “pushing through” a lot of pain.  Perhaps now, I can drop the hammer and move through life with this damaged, but wonderful, resilient body a lot less painfully. 
 
This is yet another phase of life, another stretch of the path.  Perhaps I will learn new things I might never have looked at, like paddle boarding which I’ve never done but the surgeon recommended.   Perhaps really falling in love with my mountain bike.  Perhaps I will welcome being able to exercise without gritting my teeth in pain. 
 
Perhaps this is my chance to switch from pounding my way through life, to gliding through it.  Perhaps this is my chance to learn that that’s really possible. 
 
Cylvia Hayes
 
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