On Pins and Needles

In my 9 years as a pro triathlete, I’ve been relatively lucky when it comes to injuries. Of course there are always little niggles to look after, but only 2 foot injuries come to mind when I think of injuries I’ve had that required a boot, complete rest, and over 2 months off from racing. These types of injuries are what I’d refer to as “type A” injuries, and I treated them similar as someone using a GPS device to predict their time of arrival would. What I mean is that most people race the GPS device, trying to squeeze in an extra green light or do everything in their power that will allow them to arrive at their destination quicker than the predicted time, even if it’s only by a minute. I believe this same mentality applies when rehabbing from a type A injury. An athlete can perfectly follow the plan prescribed from their doctors and physical therapists, in hopes of getting stronger than before and facilitating a quicker return to racing than originally promised by the doctors.

The other type of injuries, I’ll refer to as “type B.” Remember that scene in “Meet the Parents” where Ben Stiller and Robert de Niro are racing home from a restaurant as Ben Stiller is frantically trying to cover up evidence that he lost the family cat Jinxy and replaced it with a fraud? While they are racing home, they are forced to stop at most every red light along the route. Time after time, they hit the gas pedal, and are quickly forced to slam on the brakes seconds later. This is similar to a type B injury in that it takes a long time for an athlete to even be properly diagnosed with their injury and learn what the steps to recovery are. Many tests are done and the athlete is hopeful that a solution will come about soon, only to realize that they are back to square one when the tests come back negative or inconclusive (even though there’s obviously an issue).

Unfortunately, in 2015, I’ve experienced both a type A and type B injury. While trail running in January after a weekend of (much-needed) rain in SoCal, I hit a slick patch of mud and slid out, only half-falling as my hand caught my body from completely sliding out. I immediately felt pain in my right calf, and hobbled 3 miles back to my car hoping my leg would loosen up and ease the pain. A few days later, I visited my doctor fearing the worst and was relieved to get a diagnosis of a pulled muscle and advice to stay off of it as much as I could. However, as a couple of weeks went by, I noticed that despite resting it, my leg was just getting more painful and more swollen until it grew to be about 2 times the size of my left leg. When I woke up to a completely blue foot and the pins and needles feeling one morning, I knew it was time to take action and go to the ER. After a few tests, I was diagnosed with a torn gastroc and a massive blood clot behind my right knee. I was told several times how extremely lucky I was to be alive and that the clot hadn’t broken off and spread to my lungs (pulmonary embolism). After 4 months of physical therapy and 6 months of Coumadin and weekly blood draws, I am happy to report that my leg is feeling better and my blood clot has cleared up.

As I mentioned above, I’ve also been dealing with a type B injury this year. Late last year, I experienced two episodes in a short time span where I temporarily experienced vertigo and blacked out for a few seconds. The first episode occurred during a triathlon in northern California. The sensation only lasted a couple of seconds before it subsided, so I wrote it off as a freak incident and continued on racing. The other came while I was driving on a teensy weensy little freeway in SoCal called… the 405. Luckily, nobody was injured in either incident and I somehow managed not to crash into anyone in the latter incident (thank God!). At this point, I started to think that my body was trying to tell me something.

In the following months, these vertigo episodes became more and more frequent, getting to the point where they were daily occurrences, mostly happening while I was lying down trying to sleep. In addition, I’ve lost the ability to balance on my left side. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen physical therapists, ENTs, neurologists, ophthalmologists, audiologists, neurosurgeons, and interventional neurologists, all who performed different tests to figure out where my issues are stemming from. These tests have included: 8 MRIs, 1 MRVenous 2 CT scans, a cerebral angiogram, an ENG, and a handful of ultrasounds. I compare the amount of times I’ve been to the hospital this year to the amount of times I’m usually at the airports traveling to races. The hospital workers now recognize my face in the same way the airport workers at DIA and now LAX do.

As I strive to rid myself of these vertigo and balance issues, I take comfort in the fact that the brain is truly an amazing organ. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment. By doing physical therapy exercises that focus on balancing, I’m creating new neural pathways that will compensate for whatever damage I may have. While my balance may never be as great as it once was, my goal is to improve enough to where I feel comfortable doing things such as riding my bike outside or doing weight exercises balancing on my left leg again.

Although this past eight months has definitely has been a struggle, I have faith that this experience will only make me stronger. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank those friends and family members who have constantly checked in on me, sent me cute cat videos, cards, etc. to make me smile, and most importantly, been a shoulder to cry on when I needed it. No names needed, you guys know who you are, and I know that a shout out on a blog will never be enough to say thanks!

Going forward, my return date to triathlon racing is TBD since there really is no timeline for my recovery at the moment. In the meantime, I look forward to running that other race with perseverance: LIFE! and doing the best I can to enjoy the day as much as possible while I regain my health.

Thank you all for your continued support and prayers and I wish you the best in all your endeavors.


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