How a Torn ACL Changed My Life

Sometimes it takes an injury to show us what we really value in life.

Picture this: It’s December, 2013. It’s the first real snow of the season; dust on crust really, less than an inch. I’m out for the first time on my brand-new twin tips. The first couple of turns I make are gentle, as I get a feel for how the skis respond. Then I really start to dig in and get more aggressive. All of a sudden, I’m way too far forward. My ski tip buries itself in the crust, and my bindings don’t release. I feel a pop in my knee, my body hits the mountain, and I’m sliding on my side, head first down the hill. Total yard sale. My poles are up the hill, my goggles and hat are buried somewhere, but my skis are still on my feet.

Did I mention I work for the ski resort?

Two weeks later, I found out my ACL was nowhere to be found. Four weeks after that, my custom-fitted knee brace arrived, and I was back on the hill (on my old skis). I skied for the rest of the season without my ACL, relying completely on my knee brace to hold everything in place, until my surgery the Friday before Easter. There was no egg hunt for me that year—I was laid up on the couch with my CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, loaded with painkillers, fading in and out of consciousness, while Parks & Rec and Frozen played on Netflix.

The following Monday, I attended my first of many physical therapy appointments. I’m sure that my PT did his job to the best of his ability, but I hated it. I wanted more. I didn’t want to be just back to normal, I wanted to be better than I was before. I wanted to find out what weakened my knee in the first place, and try to find a way to prevent it from happening again.

A Blown ACL Reveals a New Passion

A month before I tossed myself down the mountain, the instructor in an exercise class I was taking pulled me aside and told me that if I continued squatting the way that I was, I was going to encounter problems with my knees. Foreshadowing much?

I got a desk job at a local gym where I could do my exercises, and didn’t have to do too much on my feet while my knee healed. One of the trainers offered to work with me to see if he could help me with the residual issues I was dealing with, like the severe grinding I was experiencing behind my knee caps. We worked on my form (a lot) and started to increase the weights I was lifting. I started to notice muscles developing, and looked forward to our Friday morning sessions. I felt strong, and before long I was hooked.

I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go back to school, because I wanted to help people the same way my trainer helped me. I had my bachelor’s degree in psychology already, and my student loans were going nowhere fast, but I was determined. I held two jobs, went to school full time, and managed a 4.0 GPA. I studied my ass off, and put everything I had into my classes. If I was going to spend all that money and commit to becoming a trainer, I was going to do it right.

Don’t Take No for an Answer

When I first found out I had torn my ACL, I was devastated. I was told my skiing career was over, and my knee was never going to be the same. Around the same time, Lindsey Vonn had crashed and blown out her knee, but still wanted to recover in time for the Sochi Olympics. If she could ski down a hill at over 60 mph, there was no reason I couldn’t teach a handful of four-year-olds how to ski.

Tearing my ACL changed my life in the best way possible. It made me realize what I enjoyed most in life, and what I wasn’t willing to give up. It made me realize just how stubborn I am, and that when I put my mind to something, I will get it done. It made me realize what I was really capable of, both mentally and physically. What experiences have changed your life? How have you gotten to where you are now?

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