With the World Association of Karate Organizations (WAKO) World Games coming up in less than three months, I was not willing to accept that I had done any serious damage to my body. I had just finished my freshman year of college and was beginning to realize that I really did want to transform my passion for the martial arts into a lifelong career. I had wanted to become a martial artist since I was three years old, and at the age of six, I officially began my journey. In the beginning of my freshman year of college, I took a step up from the local state tournaments that I had been winning at, and I began competing as a national martial arts athlete. Within my first year of competing at this level, I had successfully qualified to represent the USA at two separate international events. The first trip was to Italy in September 2014, and the second trip was to Wales in August 2015. Having never competed internationally before, I trained harder and harder under the pressure of representing the USA at these two events. Well into June of 2014, I found myself at another tournament in preparation for my trip to Italy that coming September. In the middle of my first sparring match, I landed after a kick and slipped on the edge of the mat; I felt the two bones in my knee slide against each other and could feel each tendon and ligament strain before snapping the bones back into place. I tried to stand myself up but fell back down, the image of the bones moving fresh in my mind. I looked up as the crowd of legs surrounded me and I told myself, "I did not hurt my knee, I did not hurt my knee..."
Two weeks later I was still unsure of my decision. I had ordered myself compression sleeves for both knees and self-diagnosed it as a hamstring strain with the help of my physical therapy friends. Being an exercise science major on a physical therapy track in college, I thought I could write off the injury as a twisted knee. My mind concealed the pain, and since I felt such little pain I tried to persuade myself it would get better. The accident still made me worry though, and another instance of my knee buckling during a pivoting exercise increased my concern, I finally got an MRI and visited a local doctor who delivered the bad news: there was a compete acute rupture of the ACL in my left knee.
I did not even stop home before visiting my Taekwondo instructors, masters Maggie & Ray Messina. I was afraid that this injury would ruin the dreams that I had so recently committed myself to in pursuing the martial arts as a career, and competing as an international athlete. It seemed like a terrible twist of fate to be torn from my passion when I had only just begun to seize it for my own. As soon as I shared the news with my instructors, Master Maggie told me the importance of putting my trust in the best doctor possible. She recommended Dr. Andrew Pearle from the Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Pearle had repaired her knee and got her back into shape as a top martial arts athlete when all her other doctors had told her that she would never kick again. I immediately set up an appointment with Dr. Pearle and learned that with his own innovative technology, he could repair my ACL and get me back into my sport and on track with my career path.
Dr. Pearle was sorry to hear that I would not be able to compete in Italy, but then I remembered about the other team that I had qualified for. It was only July of 2014, and Team America would be traveling to Wales in August 2015 for another international event. I told him that I wanted to compete in Wales and that I know that Dr. Pearle was going to get me there. The surgery went smoothly, and I got my new ACL on August 1, 2014. The recovery was a long nine months and I worked hard in and out my physical therapy sessions to build back my strength. Dr. Pearle was impressed with my improvement but held me to his strict guidelines; he did not let me progress back into my sport too quickly, allowing my new ACL the proper time to heal. I continued to push myself to build the strength back, but I learned how to do so in a way that was safe for my body. At nine months out from my surgery, Dr. Pearle officially cleared me to return to sport. I took off running to make up for lost time: I only had a few months before the competition in Wales. I was still extremely cautious with my new knee, and I used the knowledge Dr. Pearle gave me to make smart decisions about my exercise and rest.
I journeyed to Wales with Team America in August 2015 to compete in the 15th World Games, my first international competition. Nearly one year out from my surgery, I took home the gold for the USA in a traditional Taekwondo division. There were competitors from over a dozen different countries, and I was the youngest in the 18-34 year old bracket being only 19 myself. This achievement stands as a testament to Dr. Pearle's impact in my life. Dr. Pearle's hard work and innovative technology has allowed me a second chance to pursue my dreams. This gold medal will always remind me how grateful I am for what Dr. Pearle has made possible for me. If not for his expert skill and steadfast commitment to me as his patient. I would not have the opportunity to continue in my career as an athlete. I laid a lot on the line when I chose to trust Dr. Pearle with fixing my own body, and he has earned every ounce of my respect from it. He truly understood what I needed as an athlete and I do not think that any other doctor would have been able to get me back to my sport and my life the way that Dr. Pearle has.
Thank you Dr. Pearle for reigniting the fire of my passion when I was not able to do it myself.