First, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I am very scared at the idea of making this story ever more public, as it was a time of my life where I was at my worst. But looking back, it also brought out many good things.
I really hope that my story helps someone avoid this experience.
How it happened...
After several bad experiences with local and regional tournaments, I decided to stop competing for 2017. There may have been one or two major competitions earlier in the year that I chose not to attend or participate. But then I had a change of heart on April 29.
For the last 4 years, both my husband and I were training as members of a sparring team. As a result, my husband was selected to be a member of the men's sparring team for this upcoming tournament. The tournament was a 6-hour drive away from home. We have a routine together dealing with distant tournaments, and so I had planned to travel with him.
I changed my mind because I still wanted to earn
a GrandChampion title.
I was inspired by the many female martial artists in the sport karate circuits that it became my goal to work towards earning a GrandChampion. My crazy goal was to earn a GrandChampion as a Cho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt). Yes, I was ambitious, and very naive.
I figured that I had trained with the sparring team continuously, that my skills weren't too rusty being a few months removed from my last competition, and since I will be at the tournament all weekend - why not give it one last try?
I made it to the GrandChampion Division.
I placed first in my Women's Sparring Division, making me eligible to compete in the GrandChampion events. This would be my third (and final) appearance.
Then things started to go wrong...
There's a saying in the sport karate circuits: The longer the fight goes uncalled, the higher the risk of injury occuring.
My semi-final match went on for the full round (approximately 2 minutes), tied at
0 - 0. My opponent was disqualified after the match for elbowing and back-fisting the back of my head.
Yes, that's right - you counted two hits to the back of my head.
I was then given 1 minute to rest before my final match. My opponent for the final match was someone I faced last year, and won against. So I thought, I can do this, I just need to be calm, breathe, counter properly, and play the time well.
Within the first 5 seconds, I countered with a reverse punch. I led the score 1 - 0.
All I had to do was defend, not be careless, and manage the clock.
And then it happened...
My opponent struggled to find an opening as I kept my movements variable. But apparently they were too variable for my body to handle. With plastic footgear wrapped around my feet, plus moving on a carpeted, elevated stage, I moved backward to fake my opponent....and POP.
Warning: Pictures of my injury in motion to follow.
It took about a minute for the numbness to disappear from my right knee. I was able to stand up, but felt quite unstable. I thought: I just have to run away, let the time run out. I can hold on.
What I should've done instead was the Daniel Larusso...but no...
I fell a second time, with another POP. Afterward, I could not get up. I was visibly shaking in pain. My husband ran to the stage to assess my state, and it was then when we agreed that it was best to withdraw from the match.
On May 4, 2017, I was diagnosed with a complete ACL rupture.
I underwent ACL reconstruction surgery with a patellar tendon allograft on May 15, 2017.
Surprise, not many know about ACL injuries!
When the injury happened, it was one week before the weekend when our final part of the Black Belt test was scheduled. Naturally, my husband participated in the final test, and my performance from the first two tests were graciously considered given the circumstances.
Many became surprised when I arrived to watch with crutches.
But what many did not realize was how extremely surprised I was at their responses.
"It sucks...It really sucks."
"You'll get through this. You got this."
"You need to take care and think about your martial arts career."
"I just had my second surgery."
"I've had two ACL surgeries."
Almost everyone I turned to, the reaction was, "Been there, done that, maybe even twice-over." And they, too, were martial artists with more years of experience.
The best and only practical advice I received was from another teammate who, unfortunately, also suffered an ACL tear 6+ months before me. Her advice?
Isometrically contract your quads as soon as you can.
As many times as you can.
And since I was going to be bedridden for a while (as soon as my concussion resolved), I had plenty of time to study what really happened to me, and why it's commonly accepted for martial artists to have knee injuries.
Why it happened...
This was a non-contact ACL tear, which may have been mitigated under the following conditions:
1. If I was actually prepared (remember, I decided to stop competing and changed my mind the last minute).
2. If I actively trained more specific movement with hip internal rotation and tibial external rotation.
3. If I actively trained my right ankle better (in 2014, I suffered a grade 2 / grade 3 ankle sprain on the same leg).
4. If I wasn't sleep deprived (I had traveled for work out of state that week and worked between 10pm to 6am for 2 or 3 days).
5. If I wasn't up since 6am to be at the tournament by 8am, and waited to compete until around 3pm (these tournaments are all, day, long...)
6. If I wasn't mildly concussed from the head hits (my symptoms of photosensitivity did not appear until when we arrived at the ER, after my adrenaline decreased).
7. If my nutrition was up to par (oh that's a great story for another day, but the year before, I lost 15 pounds in 6 months to prepare for a world tournament).
Even when I can do martial arts, and trained for competitive sport, it did not mean that I was "well".
Stay tuned for my next blog on my findings (good and bad), my mistakes, and my silver linings.
But if you are going through ACL rehab right now, please don't hesitate to reach out. You are not alone!