On the mend

Coming back from injury is easier when you’re fit

by Chris Mitchell, MSW

I experienced an acute knee injury last September. It was my first major injury in the 44 years of my very active and athletic life, and a week later my first ever surgery. I had to have a full repair of an acute large complex tear of the lateral meniscus, or outside of the knee, which had folded back on itself. I was on crutches for a few weeks and then wore a full leg brace for six weeks. I had rehabilitation and physical therapy for three months.

Within one week of the surgery, I was back to working out in the brace, doing upper body weight training on seated machines in addition to my leg therapy. By the first of November, I was back to teaching all of my freestyle classes, coaching and participating as I could, and adding on work and strength regularly; by the first of December, I was back to teaching — and taking — all of my fitness classes.

Thanks to my wonderful surgeon, Dr. John Solic, and his team at Triangle Orthopaedic Associates — and thanks to my fitness level as well — I progressed quickly through my rehabilitation and recovery. Fitness and good health mean everything for a good quality of life, and being fit makes successful recovery both easier and quicker. Being sedentary would have made things very difficult, especially being a parent of two active children, one of whom has autism and who is in need of constant assistance and supervision.

When the injury occurred, I could only bear weight on one leg and had to use crutches to get around, but I still could do a one-leg squat off of a low couch with no assistance. I could multi-task and balance well and carry things, and still help my kids and function relatively normally too. My life didn’t stop. I had the ability to care for my family while I was disabled in the short-term, and I am so thankful that I was — and am — so fit.

A life of fitness
I will never forget an incident that occurred just after the injury when a stranger asked me how I injured myself. When I told her it was an accident that had occurred at the end of a workout, she commented that it was why she didn’t work out: so she wouldn’t get hurt. I started to laugh, thinking it was a joke, and then realized that it wasn’t. Do people really think exercising and participating in sports is dangerous to your health? Or is that just a popular excuse not to have to exercise?

I surround myself with people who like to exercise. I married an ultra marathoner and work with people on a daily basis who are trying hard to be motivated to exercise. I guess I am a little out of touch because I never thought anyone would consider exercise more harmful to your health than being sedentary. It is true when we are active there is always some risk of injury; the more aggressive the sport, the higher the risk involved. We need to pick and choose what we do that will best meet our interests, our needs, and our goals. But a lack of exercise is a lot more dangerous: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteopenia and osteoporosis — the list goes on and on.

Eating right certainly plays an important role in our health, but exercise is just as important. I have been an athlete my entire life — as a figure skater, a sprinter, a soccer player, a fitness competitor, and now as a fitness instructor and trainer — and my first acute injury and surgery happened at age 44. I train a minimum of two hours a day, have run countless races, jump train, do cardio, and weight train daily, and teach lots of different styles of classes for O2 Fitness. It’s awesome, and it keeps me physically and psychologically strong and happy. The psychological benefits are just as important for me as the physical ones, because exercise is a huge stress buster for me and also socially connects me to some really cool people.

I feel that I now am an even better instructor and trainer than I was before my injury. I feel motivated, inspired, more compassionate and more determined than ever. I am grateful. I am appreciative of my athleticism and my health. I am thankful for my family, my friends and the people I know at the gym, and for all of the support and camaraderie I have. As a vegetarian, I have always eaten healthy and appreciate and understand the benefits of fueling my body with fresh foods, and how it has helped to keep me strong and highly functional.

Speaking of gym people, I’d like to mention a very special one in the hopes that it encourages others to be motivated to exercise. My dear friend and gym mate, Sophie, is turning 80 years old in August. She has been training with me for about 10 years and is the most beautiful, spirited, inspiring, no-nonsense person I know. Good health and fitness have never been a question for her.

Sophie comes to classes every week, without fail. I watch her in class and marvel at her strength and determination. She makes me feel that I can do anything, and I hope I am just like her when I’m her age. She motivates and inspires me every day, as do many other special people I work out with on a daily basis. Many of these special people are over the age of 40 and 50 and can run circles around people half their age — or any age, really.

Chris Mitchell, MSW, is a certified fitness instructor and trainer at O2 Fitness, which has locations in Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. For more information, visit o2fitnessclubs.com.