Periacetabular Osteotomy (PAO) …I’m sure most of you have never heard of it and I can guarantee that you don’t ever want to experience it. The real definition has something to do with ‘ a hip preserving procedure’ and ‘acetabular dysplasia’, but it really boils down to this: a surgeon slices the hip open, carves out the hip socket, repositions it, screws the bone back in and then sews it all back up. The recovery time is six months, but it takes a year until you are fully recovered. Yes, if you are all wondering at this point, I did have PAO, twice, two years in a row, and both times I came back and raced the last two races of the high school mountain bike season…And I have to tell you, it wasn’t easy.
My first surgery was at the end of October 2008, but I had learned about my predicament and my need for PAO a month or so earlier. I didn’t know what to expect going into the surgery and didn’t really believe people about how hard it was going to be so it came as a real slap in the face when the surgery recovery was really hard, in fact it was the hardest and most painful thing I have ever experienced. And it wasn’t fast either. For the first month, I was focused entirely on the pain and on accomplishing little things for myself, such as sitting down and getting up from a chair on my own and forcing myself to drink a shake or a eat a few raspberries. The nights were the hardest; waking up every two hours because of the pain and sleeping on my back with props so I didn’t aggravate my hip. There were times that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get through it; it was hard to see my progress and even harder to see an end. Somehow I made it to six weeks, though, and started walking again. After Christmas break, I went back to school a few classes at a time and struggled to do the homework assigned and catch up with what I had missed.
At 3 months, I began to bike to school and in April I started mountain biking and training with the Drake MTB team. I still remember that first encounter with the team. It was probably sometime in January because it was raining and I was still using crutches at school. I went to the weight room to hand in my ‘application forms’ and encountered about 15-20 kids and an older guy on spinners, after I had navigated through a network of sweaty teenagers working out on the machines. I felt completely out of place on my crutches with a bulky backpack on, but bravely approached the older guy who I assumed was the coach and proceeded to explain what I was there for with the accompaniment of many ‘ums’. I soon came to know him as coach Paul. The season progressed and I ended up racing the last two races of the year and placing 6th and 3rd respectively. It was a whole new experience, mountain biking, and although I wasn’t too sure of it when I first started, I grew to love it. It was so rewarding for me to be able to find a new sport that I enjoyed and could participate in even as I was recovering from surgery.
I enjoyed biking mountain biking for the rest of the school year and through summer, even joining the newly formed girls Whole Athlete team. However there was a lot of work involved as well. I wanted to run cross-country in the fall and to do that I needed to be able to run and to be able to run I had to relearn it from the ground up. It took months for me to finally catch up to my normal ability level, but by November the running finally clicked and I knew all the training was worth it to be able to compete so competitively. And so it happened that I was in peak fitness level by the time my next surgery came around at the end of November 2009, a month later than the one a year previously. It was hard to keep the upcoming surgery from my mind in the weeks beforehand, but keeping up a busy schedule of schoolwork, cross-country and biking helped. I have never wanted something so badly before as I wanted this surgery not to take place. I had worked my way up for a year from the very bottom to get to this point and in no way whatsoever did I have any inclination to put myself through the whole thing again.
I did go through with it and the surgery went much the same as before, except more smoothly and not quite so harshly since I knew what to expect. And always throughout the recovery I had my goal in mind: racing on my mountain bike at state. Somewhere along the way however, I got it into my head that I wanted to participate in the race before state as well, even though it was merely five months after my surgery. Having a goal that I was really passionate about reaching helped me get through the rough decisions I had to make every day. Because when it came down to it, it wasn’t my decision to race the last two races of the year that mattered, it was the small decisions to train and work hard each day that made the difference in the end.
At six weeks after the surgery I started walking, at three months I started biking to school and soon after I started to ride my road bike, gradually building up my endurance and speed. Since my doctor was adamant about no mountain biking until six months post surgery, I got to spend a lot of time on my sweet new road bike. I paid my doctor a visit the Friday before the second to last race of the season and he gave me that OK to race even though it was only five months post surgery, not six.
So that Sunday I raced in the JV girls category and placed 6th, even though, besides the pre-ride and an hour ride the weekend before, I hadn’t ridden my mountain bike for the past five months. Pumped by my success, I went into State feeling good, but worried about the massive hills, of which I still had trouble with. Nevertheless, I raced, thoroughly enjoyed the course and snagged another 6th place. To top off the day, Drake ended up winning a 2nd state champs in a row, something never done before and I was elated having been a part of such a historic event.
Relaxing after the race, I looked back on how much effort it took to get me to where I was and realized it was so, so worth it just to be here and experience the comradeship of my teammates and the feeling of success because all my efforts had been worth while.