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Closure on the Sidelines

In March of 2010, I shattered my kneecap into five pieces. (If you want to know how I did it, I’ll just say that I told Leonard Nimoy that I broke it fighting crime on the moon, and he laughed, so now that’s my story.)

The injury was catastrophic and instantaneous. One moment I was walking, the next minute I was in unimaginable pain on the ground, screaming like a banshee. My brain literally reasoned that all of the planets in the universe must have converged on my kneecap at once to cause such a sensation. I don’t recommend it. Also, I was completely unable to move my leg, it was frozen in place. Which led to this before and after:

Don't try this at home.
Don’t try this at home.
A bit far off from the bionic knee I anticipated.
A bit far off from the bionic knee I anticipated.

6 weeks with no weightbearing under any circumstances left me with the ability to do very deep plies with my right leg. My left leg, however, had shriveled to the point where it looked like it was deflated. Horrifying the first time I took off the bandages – hairy, skinny, and with a 7-inch angry red welt where the stitches had been.

Modeling my Bledsoe brace 2 days after surgery, immediately after moderating the Guild panel at ECCC 2010.
Modeling my Bledsoe brace 2 days after surgery, immediately after moderating the Guild panel at ECCC 2010.

Recovery took quite a lot of physical therapy. Due to my stubbornheaded nature, a small amount of denial, and the help of my boyfriend at the time, I managed to get myself cast in a musical that would open 10 weeks after my initial surgery. Reading that, I can’t even understand how that happened. Regardless, getting the call was one of the happiest moments I can remember. You see, lying on the pavement (…oh, um, the moon’s surface. Lying on the moon’s surface!), with my leg unresponsive, I didn’t know if I’d ever be the same. Walking is one thing, but I do improv. Performing, dancing. I’m a physical performer. You need your knees for that.

The show gave me the initial impetus I needed to shed the post-injury PTSD and focus on a goal. And when the proverbial curtain went up, I was on 2 legs. I didn’t have full range of motion and I couldn’t kneel, which meant a few choreography adaptations, but I was mobile and I was performing again.

Singing in Nietzsche! The Musical, bearing weight on both my legs like a champ.
Singing in Nietzsche! The Musical, bearing weight on both my legs like a champ.

But recovery is a much longer road than 10 weeks. As it turns out, I was athlete-level flexible prior to the injury, and my doctors told me that would never come back. I don’t like “never”. Still, for 18 months I was weak enough that I had a temporary handicapped permit and went to PT regularly. At the same time, I decided to go to Paris that year, went to San Diego Comic Con which is tricky for the crippled, and also did another musical.

None of those things was without pain, however. Keeping my leg bent for more than 30 minutes – like on a plane, or even at a meeting – was painful. My knee was hot to the touch. Not infected, just permanently overheated, even through heavy fabric. If someone made the mistake of touching my knee, jangled nerve endings would give me horrible flashbacks. I limped every now and again. I was icing most nights, especially during shows. But worst of all, I could feel the points of the screws. It was unavoidable, but it was truth.

My friends who had the similar misfortune of hardware implants recommended I get them removed as soon as possible, so about 14 months later I went back in under my own power and had the screws taken out (Which I wrote about in this post from 2011). Naturally, 6 weeks later I performed in the debut of our Star Trek improv show, a show with fight choreography and a bit of risk.

Note the ace bandage underneath my tights on opening weekend.
Note the ace bandage underneath my tights on opening weekend.

Another round of PT ensued, and I got back to the near-athletic level of flexibility. Part of my thigh muscle never really woke up – even with electrotherapy, it was a bit concave – but I was functional and deemed whole again. But that still didn’t feel like closure. I needed to do something to conquer the injury. I flirted with taking up running, and even got some training instructions from my PT, but never pursued it out of intimidation. I was reminded of this fact in Kenya earlier this year, when running for my life from an elephant. The incident convinced me that running was actually a very useful life skill.

(It should be noted that I’ve never been terribly athletic in the traditional sense. I’ve managed to hit myself on the head with tennis rackets. I did a sub-10 minute mile in gym class once, but it was a single mile and I was working at a theme park then, the dancing in parades the closest to a regular athlete I’d get.)

The planets aligned further in July, when my husband and I decided to try a early morning jog as a way to work out together. Later that week, as if by magic, I received an offer from my gym for a free personal trainer package, and I took that as the final sign I needed to begin training for a 5K.

Originally, I had planned for my first race to be in October. But after several weeks of training, my run times were much better than I’d hoped. My starting goal was under 40 minutes. Then 37, based on some averages for my age class. Then 34 minutes after discovering I was faster outdoors and doing 11 minute lap times. This progress encouraged me to the point where I decided to make the Seahawks 5K my very first race.

My husband, being the 12th man that he is, decided to join me sans training. After all, there was a Seahawks medal involved. And so it was that we lined up with people far more athletic than ourselves. I put myself between the 10 and 11 minute start markers based on my lap times that week. I warned Dave that I wasn’t going to slow down – my goal was to run the whole race, no walking. And then we began.

At the starting line!
At the starting line!

9 minutes and 41 seconds later, I got my first mile notification from my phone, and my mouth literally dropped open. How was that time possible? That was as fast as I’ve ever been, even as a healthy high school student in gym class. Excited, I pressed on. Dave caught up with me at one point but dropped back again to walk. I just kept running. Focus focus focus. Don’t trip. Go Hawks.

My second mile was under 10 minutes too. And my third. When I finally crossed the finish line, I got the immediate text notification on my phone. Cheryl Platz – Official Finish Time 30:35. Thirty minutes and 35 seconds? Over three minutes faster than my goal? And then, three seconds later, Dave crossed the finish line. Apparently we’re well-matched.

My moment of elation was, of course, followed by a period of mild respiratory distress as I realized how hard I’d pushed. I sat on a sideline bench not really registering that I was on a bench that holds Super Bowl winners. We collected our medals and headed up to the stands to rest and hydrate. The next day, I checked the results to find I was in the top 24% for my age range and 30% overall. I was just hoping to hit average. 🙂

I put my injury to rest when I crossed that line. I will always be aware of the knee, a little protective. But the fact is that I completed that race far better than I could have prior to the injury. And more importantly – there was no pain. I finally trained to the point where I could engage in strenuous activity as I once could. I am not letting that injury take away any part of what I can accomplish.

There was a sign held by one of the volunteer cheer staff along the first mile. “Warning: Extreme Sense of Accomplishment Ahead!” I’d say she was right on the money.

Showcasing my finisher's medal alongside my scarred, rebuilt knee. Triumph.
Showcasing my finisher’s medal alongside my scarred, rebuilt knee. Triumph.