Vera Koo describes why she has been pushing through pain of a knee injury to return to one of the shooting sports’ most prestigious competitions.
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They told me it could not be done.
The first doctor who saw me after I tore my anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in my left knee during a skiing accident on Jan. 1 told me. Subsequent doctors told me. Friends told me. A physical therapist even laughed at the idea of it.
They all told me there was no way I would be able to compete in this year’s Bianchi Cup, which begins May 20. Recovery time would take at least 9 months, I was repeatedly told.
For a few weeks after the injury, I even told myself there was no way I would be able to compete. I wrapped my mind around the idea of sitting out this year’s competition.
About a month after my injury, I changed my mind. I decided I wanted to compete, even if I was unable to perform at my best. A conversation with my daughter, Christina, sparked my change in mind.
Not long after my injury, my husband suggested I should attend the Bianchi Cup regardless of whether I could compete. He told me fellow shooters would understand I am not in shape to compete and that I could not go pron,e but that I should go anyway. I thought the idea was ridiculous. I could not perform, so why would I go?
The change in heart came after I visited Christina, her husband and my granddaughter for dinner at their house. I was wearing my leg brace after having the surgery on my knee.
My son-in-law and my granddaughter are tennis players, and they were watching tennis that night on television. My son-in-law told me about Rafael Nadal’s plight at the Australian Open. Nadal fell ill during his second-round match. He battled through dizziness, nausea and stomach cramps to win against Tim Smyczek in 5 sets. The match lasted more than 4 hours, but Nadal fought through it.
Nadal showed great sportsmanship by continuing to play despite his illness, my son-in-law said, and Nadal did not make a dramatic showing about his illness, like you sometimes see athletes do.
My daughter visited me about a week later. She discussed my plans to skip this year’s Bianchi Cup because I was not in shape to perform well.
Christina told me I was showing poor sportsmanship by not going just because I could not compete at my highest level. She reminded me of how Nadal battled through his match even when he was not at his best.
I decided she was right and that I should not only attend the Bianchi Cup, but also make every effort to compete.
I had a couple advantages in my favor.
One, I have experience coming back from a lower-body injury, having done so before the 2014 Bianchi Cup. Last year’s event came 13 months after I fractured the tibia and fibula in my right leg and chipped a bone in my ankle. I suffered those injuries after tripping over a rope following a practice shoot, which caused me to miss the 2013 event.
Also, the nature of my sport should allow for a slightly quicker recovery than if I were coming back from a knee injury in another sport. I do not have to risk opponents slamming into my knee as if I played football. I do not have to make constant twists and turns and run up and down the field for a 2-hour soccer match. I do not have to elevate high in the air for a rebound for basketball. Rather, I would need to rehab my knee to the point to where I could kneel and go prone.
Lastly, I am a good student when it comes to following a doctor’s instructions. Whatever a doctor tells me to do, I will do it and do it to my full ability.
For my knee rehab, I followed a plan similar to the one I used to recover from my broken leg. I am combining the Western practice of medicine, which relies on physical therapy, with the Chinese practice of medicine, which depends on rest, herbs and a good diet.
After my knee surgery, I spent hours strengthening my leg with the continuous passive motion machine. Exercising on that leg machine was difficult work. I needed to spend 6½ to 8 hours a day on the machine to make the repetition quota.
My physical therapy included hours spent on a stationary bike and a treadmill and stretching exercises. I needed to teach my leg how to properly move again.
Additionally, I received herbs from a Chinese medicine doctor and brewed the herbs into a tea mixture. The herbs were designed to help increase circulation in my body, and good circulation is important in the healing process. I drank 2 cups of the tea per day for 4 weeks before going down to 1 cup per day. I also followed the Chinese belief that a high-calorie diet aids in the healing process. I consumed a lot of beef tendon, steaks, chicken and fish, along with plenty of fruits and leafy vegetables.
I also underwent massage therapy in hopes that it would help regenerate nerve paths to my leg so that my leg would respond slightly faster to my commands.
Throughout my rehab, I have known there was a chance I would not mend in time to compete at the Bianchi Cup. Also, I knew that even if I did recover to a point to where I could compete, I probably would not be at my best.
However, if I do not attend the event, I am missing a chance to participate at nationals, and I realize I do not have many nationals left. I will turn 70 in 2016, and I want to compete at the Bianchi Cup that year and also at the World Action Pistol Championship in Italy.
After the 2016 competitions, I might slow down from shooting or stop entirely. But now is not the time.
Now is the time to push myself.
I am not going to lose faith if I do not perform well at the Bianchi Cup. I have to perform to my standards, not anybody else’s. The way I see it, I have nothing to lose, and competing at the Bianchi Cup this year – even if I am not at my best – will be a show of good sportsmanship.
Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with Vera’s fantastic memoir and life story, "The Most Unlikely Champion," she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo
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