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 two published books -- "The Most Unlikely Champion" and "Wisdom and Things: Essays From an Unlikely Champion" -- she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo
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