Returning from Devastating Injury
Florida Today columnist John A. Torres describes his journey from rupturing achilles tendon
By John A. Torres, FLORIDA TODAY
The play call was perfect. Setting up the pass to run the ball around the right end was going to work. There were nothing but blockers and yards of green grass in front of me. But as I took off to run that January afternoon at the Hoover Athletic Fields, a hot, terrible pain shot through my left ankle and foot. I crumpled to the ground like a wild boar with a backside full of buckshot, and instantly turned to see who had just struck me with a golf club or baseball bat. No one was there. Then I started touching my leg to see if there was blood, thinking I had somehow been struck by a stray bullet. There was none. There was also no Achilles tendon. It was gone. There was nothing but mush where the tendon had been.
A trip to Surfside Urgent Care confirmed my suspicion. A visit to Dr. David Dominguez followed and surgery was scheduled four days later. A freak injury was how it was explained to me. An explosion-type of injury that occurs during a sudden acceleration. Ironic really, because I basically was the only one out there who ever stretched and warmed up.
The option was a simple one for me. As it was explained, my two options were surgery — where they reattach my tendon using a piece of Kevlar — or nonsurgery — where the tendon ends basically find each other and reattach on their own. The deciding factor was the rate of recovery and the good chance that it could tear again without the Kevlar. The surgery was a piece of cake, thanks in part, to the painkillers administered. The worst of it was the scratchy throat experienced for the next 24 hours as my body recovered from the breathing tube shoved down my gullet while they filleted me.
Well, that and the fact that I would not be able to put any weight on my left leg for nine weeks. Sure, at first (as long as the Vicodin was flowing) that doesn't seem too bad, right? Armed with remote control and my PS3. I could spend my days watching Netflix, the Olympics and slaying zombies in the game "Dead Island". But then the hours turned into days and then weeks. The daily ritual of emptying my urine jars every morning, hopping to the shower, wrapping my leg in a garbage bag and trying to wash were draining. As a person who genuinely enjoys an active lifestyle and trying to stay fit, my weight ballooned.
Depression set in and I cursed the day I ever thought at the age of 48 that I could go out and play football with 20- and-30-year-olds. What on earth had I been thinking? I vowed that the only football I would be playing was my Madden video games. Dr. Dominguez removed the cast several weeks into my recovery and replaced it with a cumbersome boot. I was still prohibited from walking but the boot would keep my foot stabilized throughout the day and I could take it off while I slept.
I started physical therapy soon after and I remembered my first question to the therapists at Beachside Physicial Therapy. "How soon until I can go jogging?" "In about six months," came the reply. My heart sank at the thought of my expanding girth. But I put in the work three times a week to recover from this debilitating injury. That included the stationary bike, stretching, towel grips, making circles with my ankles, whatever they asked me to do until I could eventually lose the boot and start putting weight on the leg slowly.
The next part of the rehab involved climbing steps, calf raises and lunges. Everything hurt and my mobility resembled that of a someone who had been in a coffin for some time. Sometime near the end of March, I was given the green light to lose the boot and start working out again. I had gained 25 pounds and the news could not have come soon enough. I returned to the gym and my trainers designed a specific workout to help with my mobility and get me moving again. I could hardly believe how sluggish I had become. It was like unlocking joints that had rusted closed. The work was tedious and painful, but eventually the weight started melting off and was getting replaced by muscle.
Then something amazing happened in June. I was given the green light to jog again. And the second I did, I knew I would be playing football come fall at the Hoover Athletic Fields. I set Nov. 2 as my comeback date. By my 49th birthday, I had dropped close to 30 pounds and was starting to feel athletic again.
I threw the ball around with my son a few times, increased my workouts, started doing box jumps and explosion-type exercises. Nov. 2 couldn't come soon enough, seriously, so I organized a game in late October. The same rag-tag bunch of reporters, radio personalities, photographers and my two sons met at Hoover for our two-hour game.
The Achilles was healed. I was back and felt better than ever. Am I scared? Sure, but more so worried that somehow the other one will tear. But I can't let that worry keep me from doing what I love. The only thing I can do is make sure I continue with the flexibility exercises and try to get myself in the best shape that I can.
Now, if only I can start throwing passes like Dan Marino — who also ruptured his Achilles — instead of like a 49-year-old weekend warrior.
To read the original Florida Today article click HERE