Part I - Positivity
It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog that I hardly know where to start.
In the past six months, I’ve progressed from knee-scooter races to jogging a mile around the track. I transitioned from a walking boot into regular shoes with three heel inserts, and eventually I removed those too. I went from extremely restricted lower-body movements to heel raises and 135 lb. squats.
Looking back, it all seems to have happened so fast, but there were times I felt like I’d never get back to where I am today.
Recently, I’ve been struggling to stay positive about my recovery and current limitations. Over the course of this three-year long process, I’ve often found myself thinking how unfair it is that dancers almost ten years older than me are still competing (and winning) year after year, while I haven’t set foot on stage since I was barely nineteen. I can’t even walk to the bathroom consistently without pain. My leg is useless. Oh, woe is me.
I’m embarrassingly well-practiced at throwing myself a good pity party, if you couldn’t tell.
I fell into a bit of a slump after the USIR (United States Inter Regionals—the national championship of Scottish dancing) a few weekends ago. I was thrilled to attend another USIR, but it was my first time attending as a non-competitive participant. I knew it was going to be hard for me, but I wasn't prepared for the unbelievable amount of jealousy I felt after watching all those dancers happily bound across the stage. It was great taking pictures of the dancers, seeing old friends, and running the social media page, but I'd have given anything to be dancing alongside them.
You could say I got a little mopey.
But I’m trying not to do that anymore.
If there’s one thing I learned from my competitive dancing days, it’s that attitude really does affect outcome. Of course, this idea didn’t resonate with me until long after I ruptured my Achilles tendon and packed up my ghillies. Over my competitive years, I spent countless dance practices, lessons, and competitions bringing myself down with negative self-talk, and my dancing suffered as a result.
One of my teachers, Bill, recently reminded me of a time my inner-critic got out of control during a dance lesson. Although I never danced poorly on purpose, Bill told me he could always tell the exact moment I gave up on a dance. At this particular lesson, it happened during the first step of the Sword.
I danced the step once, and it quickly turned into a disaster. He told me to dance it again, but it was even worse the second time. I don’t remember all the particulars as well as Bill seems to, but he stopped the lesson right there and basically told me to get my act together or we were done working with each other.
I cried when he told me that. I was so frustrated, but not with him—with myself.
The problem with my dancing wasn’t disinterest or laziness—the problem was that I cared so deeply and wanted to be so good that anything I did was never good enough. My split high cuts were too small and my right foot always slid down the back of my leg. My half points were wobbly and my pas de bas too weak. As soon as I started dwelling on those things, I gave up. It always felt and looked terrible to me, and when you think you dance like a sack of potatoes, you inevitably start to dance like a sack of potatoes. I was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I wasted a lot of good years harboring this negative attitude. I sometimes wonder what kind of dancer I could have been if I hadn’t lacked the necessary grit and positivity—if I wasn’t such a self-defeatist. A positive attitude alone isn’t going to win you any championships, but when combined with just a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work, it can be the difference between not placing in the Sword and a 3rd place in the Seann Triubhas.
I think a little positivity could benefit my recovery, too. When I was writing this blog more frequently, I had to make a conscious effort to notice not only the times when my ankle was stiff and sore, but also the little victories, however infrequent they might have been. It was good for morale because I wasn’t just dwelling on the droopy right high cuts—I was noting my good turnout and pointed feet, too, if you know what I mean.
I honestly thought I’d be ending this blog with a successful 12-month post-op report after my second surgery. Signing off with a “to be continued” was draining—I never planned on writing about a bit of tissue in my left leg for this long. But for the sake of making progress, I'm going to try to start noticing the small things again.
Part II - A Brief Recap of Months 1-6
At the beginning of the year (about six weeks post-op) I started working with a therapist in Mt. Pleasant, MI. I was bearing full weight at six weeks post-op and had removed all three heel lifts by fifteen weeks. I visited my doctor for a check-up at the end of March and was given a prescription for more physical therapy, this time with no restrictions.
Since then, I worked on my exercises largely unsupervised. Although I utilized the prescription initially, I spent a few weeks traveling in April/May and my appointments became sporadic. Now that I’m settled in Alma again for the summer, I’m working with a new therapist in Alma and getting back to a regular routine.
At my first appointment with the new therapist, I used an anti-gravity treadmill to practice walking and doing heel raises. It allowed me to walk at just 60% of my bodyweight, which will help me improve my gait/lose the limp. I also performed a few sets of single-leg heel raises while strapped in to the treadmill, although I could only do these at 40% bodyweight. My therapist told me it will likely take at least eight weeks to see any improvement in strength.
At one of my last appointments with him, my doctor told me a single-leg heel raise (with full bodyweight) would not be achievable until one year post-op, assuming the surgery is a success. At this point I am still unable to do even part of a single-leg heel raise without the aid of an anti-gravity treadmill, but I'm doing a variety of exercises to work up to it. These include weighted calf extensions on two legs, seated calf extensions with weight, toe-walking, and biking. I am also starting to get back into jogging, but my gait is still abnormal.
In the past few months I have noticed some small gains. In April, I was finally able to perform a single-leg calf extension with the 35 lb plate on the leg press machine. I was never able to achieve this after my first or second surgery, and yet I accomplished it after only three months this time around. Needless to say I was thrilled—I even took a video of it on my phone. However, I have yet to increase this weight.
In addition, the bulk of my calf has improved slightly. When my therapist took my calf measurements in April, the largest part of my left calf measured 31.5 centimeters while my right was 34.5. My left calf now measures 32.5 centimeters.
As far as resting tension (pictured above), the tension on my surgical left side still does not perfectly match my right. However, I do think it has improved. By not stretching my repaired Achilles tendon I hope that the existing tension will be enough to enable my return to dancing. Keep your fingers crossed!
As usual, please feel free to contact me with any questions!