Getting past new fears with the agility ladder

Ever since tearing my ACL Jan. 8, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to doing all my favorite stuff—running, skiing and backpacking, which were all temporarily halted post-injury.

My comeback to running after ACL reconstruction surgery in January has been fabulous, and has felt great since the first step. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, I ran about 30 minutes—huge progress!

But recently, I’ve been feeling a different and unexpected emotion when I think about skiing: fear.

It happened while Steve and I were watching a Warren Miller video last week. Usually, we’re all “oohs” and “aahs” as we watch pro skiers tear up crazy-looking terrain. But last weekend, I fell quiet as we watched, and couldn’t stop wondering whether I will ever trust my knee enough to start making aggressive turns again.

I brought up this fear to Ed Lee, my physical therapist, while he was working on my knee on Monday.

Lee played two games in the NFL in 1982 before an ACL tear ended his career. He smiled knowingly when he told me about the first time he ran drills after his own ACL reconstruction. The first time he attempted to cut sideways, he fell. Lee assumed his knee had given out. His coaches told him his foot had never even touched the ground.

How do you get past a fear so great?

He said he worked his way up, starting by cutting sideways at 45-degree angles. Then, one day, he forgot he was afraid to cut at a 90-degree angle, and just did it.

Once he was finished working on my knee, Lee called me out to the gym again, though I’d already finished my regular workout. He laid an agility ladder on the floor, and we ran through some speed and agility drills—the first time I’ve done anything like that since before my injury. He watched as I hopped from side to side and front to back, grinning as I realized that yes, I can actually *do* this stuff. Lee also pulled out a step, and asked Dennis, who I call the “gym boss,” to “show (me) ‘around the world.’ ” Other patients in the gym joined me in laughing out loud at what sounded like some medieval form of torture (as if it should be followed up by: “Dennis, show her the room where we cook the patients into soup.”). Instead, it was another fun drill that involved quickly tapping my foot against the top of the step while moving in a circle around the step.

I haven’t completely exorcised my fear. But a few simple agility exercises helped me realize that by having faith in my training—and myself—I will start the season feeling more strong and confident than ever.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: I will be traveling until April 12, and will be posting sporadically until then.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Getting past new fears with the agility ladder

  1. WOW – this seems like a huge step forward for you! HOORAY! p.s. enjoy the vacay.

  2. Great progress – and kudos to you for owning up to the inevitable fears that go hand-in-hand with injuries. Sounds like you took a huge leap towards getting past them. Hope the road back continues to be steady progress for you!

  3. amy

    I LOVE agility ladders! Congrats on your first cutting workout!

  4. i know this feeling — ever since being ‘sick’ (with the vague nausea and what not) in 09 i am still afraid to do hard workouts. (i did a track workout right before the general-nausea set in for over a year) i’m trying to make myself do some sort of track work or tempo run most weeks, but there are still demons in my head. i have yet to really race as well…

    “little steps at a time” right? a little each week and we will both be our old selves again soon.

  5. Well done on your recovery — running 30 minutes is excellent progress!! Kudos 🙂 I also love the ladder graphic. As you said, even if you’re not totally over your fear right now, someday, you soon will be! Rock on!!

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