9 Months Post Surgery and Decisions

It’s been a long journey here. Mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. When you’ve been struggling with something that no one seems to be able to help you with, you just about give up. Give up on  hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that one day you’ll be back to the athlete you once were. Now that is still to be seen, but I now am on the path to get me there.

9 months ago, I had hamstring surgery. The most incredible surgeon (Dr. Wolff from Washington Orthopedics) untethered the sciatic nerve from my hamstring, then re-attached the hamstring to the ischial tuberosity. It sounds easy when I say it, but believe me, this journey has been the hardest thing I have ever done. Putting that into perspective, it means that I’ve had a pretty good life. Not easy, and I work my butt off for what I have, but I’ve never had a deadly disease like cancer, I’ve never lost a parent, I haven’t been homeless, etc. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve had a pretty good life.

The past 2 years have been so crazy. Selling our tri shop in Oregon, starting a new job with PowerBar, moving across the country to Baltimore, Brett transferring colleges, and of course, tearing my hamstring. Due to the way it was torn, and the fact that the sciatic nerve became tethered to it, it made it virtually untreatable by physical therapy, injections, massage etc. I tried everything and went to 8 different doctors, and PT’s before finally finding Dr. Victor Ibrahim and Dr. Andrew Wolff. These two were the first ones to tell me that they knew what was wrong, and they could help me. I’ve heard from others around the world, who found me by this blog. They also have similar hamstring tears with nerve tethering. Most docs can’t treat this, and most don’t understand it.

One of the reasons I began writing this blog was to help others, in case someone was going through the same thing as me. That they could know to not give up, that they aren’t crazy when they say they have an incredible stabbing pain in the glutes, that radiates down their legs, they’re not lying. So, for all of the athletes that are going through this, or might go through this in the future, here is how I am, 9 months post surgery.

I “ran” for the first time on the Alter G treadmill 2 days ago, which was actually my birthday. And a wonderful present it was. It was only for .5 mile run, .25 walk, .5 run, .25 walk (60% of my weight), but it was a start. I’m also up to swimming 1 hour/3000y 2-3x a week (with only light kicking) and can easily walk 3 miles. When it comes to walking, sitting, standing, etc. I’m still in pain. I won’t lie and say I’m perfect and feel great. Most days the pain is in the 2-5/10 range. But it is so much better than pre-surgery. I’m also doing strength training-lunges, squats, step ups with heavier weights, in addition to short sets of plyometrics-20 squat jumps.

There are a few things that I would say if you are considering surgery:

*This was how my surgery went, yours might be a bit different*

1. If you’ve felt like you’re crazy because nothing seems to help, you’ve had the hamstring/glute pain for 1+ years and you’re giving up hope, look up proximal hamstring syndrome.

2. Once you’ve decided surgery is the only option (believe me when I say I exhausted every other options first), find a surgeon who will perform the surgery. This might be difficult because not very many surgeons will do a hamstring and nerve repair. (Dr. Wolff in Washington, DC)

3. Know that it will be the most incredible pain for the first month. But you’ll get through it, hang in there.

4. Months 1-3 you will be sitting or laying all the time. You’ll have crutches and won’t be able to do much of anything. Don’t even think you’ll be working, just getting to the bathroom and taking a shower will be a challenge.

5. Months 4-6-you’ll start to see some gains, you’ll start with therabands and you’ll start walking post crutches. You’ll build from 1 minute of walking up to 2 miles. This is where you think you should be better running again soon. Hold that thought, you’ve got more time to wait.

6. Months 6-9-This is where you’ll really think “I should be back to running, what’s wrong, why am I still in pain.” Don’t worry, it’s totally normal to still be in pain. Many days I’ve thought “what have I done, I’ve traded one pain for another.” Hang in there, it gets better. During this time you’ll be able to start doing other exercises like elliptical and swimming. You’ll move from 2-3 miles of walking You’ll also start using traditional weights (instead of just therabands) and start to feel like an athlete.

7. Lastly, how you feel about your recovery and what other people feel/think about you. It will take longer then you want it to, at least if you do it correctly. Being conservative is crucial as coming back too soon could cause more scarring or damage the nerve more. Be as patient as you can, you want your body to last a long time. While you’re in PT, you’ll see people come and go. Those with other surgeries (knee/shoulder) have a shorter recovery time. Don’t get discouraged, hang in there. And once you’ve walking normally again, and don’t look like you’re in pain or post surgery, don’t try to do more than your body is saying to do, even if people think you are fine. This is not the time to “get tough” and push through pain. As an athlete we are designed to push through pain, this is not the right attitude post surgery. And when someone looks at you and says, let’s walk around this expo for 3 hours, you’ll have to say “I’ll need to take a few breaks,” it’s ok. To an outsider you look normal, but allow yourself to sit down and take a break when you need it.

I wish I could end it here and say, “wow looking back that was such a long time ago, look at me now.” Unfortunately I am just at 9 months, so I am still in the “I’m waiting to see what the next steps are.” I’ve run once on the Alter G, and hopefully tomorrow I will run again. I can’t say when I’ll be able to run without the Alter G, and when I’ll be able to compete again. Now that I look normal, I get that question a lot. I wish I could wear a sign that “I’m still recovering post surgery, I look normal, but I’m still in a bit of pain, so please, don’t ask me when I’m racing again because I don’t know.”

It’s like a pressure that I am trying not to put on myself. I’m trying not to think about in the future and plan races. Yesterday I found myself thinking, “Ok it’s April, in 6 months will I be ready for a half ironman.” Probably not if I’m being realistic. But maybe I’ll be running a half marathon? At this point, it’s too early to say where I’ll be. As much as I want to be able to say it, I just don’t know. And that creates a lead to in to the other big decision going through my brain.

I try to keep up with social media, and what’s happening in the world, however sometimes I am a day or two behind. Today I found out that there had been an article published in Slowtwitch (a triathlon site) where the interviewer was asking the female pro triathlete about whether or not she considered aborting her baby. There has been a large upheaval and many negative responses towards the story, and that particular question. I bring this up, not to add any fuel to the fire, not to cause any controversy, but because I feel like I am going through something a bit similar.

Let me explain. I believe the interviewer (Herbert Krabel) asked the question as his second question, and worded it in a way that was insensitive. In reality, the question could have been left out, or worded differently if he was trying to talk about the choices and decisions female pro triathletes have to make. That being said, as a female the question of “do you put your career on hold while you have a baby, or do you continue with your career and wait to have children” is a very valid question. Depending on the profession, some females don’t miss a beat with their career, others have to take some time off. As females I believe that we have the power to do just about anything we put our minds too. Pity the day someone tells me I can’t do something, because I will be the first to try to prove them wrong. And talking about equal pay, I certainly deserve just as much as a man with the same experience and schooling.

But that doesn’t stop the fact that, as a female athlete, when you use your body as your profession/or even as a hobby that you love, in addition to carrying a child, it’s hard to do both. For a few months, impossible. So that means, one thing will be put on hold. The sport you love will take a back seat, or becoming a mother will take a backseat.

Now I am not a pro triathlete, so my career is not dependent on the timing of having children. For those females that are pro though, it must be an incredibly tough choice as, having a child means taking (give or take) a year off from your sport. Some pro’s have great success with having a child and coming back to the racing scene. But there are a lot of “what ifs” that can go through your mind. I don’t know the pro that Krabel was interviewing, however Beth Gerdes obviously thought about it and decided that being a mother was more important right now, and put her career on hold for a short while.

The decision to have children is very personal, and one that really should be kept within the family circle. So, I’m breaking what I just said, to share something that’s been on my mind over the last 9 months. Ironically, that’s the same amount of time a women carries a child. It took a lot to start this blog, as I was going through a pretty rough time and felt very depressed and anxious. But now I know starting it helped me to get through this, in addition to reaching others going through the same thing. So, talking about having children is personal, however like surgery, this issue might be something that someone else is going through. So, maybe it might help to know that someone else is going through the same thing. And maybe it will help give me more clarity for my direction.

I knew surgery was the only option, so I didn’t hesitate. I’m now two years into this “ordeal” and I’ve missed 2 years of racing, of being an athlete. It’s the spring, so a 3rd year is starting, and I’m still on the sidelines. I’m yearning to get out there and race again. Whether it’s a sprint tri, a 5 k, a fun run, anything. I just want to race again. I will never be a pro, but I do want to be good again. I believe I have the ability to do that. So where am I going with this? Brett and I first discussed children many years ago. We both want a family, but knew we had to wait till Brett finished school. That way, if I had to take some time off, or I wanted to put my career on hold to spend more time with the baby, we weren’t strapped financially. So here we are, we’ve come to a crossroads.

Brett is graduating in June, just 3 months from now. I just turned 34 years old. I’m getting older, and I can feel the fertility time clock clicking away. Brett will soon have a career, and we’ll soon be onto the next journey in life. But I’m feeling selfish and conflicted. I’ve had to be on the sidelines for 2 years, if we have a baby right now, that means I’ll be on the sidelines for another year. Or, do I continue on my path of healing and potentially have one more race season before having a baby. Baby vs Career (or for me, a passion for sport and competition). If I hadn’t been sidelined, this would be a no brainer. It’s time to have children.

I’m so torn, but at the same time, I understand that as a women, this is something that we all go through. Men can be great caregivers, fathers, spouses, but when push comes to shove, they aren’t the ones carrying the baby, and they aren’t the ones who have to put their sport or career on hold. So, while it’s not fair, that’s the way we were created and life just isn’t fair. It’s a valid question for women who use their physical abilities as their career and their child-bearing. But it’s a question that I believe should be between the two people in the relationship, not the world. So while I think Krabel shouldn’t have asked such a personal question and it’s no ones business but the couples, in a round about way, he asked what is on my mind, and must be on the mind of other females who use their body as their profession “what do I chose, a child or my career.” Or in my case, do we put off trying to have a baby so I can at least feel like an athlete again?


  • By Faith - on

    Cristina I applaud your courage. You are just an amazing individual. I send love and prayers to you and Brett with whatever decisions you make 🙂 Thank you for sharing such a personal story. You are an inspiration. I feel blessed to call you my coach and my friend!

  • By fueledandfocused - on

    Thank you so much Faith, I really appreciate it. I am the one who feels blessed to call you my friend though. Your hard work and determination are an inspiration to everyone!

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