Two Keys to Overcoming a Major Injury

Injuries Require Focus and Determination

Mixed Martial Arts and Jiu-Jitsu are hard on the joints—especially the knees. I recently severed my right ACL and had to go through reconstructive surgery. At the time I was in very good shape and training 3-4 days a week. I was only 37 and it was a terrifying prospect of not being able to train again and being facing a long painful recovery. Many things can go wrong with a major surgery—infection, surgical mistakes, re-injury, etc.

I was fortunate. Although the damage was major it was not catastrophic. I was able to get it replaced with a donor ligament using that latest arthroscopic procedure.

The longest part of waiting for the surgery was doing pre-operative therapy and waiting for a donor ligament.

The options for the surgery were to move a ligament from another part of my body to the ACL or to request a donor ligament from a cadaver. I chose the donation. Many people have reservations about receiving a body part from someone else. I had only positive feelings about receiving it. I felt the person must be an unusually kind and good person to be thoughtful enough and brave enough to want to help others by donating their body after death. I am thankful a complete stranger blessed me with such a wonderful gift. It helped me want to become a donor myself as part of a harmonic cycle of good promoting more good in the world.

At the start of the 12th week after my surgery, I thought I was ready to start training hard in the weight room and begin running again and my physical therapist suggested I wait a few weeks longer. She asked “why risk an injury now you are back to normal activity? You can walk and get around very well without pain. You are way ahead of most people at this stage.”

I realized at that moment my goal was not to get back to “normal.” It was to get back to extraordinary. I have no room in my life for an ordinary existence. I want to train Jiu-Jitsu as if I am entering the ring next week. The reason to start pushing hard early was to go beyond ordinary.

The reality is I am a 39 year old sales executive with a wife and 2 small boys. I work and travel and I have no intention of trying to fight professionally. My goal is to remain competitive on the mat for as long as possible. If I ever decide to compete in a tournament I want to have the ability to do well.

Two factors contributed the most to my recovery. The first was complete focus on my fitness and health. I worked my leg strength every day. No excuses. In my mind healthy eating and exercise are two equal parts of health and I watched my diet closely. I disciplined myself to plan my meals ahead of time and to eat natural foods.

The second factor was my mindset. I was absolutely determined to make not only a full recovery, but an improvement in leg strength and flexibility. I believed beyond a doubt I could do it. A little more than a year later, I have not quite achieved my goal, but I am getting a little closer every day. Determination got me through the painful—PAINFUL days of therapy. It helped me overcome my fear of reinjuring myself and kept me from quitting Jiu-Jitsu. Everyone close to me suggested in subtle and not so subtle ways that I should give up Jiu-Jitsu, but I stuck it out and am still training.

Last night I trained at Marcelo Garcia’s academy in New York and for the last 50 minutes of class we trained 5-7 minute rounds. I was able to train through the entire class at a very high level. It was a great accomplishment that I never could have achieved without the determination to fully recover and the discipline to carry out a thoughtful diet and exercise plan.

Determination and Fitness can take you through nearly any injury.

Good training to you,

Anthony Butler