I feel the need to preface my story. In truth, this post was hard for me to let myself write. I had toyed with the idea a million times and only eluded to any physical limitations in the past. It is a thousand times easier to hide behind photographs instead of putting my biggest insecurity out in the world for everyone to read. I used to take comfort in the fact that most of you would never meet me in person, and therefore I could maintain an illusion. As long as I never took a walking photograph or video, only a select group of people would know the truth. This is my domain, after all. I am in complete control.
Sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? That may be the case, but I can’t begin to cover how much emotional turmoil that I struggled with because of this topic in a single blog post. Things could be
My story begins somewhere around puberty. I was in and out of doctor offices, trying to figure out what was wrong with my body. What was the root of the teasing that I had to endure? Why was I in pain when other kids appeared to be just fine? Why did people assume that I had broken a limb? Why did people look at me funny when I walked by? Why was my knee dislodging from its home, in the most dramatic fashion? Initially, all of the doctors said the same thing. “Oh, she’s just going through puberty. This is common in females her age. Her growth plates are just a little far apart. Remove her from sports and wait it out.” As a child, my mom had kept both my sister and I in various sports including soccer, cheerleading, softball, and basketball.
We did as we were told. Yet, the incidents that I previously described to my mom as “my knee popped out” (tearfully, I may add) became more frequent. It was rare that I would go a week without my knee sliding out of place. Each time was more excruciating. I would freeze in a panic, the seconds dragging until I was able to manually force my knee back into place. Each time, afraid that it would not return. The idea began to consume my every thought, and to this day, it lingers in the back of my mind. The image is always the same; blood gushing as my knee cap escapes the confines of my skin, leg distorted. Finally breaking free. Even when I slept, I would get vivid nightmares of it occurring. Once, a nightmare so detailed, prompted me to make my best friend during freshman year of college PROMISE me that she would rush to my aid if I called her in the middle of the day.
Eventually, we would learn that I have a leg length discrepancy accompanied by chronic patellar dislocation. Thus, providing an explanation for the limp (one leg is shorter than the other) and giving a name to the description of my knee popping out of
My Fitness Journey
There are chapters of my fitness journey that started off strong, then ended abruptly. After each dislocation, I would throw myself a pity party. “Why does this happen every time that I try to better myself?” I questioned. “I might as well not workout or attempt to be healthy if this was going to keep happening”. It wasn’t until a pretty bad dislocation, a couple of weeks before my 24th birthday, that things began to look up. Well, things definitely went south first. This particular dislocation took me out of commission. I chalk it up to age. No longer could I just pop my knee back in, take an ibuprofen, and keep moving on with my day. This dislocation was different. I’m talking crutches, a brace, x-rays, an MRI, physical therapy, and discussion of surgical intervention. Ultimately, it was decided that we should hold off on surgery (until another bad dislocation that is).
So where is the up? Mentally, I was in a better place. Don’t get me wrong, there were other points in my life where I preserved through my physical limitations (like cheering in college, but that’s a story for another time), but I would also use it as a permanent excuse. This time around, I put a lot of effort into healing and learned to better listen to my body. Sure, I could no longer do the dance fitness class that I loved or attend a HIIT session. However, I stopped fighting against myself by forcing my body to do activities that were not good for my knees. Instead, I concentrated on finding exercise classes that would make me stronger so that I could reduce future risk of injury. It sounds like an obvious solution, but that shift in mindset from focusing on what I couldn’t do to finding things that I could do was basically life-changing in terms of my physical journey.
I started off slow. I would incorporate a hot yoga class into my schedule. Eventually, I set my sights on the spin studio down the street. I was amazed that though I may never become a runner (let’s be honest, I hated running anyway), I could cycle multiple days a week without injury! I kept this routine up for a long time, exercising about 2-3 times a week. Slowly gaining strength and physical confidence along the way.
Where Am I Now?
Today, I am the girl that completed over 100 spin classes. Today, I enjoy body pump classes at the gym, making modifications or doing physical therapy exercises where I see fit. IN THE FRONT ROW! Over the last 6 months, I went from thinking that I would never be able to take control of my physical fitness, to the girl that works out 5-6 times a week. My challenges are not over, but they are definitely more manageable now that I am attuned to my body and when to take a break. I push hard in every workout, seeing it as an opportunity to become a better, stronger version of myself.
Things that Helped Me
During the course of my journey, there were a few things that helped me stay on course and frame my thinking. The first occurred when I attended the 2018 Positivity Charge event in Philadelphia. The speaker, Jessamyn Stanley, mentioned how in the current yoga culture, there is so much talk about modifications. Jessamyn proposed that there was no such thing as a modification—that there are simply many methods of yoga instead of a single “right way.” I instantly reflected on my own yoga experiences. How I felt embarrassed and would often apologize to the instructor for being a distraction in the back of the class because I couldn’t do the moves as well as the others. I analyzed my feelings of being a burden and assuming that my body made me a distraction.
The next thing that helped me was group fitness classes with my gym besties. They helped foster a safe space for me. They encouraged me to move from the back of the room, embarrassed by the modifications that I had to make during the leg tracks, to the front of the room! More specifically, our fitness instructor (and part of the aforementioned gym besties group) said something to me that I will never forget. While I was struggling with lunges, she questioned me about my range. I immediately explained, that this [my right] was my strong leg and therefore, I could do the exercise better on that side. Without missing a beat, she said: “They’re both strong.” Never had I ever considered my left leg to be strong…but she was right. It is. It gets me through my day and my workouts, which is all that I can ask for.
I am strong.
Cierra, you are amazing! I admire your openness about your knee and your strength and determination to accomplish your goals. This post is so encouraging and I’m so appreciative of your willingness to share that! I am truly in awe of you-you go girl!
Thank you so much Caitlin!! It was def tough to share, but necessary. Thank you for your support!
Kristen Woolsey says
Way to go Cierra! This was very inspiring. Of course, I had no idea you had this health problem. It must be so hard to deal with. I’m so proud of you for going for it! You look awesome!
Thank you, Kristen! I hope I was able to do my part to debunk some of the preconceived notions that can accompany the blogging world 🙂
My sweet girl. I wanted to protect you from all of the mean people of this world! It crushed me whenever you were hurting. You’re so strong! Keep being the best you!
Love you so much! Thank you for advocating for me <3
Allie N. says
Cierra, new reader here, and WOW. So impressed. Thank you for sharing your fitness journey ups and downs. You’re amazing!
Welcome Allie! Thank you so much for your kind words!
Cierra – thank you for sharing your story! I found your post via Carly and I’m so glad she put it in her round up.
I have a chronic pain condition that I’ve dealt with since I was 16 but it took 6 years to diagnose. I used to row competitively and once I wasn’t able to do that anymore due to my condition, I let that define what I was and was not able to do.
In the last two years I decided to make a change and even completed my first half marathon last May and I’m doing another one at the end of February.
It’s nice to know that there are other people out there dealing with similar struggles and insecurities. Thanks for being so vulnerable. This was a great post! Will be following along from now on 🙂
Wow Cate, it’s amazing to hear about your marathon accomplishments! I am glad that you were able to find something that works for you.
I agree it is nice to know that there are kindred spirits out there (though I wouldn’t wish pain on anyone!). Keep crushing it Cate! And good luck on your February marathon!
I’m so proud of you! 100 classes is a huge milestone and isn’t it so amazing to be in awe of what your body can do?
Thank you! Its a total mind shift to seeing your body as a strong ally instead of an obstacle!
Cierra, thank you for having the courage to share your journey! I, too, suffer from unstable knee caps, have had multiple dislocations of both knees since I was young, and two knee surgeries. I always used it as an excuse and simply said I wasn’t athletic and couldn’t work out. Now, I (like you) take spin classes and do Body Pump classes with a knee brace (proudly) worn. I’ve never felt this strong. And recently my left knee “slipped” but didn’t fully dislocate and I believe it’s because I’ve taken the time to strengthen those muscles and joints.
It’s wonderful to know I’m not alone in this journey. And I’m so proud of you for making modifications and knowing you are strong. Keep going and keep sharing your story!
Wow! I can’t believe that we have such similar stories! Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m rooting for your continued success on your fitness journey <3.