It takes patience to go through an injury and be on the sidelines while you see everyone else running. It takes courage to tell yourself you’ll get through the injury and that you will come back stronger. Rachel Fox, a Queens Distance member since 2015, is one runner who came back from an injury that set her back months, but is now running and even faster than pre-injury! Read about her tragic accident, her comeback, and her current journey to the TCS NYC Marathon.
It’s the sound that everyone dreads—the sound that makes you cringe. It’s the sound that when you hear it, you have no idea what you are in for, or if you can ever recover from it. That “pop”. That sound that you hear when your ankle bones have broken and have become unattached to your leg. That “pop” sound that I heard when I fell on skates in a parking lot and thought, “Oh god! What have I done? Will I ever run again?”
The thing that you have to understand is that I was on this tremendous adrenaline rush. I felt invincible after completing the NYC Marathon for the second time, three months prior. One month earlier I had done four races in four days – running a total of 48.6 miles and completed a second marathon within a span of two months. So, naturally I thought now would be a great time to take up roller skating, since I did it as a kid. Nothing could go wrong, right?
Sitting on the ground in the parking lot, I quickly took off my skates. As I realize my ankle was broken, the panic started to set in, and then the pain. I knew this was bad but I didn’t know how bad.
I have a lot to be thankful for, including the overall distance between the accident site, the hospital, and the location of where my brother and sister-in-law reside.
On February 6th, 2018, I was quickly taken to the hospital from the accident site. I was too scared to call 911, so a good Samaritan passing by called for me. I wish I could thank them!
At some point I called my brother and told him I was being taken to the hospital. I didn’t want to scare him, but I also wanted him to know his big sister seriously injured herself and just needed family around. I don’t remember if I tried to call my parents or if I didn’t want to scare them either, so I thought I would call my brother first. The truth is that I that was scared. The only thing I could say out loud to my brother was, “I fell”. I sent my sister-in-law a picture of my ankle. She told me later on that she knew my ankle was broken when she saw that picture. My brother originally thought I just had a bad sprain. I wish!
I would have my surgery about 8 hours later (on February 7th). I would return home three days later. The hospital cannot release you unless you have not had a fever for 24 hours. I don’t remember how I passed the time until I was given the okay to go home. I shared a room with a woman that was hit by a car. When I was released from the hospital, I knew her stay would be longer than mine. As bad as my situation was, I knew it could always be worse.
We all know that I recovered. We all know that I made it. But I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you.
The first month after surgery was hell. I was in a lot of pain. The type of surgery I received was ORIF. This stands for Open Reduction Internal Fixation and it involves the application of implants to guide the healing process of a bone, as well as the open reduction, or setting, of the bone. I now had to adjust to having metal in my ankle. My poor left ankle, now swollen and had metal in it, looked twice as big as my right ankle! My left ankle was now surrounded by a titanium plate fixed to my bone with seven screws and two splints. I felt ugly. I felt disabled. I felt defeated. I cried a lot. I used a knee-scooter to get around my apartment (crutches are not a good idea for a klutz, like me). I was, for the most part, independent during my recovery. My family stopped by once a week for a little while to make sure I was okay and help me collect my mail. My father helped me get to my post-operation appointments.
My days would consist of pain, oxycodone-acetamin (which only seemed to work for 3 out of 24 hours at a time), television, and rest, in what seemed like a never-ending cycle, until sometime in mid-March.
It was about this time that I now had to practice bending my foot back at a 90 degree angle. A movement that I never thought twice about, now seemed impossible!
Soon enough, I was approved to put weight on my left foot in CAM boot. CAM, which stands for Controlled Ankle Motion walking boot, is a very clunky boot that is secured with velcro straps and limits motion of your foot, but also allows partial weight bearing. I was happy to hear I can start walking in a CAM boot, but I was also very nervous. I did not walk or put weight on my left foot for almost a month and a half! The moment that my heel (in a CAM boot) touched the floor, I felt a pins and needles sensation on the bottom of my foot. The nerves in my foot were waking up. It was exciting but painful.
I know I mention consistently being in pain a lot, but it would subside soon enough. Unfortunately, pain after surgery is a sign of healing. It is not pleasant, but it is unavoidable. I just had to be patient.
My recovery started moving forward in April:
- I would go to physical therapy 3 – 4 times a week.
- I began indoor cycling again.
- By the end of April, I started walking without the boot.
First steps outside without CAM boot, April 22nd.
I started exercising again in June and by July things seemed to be getting back to normal:
- My first run post-surgery was about four months after my accident (on June 12th). I ran for 10 minutes on a treadmill.
- I started spinning classes on June 16th.
- My first outdoor run post-surgery was on June 17th – I ran about 2 miles.
- I started strength training sessions on July 7th.
- My first race post-surgery was the NYRR (5 mile) Team Championships on July 28th.
- My first long run post-surgery was on August 19th – I ran 9 miles.
First time being able to balance on the left foot again, June 3rd.
I left out of the part where I signed up for the NYRR marathon training program on July 23rd.
At the time I registered, it seemed like a crazy idea. I had no idea if I was going to be able to run the marathon this year. My original goal was to run a 5 mile race before the end of the year. As time moved forward, I saw I was able to keep up with the training program. I knew that I would be able to run the marathon and it was not such a crazy idea after all!
Despite the pain and the struggle I went through to recover, I tried to keep a positive outlook. Every day I imagined myself running. I kept a schedule of when my post-operation doctor appointments were, and made a note of any milestone changes that would occur – it helped a great deal to look forward to some type of change.
Key moments from November 2017 to October 2018.
In life accidents happen. It all comes down to how you cope when you are dealt with a bad hand. You become a stronger person for moving forward in spite of an unfortunate situation. I wanted to get better, so I fought back.
I want to thank everyone who checked in on me during the time of my recovery, and sent a “congratulations” my way when I started running again. I’d like to think your full support helped me get back into doing what I love, sooner than I thought. Just in case you don’t know, that would be running!
Rachel L. Fox