Due to my rather intermittent presence on this blog, not to mention the fact that all of you have your own rich and fulfilling lives to live, you may not know that I suffered a really nasty meniscus tear in October of 2020. It was a glorious moment, to be sure, and nearly worth the thousands of dollars in medical bills and months of rehabilitation.
There I was, charging toward the goal from my Center Attacking Midfielder position. The winger, sensing that I was going to make a run, played a perfect cross into the box just behind the centre back. The keeper was stuck in no man’s land—come off your line to try to intercept the cross or stay on your line and wait for the shot. Ultimately, the keeper made the decision to come out just a hair too late, and I was able to slide just underneath the outstretched, gloved fingers and strike the ball perfectly into the back of the net at the same moment I felt the meniscus tear in half in my right knee.
That 10-year-old girl never had a chance.
Yes, it’s true. I injured myself at great cost in a parents versus kids soccer game at the end of my daughter’s fall U11 soccer season. But I’m telling you, I don’t care if she was seventy pounds—it was the best goal of my life. (Since some of you tend to have broken sarcasm detectors, yes, I know this is all very, very pathetic.)
So after a expert consultation and arthroscopic surgery at the hands of Dr. Scott Van Steyn (I just made my final payment today, Doc—enjoy that vacation!) at Ohio Orthopedic in Columbus, Ohio, I am now left with approximately 55 percent of a meniscus in my right knee. The tear was far too bad to repair, unfortunately, but removing the damaged portion meant a much faster recovery—in theory.
“Well, Mark, this is the first step to an artificial knee,” he began.
Wait. Time the fuck out. Artificial knee? I cannot possibly be that old.
Well, it turns out that I can be.
I wrote my very first car blog about SCCA Solo Nationals back in 2008, at the ripe age of 30. Sometimes, I feel like I haven’t really aged much since then. But of course my entire life is different now.
I only had one child, a bouncing baby boy of seven months. I was autocrossing and daily driving a 2004 Mazda RX-8, a car that can mostly be found in junkyards with the accompanying grenaded motors nowadays. I was still working as a retail manager, and I had to request off any Saturday that I wanted to chase cones around parking lots. I was making good money but spending nearly all of it on that aforementioned Mazda, churning through Kumhos as fast as I could get them off backorder.
Here I am, these thirteen years later, with a teenaged son and a “tween” daughter, making three times as much money and still seeming to have virtually none of it left after I pay all of the bills. I don’t really even have a car with much sporting intent anymore. I mean, I could track my Genesis G70 3.3T (and I did buy a set of autocross numbers for it, and I will use them), but I’ve come to realize that I’d honestly rather not. I find that I’m much happier putting my car in Eco mode and cruising at 77 MPH than I am burning off the rears in Sport mode, and there are days that I wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off buying a second G80. Seriously.
So if you’re doing the math at home—yes, I’m 43 years old now. But I never really felt it until Dr. Van Steyn started that sentence with, “Well, Mark, this is the first step to an artificial knee.”
Over the next seven months, I began to feel every day of it.
The real bitch about a torn meniscus is that it doesn’t get better, and you can’t really fix it. So I’ve had to adapt my entire life to adjust. I was a size 38 slim fit when I had my surgery. I’m lucky to get into a size 40 standard fit now, because I can no longer do any sort of plyometrics or running. As the Doc also said, “Running? That’s out of the question now.”
I’ve done all of the squats and leg presses and bike riding, and this is just where I am. I tried to do Shaun T’s Insanity Max: 30 to help drop some of the added weight, but after 30 days I had to admit that I really couldn’t do it intensely enough for it to help. So I’ve gone back to P90X3 for now, and I’m doing the “Mass” track to try to cut out any plyo and just do more resistance work. I’ll probably never be 150-something ever again, and 160-something is starting to feel like it’s out of the question, too, unless I do some severely restrictive dieting.
At first, I couldn’t go up and down stairs at all. Now, I can do it, but it’s not fun or easy. And I can already see how I’m going to probably need to live in a single-floor house someday, and that day is coming sooner than I’d like.
The real bitch, though, is that my fateful day in October 2020 was probably the last time I’ll really be able to play soccer with my kids. I can kick the ball around with them, sure, but I sure as hell can’t run with them. I can’t plant very well on my right leg, so I can’t even kick very well with my left foot anymore.
I realize that this day comes for everybody, but I guess I thought that it would never come for me. There’s part of me that sees people (like my brother) who’ve had much more severe injuries but have been able to rehabilitate much more easily and get back to something resembling normal. I know it might hurt Jack a lot to ride those trails, but he can at least do it. I just can’t.
By the way, the doctor’s next few sentences weren’t much better. He said that I might be able to deal with half a meniscus for a few years, or maybe only six months—there was no real way to know. But the artificial knee was coming, regardless, it was just a matter of time. He also mentioned that he had found quite a bit of arthritis in my knee, which is why it popped and cracked so much for pretty much my entire life. I had just gotten used to the fact that I couldn’t do quad stretches because my knees didn’t bend at that angle, I suppose. So, yay, there’s another complicating factor.
So the choice I have to make nearly every day now is this: How much of this new normal do I accept, and how much I do fight with every breath left in me?
For now, I’m going with the latter. Just like 30 feels very young to me now, I have no doubt that there will come a time when 43 feels incredibly young, and the things I can do now will be the things I wish I could do then.
But, damn, I really do miss Jump Knee Tucks.