Surgery and Back

The 2009/10 ski season held many peaks and valleys for me and the root cause of the majority of the valleys was due to chronic compartment syndrome. Although it did not completely inhibit my racing, it did have several unfavourable affects. For those who don’t know, compartment syndrome refers to the compression of nerves, blood vessels and muscle inside a closed space (compartment ) within the body. This leads to tissue death due to lack of oxygenation as the blood vessels are compressed by the raised pressure within the compartment. In my case, the anterior and lateral compartments in both of my shins were the ones receiving this unpleasant experience during skate skiing races and intensity. I received short term relief from massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy, and acupuncture treatments, but nothing solved the problem. By the end of the winter I had decided if I was to continue with skiing I would have to look into surgery.

In April I began the surgical process. I traveled to Calgary where Dr. Meeuwisse at the Roger Jackson Sport Medicine Clinic performed a pressure test on my shins. The test confirmed my diagnosis for compartment syndrome. In May I traveled back to Calgary, this time for a consultation with Dr. Mohtadi, a very well respected Sports Medicine doctor who would be performing my surgery. My surgery date was set for July 2nd, however before I went under the knife, I traveled to Canmore for my first training camp with the National Ski Team (NST). The NST was doing a 4 week training block known as the “Yo-Yo Camp” because they spend 3 days on the Haig Glacier, followed by 3 days in Canmore then repeat 3 more times. I joined the camp for the 2nd and 3rd cycle. Fortunately for me I didn’t have to go straight from sea level in Thunder Bay to 2600m on the Haig Glacier in two days. The glacier actually had too much snow so we headed to Jasper for 3 days instead.

A snowy Haig glacier with blue skies = one happy Michael

The camp was great. The change in scenery was brilliant; training in Jasper, Canmore and on the Haig Glacier all in 12 days. I pushed myself to keep up with the big boys and managed to do pretty well. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there for the entire 4 cycles though because I was zonked after 2 of them. The training camp capped off a stellar May and June training period for me. Now, I was ready to enter the realm of the hospital.

July 2nd was the big day. I walked through the hospital doors accompanied by my mom, feeling light headed, not so much due to the fact that I would be going under the knife in a few hours, but more because I hadn’t eaten in about 9 hours. I am generally hungry every 2 hours during the day and 99% of the time I wake up hungry in the morning. This morning I didn’t eat my usual hearty breakfast and I was starting to feel it. I had just started a fresh game of Monopoly on my iTouch when the nurse attached my IV. She pushed a button and I suddenly became aware of a strange sensation running through my body. The next thing I recall is opening my eyes to a panicked mom and nurse. I felt cold and wet. I didn’t believe them at first, but apparently I had passed out. After the drama of this event had passed everything went smoothly. I was rolled into the waiting area where I met a nurse from Thunder Bay, small world; then on to a surgery room filled with several people in scrubs. The anesthetic’s doctor put me under and Dr. Mohtadi performed the fasiotomy.

I hung out in Canmore for the following 5 days to give my legs a chance to get over the worst of it. I stayed away from the Percocet I was given and stuck with Tylenol T3s. Along with crutches, they were my friends for a couple days for sure. Jesse, Chris and Amanda stopped by to visit me in my crippled state and provided good company. My sister made the trip to Canmore to join my mom and me for a couple tourist days around Canmore and Banff. We even took to the gondola up Sulphur Mountain and I reminisced about our driving trip out west 10 years ago when my family ascended Sulphur Mountain in the same fashion. I believe that was the first mountain I ever stood atop.

On top of Sulphur Mountain with my mom and sister.

I arrived back in Thunder Bay on July 8th with swollen ankles and tender shins and continued my T.V. obsession while I elevated and iced my legs. It just happened that the Tour de France began on July 3rd this year, enabling me to watch every single stage. I also got hooked on the football World Championships, following the Spanish team to victory. Almost as soon as I returned home, I was leaving again; back to Calgary on the 18th for a check up with Dr. Mohtadi. The dressings were removed and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the incisions looked.

I returned to Thunder Bay, happy to be done with traveling to Calgary and began a slow, steady progression back into training. More often than not my progression felt frustratingly slow. In reality, my recovery was going quite well. I had no issues with my surgery and I experienced slight improvements every few days. However, when you are used to a high level of activity and suddenly drop to none, the novelty of having excessive time to watch movies and read books quickly wears off and the yearn to run and bike and be active grows strong.

My first workout was strength, 10 days post-surgery. I could do upper body weights and some core strength exercises. Soon I was able to spin on a stationary bike. I kept testing my legs on my road bike, but the vibrations and cracks in the road were extremely uncomfortable. 20 days post-surgery I went out for one of my road bike tests. I was beyond excited to discover the cracks and vibrations no longer felt so terrible. I threw on my helmet, jersey and bike shorts, snatched a water bottle and yelled to my mom, “I’m going riding! I have my cell phone if anything goes wrong” and sprinted off on my Giant. With my heart pounding and my legs pumping a sense of freedom enveloped me as the air pushed past my face. That’s the feeling I love. That’s the reason I am a skier. I wasn’t looking at my heart rate or controlling my speed. I was just going. I threw down a few full out sprints, pushed my pace a bit and bonked at 50km. The high was over. I doggedly finished off the final 10km and collapsed on my front lawn, satisfied to have finally got the endorphin rush my body has been craving.

I may have over done it just a little bit. My legs were quite sore the next day. A few days later I was back at it. My training schedule alternated between road rides, gym workouts, kayaking and rest days for the next week. My body began craving more of an endurance challenge so I planned a route I guessed would be somewhere between 120 and 130km with a goal of maintaining a 30km/h average speed. I took off on the morning of July 28th, with a hot sun beating down and a stiff wind blowing through the tree tops. I felt great and my will to conquer the challenge motivated me. As I climbed over mile hill and entered the hilly domain of route 595 my legs felt a tinge heavier. I blasted down the long South Gillies hill in attempt to hit a high speed and was confronted by an unanticipated buffeting head wind. My girlfriend, Britt, called me while I ticked over 110km pedaling down the highway. She offered a ride and I confidently turned it down, determined to complete my route. I turned off the highway onto 130 and again was buffeted by a relentless head wind. As my speedometer ticked over 125km I pulled into a gas station exhausted with no money, food or water and a dead cell phone. In desperation I used the gas station’s phone to reach my mom for a ride and hopped back in the saddle to meet her a few kms down the road. I never saw her. I unzipped my jersey in an attempt to cool off under the heat of the blistering sun and kept on pedaling. Finally I rolled in to Britt’s driveway and plunked down on her steps completely depleted. I had polished off a 146.5km solo ride with an average speed of 30.1km/h. Needless to say, my legs were sore the next day.

Following this big effort I hit a real low. I was slowly increasing my training hours, but I had been doing nearly everything alone while my team mates were off doing a training camp in the States. Now they were leaving for another training camp in Canmore that I had hoped to attend, but had come to the realization that I was just not ready. The thought of being left behind was tough; Canmore was a summer training camp I had done for the past 3 years and really enjoyed. I lost my direction. I didn’t feel like my legs were improving and I was tired of doing nothing. I was sick of my legs swelling up and having to ice them. I did nothing for 4 days.

Finally I pulled myself together, wrote out a training plan for the week and posted it on my desk. I talked to Eric (coach) for suggestions and emailed Adam Kates and Timo Purais for training partners. Adam was able to join me more regularly since the school year for teaching had yet to start and helped give me some motivation to train again along with some useful technique advice. I pumped out a 17 hour week followed by an 18 hour week while my team mates were training hard in Canmore. I added classic rollerskiing to my repertoire of activities followed closely by skate rollerskiing and then running. A month after my first road ride on July 22nd, I had put 872km on my road bike.

Being in Thunder Bay all this time had its advantages as well. My sister and I had recently purchased a ’97 Subaru Impreza and the time at home gave me a chance to learn to drive standard. I was also able to spend a lot of time at my girlfriend’s camp on Lake Superior. Lake Superior was the perfect cure for Thunder Bay’s hot summer days. Britt and I also fit in a weekend trip to Neys Provincial Park where I could lounge on the beach after running and rollerskiing. I went for a day trip to Quetico Provincial Park with my mom and sister. My Dad and I explored a secret lake off Spruce River Road and caught 7 healthy bass and 2 walleye. I was even able to pull out my parent’s old windsurfer and wetsuits from the garage and give it a go on Lake Superior. Although I was definitely pretty bad the first time out, I managed to catch some wind in the sail and am eager to try again.

My Dad's and my haul from a successful day of fishing.

Neys 2010!

Out for a run at Neys.

Riding the wind on Superior.

The team arrived home from Canmore towards the end of August and I was happy to have some more training partners again. After two weeks with the team in Thunder Bay I’m back to where I started this whole journey, at a training camp with the National Team, except this time in Mount St Anne, Quebec. Harry Seaton and I joined them on Monday, September 6th for an intensity focused camp. I am back into full time training and full of drive and enthusiasm.

Thanks for reading!


My attempt at stitching photos together sans a tripod. Not a bad view though!