By Ryan O'Connell Peller
On December 19th 2016 at approximately 21:00 hours, I was struck by a van in Japan, which was driven by a man. I don’t remember his name but i’m pretty sure it did not fall into the rhyme scheme. I was walking the streets of Hiroshima at night en route to my hostel when I was blindsided laterally by a large van. It was my fault of course for I had J-walked, which in Japan is immensely frowned upon morally. It has been said that those who participate in the action bring shame to themselves and their family. Which I of course have been doing as a NYC native for the past 28 years of my life. The only difference here was that I was not accustomed to traffic being opposite in direction. Once struck, my body was sent flying through the air, much like a plastic bag drifting through the wind wanting to start again. By some miracle my head and face were untouched so I was conscience and coherent throughout the entire aerial experience. At one point I had thought “I am upside-down in the air… This is not good”. As soon as I landed roughly 10-15 feet from where I once was standing, adrenaline coursed through my body and I immediately popped up to my feet like a toaster releasing a finished product. It was at that instant I knew something was wrong with my left knee. I could feel the instability and said “I think I tore my ACL,” out loud to no one. I start limping to the nearest side walk and a small group of people rush over all of my belongings that left my body through my flight. My 70L travel pack’s straps ripped as I landed on the bag, and both of my shoes came off at some point of my non consented groundless cartwheel.
Once settling ( limp pacing in shock) on the sidewalk I begin to remove my jacket and sweater in search of other injuries. I couldn’t help but think of the fact that my strength training helped me limp away from this accident. Police, Fire department, and an ambulance all arrive on behalf of the irresponsible American tourist. Embarrassed enough I told them that I was Canadian, gave them a police report, let the EMT’s look at me briefly, and refused to go to the hospital. I wrapped a voodoo band around my knee and limped to the train-station. I took the train towards my hostel and stopped at a 7/11 for ramen and a couple of Japanese beers to bring to my room. Some of you may be reading this thinking “you should of went to the hospital, you shouldn’t be drinking, you might be concussed”. Shock is a pretty crazy response and put me in quite the dumb haze. Also this was a good learning experience for how I should approach the next time I get hit by a van. My dad always told me that sometimes you need to stick your finger in the outlet to learn.
The next morning I woke up feeling like I got a van. Aside from my knee I had a series of bruises all over my arms and body and some road rash on my lower back. Fortunately the accident happened towards the tail end of my trip, so I found a hostel close to the Golden Gai district in Tokyo and limped around there for 2 more days before returning home. Upon my return I went to the ER to receive an X-Ray of my left knee. The X-Ray was unclear so I scheduled an appointment for an MRI which showed a full ACL tare in my left knee as well as meniscal tears in both knees. Surgery was needed. My surgeon gave me the option of either a patella graft or cadaver, with a bias for patella graft, with the reasoning that the body may reject cadaver. I scheduled my surgery a month later to organize my life in preparation for being out of commission for 2 weeks. The pain was moderate. The first few rounds of PT consisted of me attempting straight leg raises from a seated position, and a series of dorsi flexion / plantar flexion resistant band movements. I was compliant, as I was literally unable to do much else. A week after surgery the surgeon unlocked my knee brace and gave me, if I can remember correctly, 30-40 degrees of movement. The following week they gave me free access to full ROM. My first training (during the first week) was actively loading my knee as much as I could relatively pain free. Once I was able to accomplish that I began squatting to whatever depth I could achieve for 3x5 twice a day. About a month out I was able to squat to depth (apex below the patella) pain free. All the while I would attend PT sessions and facilitate their single joint band resistant exercises. I really went for the routine stretching and graston therapy. I had told both my PT and surgeon that I was going to facilitate the novice LP of Starting Strength, and they both told me to wait in fear that I would get hurt. I told them I would… I didn’t. Once I was able to do bodyweight squats, I put a 15lb trainer bar on my back and started my LP there. Roughly 8 weeks after my surgery I was squatting 165-185 and deadlifting roughly 205 pain free. Both my PT and surgeon exclaimed that I was recovering faster then anyone they had ever seen. In which I told them that I had lied about waiting to facilitate Starting Strength. My surgeon brushed that information off, and my PT wanted to see how I was Deadlifting. After showing him, he attempted to correct me and told me that I should be taking a trap bar stance (hips super low, vertical back, pushing the barbell to the front of the feet) with a traditional barbell. I gave him a very sincere hug, told him everything will be ok, and I left without looking back.
Starting Strength got me back on my feet and fully functional at a faster rate, it also may have saved my life / prevented worse injury during the accident. I was preaching for Starting Strength for years before I got hit. Mark Rippetoe’s quote “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general,” rings true to me and I now preach it with more importance. It’s imperative for people to be strong, whether its for athletic performance or to have the ability to walk around without a cane or a walker, or to make a poor decision in a foreign country and get hit by a van.