Finding the Silver Lining on the Sidelines

Injuries aren't exactly pleasant. Just ask Coach Alexei; last month he had to deal with his own knee injury. Feeling down but not out, Alexei found ways to keep pushing himself while rehabbing his knee. Here's his story of his road to recovery and getting back on the mat:


This was the first time in a while that I felt good at a tournament.


Nerves are inevitable, but I didn’t feel weak and tired like at the Irvine Open or the Pro Trials in Houston. I didn’t feel as if a car had just hit me like at the U.S. Open. And finally, my dislocated thumb healed up after 3 months. I was able to train hard for the whole month and rest extra the week of the tournament.


I felt great! Submitted my first opponent in under 2 minutes. Submitted my second opponent in less than a minute. Now placed in the semi’s of the Lightweight division at the UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro Trials in Long Beach, I was guaranteed a place in the Light Open Weight division. The winner of any of the Opens gets an all-expenses-paid travel package to Abu Dhabi to compete at their World Championships! Definitely a dream come true.

So my first task was complete, but my plan was to settle for nothing less than double gold. If I want to win at the biggest tournaments in the world--Pan Ams and Worlds--I can’t lose anywhere else. This was my mindset going into my match: no matter what, I cannot lose.

I heard my next opponent likes ankle locking those he has already submitted. That was fine with me; I’m confident in my ankle lock defense. He tried four times to break my ankle, giving up his position and allowing me to climb on top and pin him several times. In the last minute of the match, I was ahead on points but I had not been able to submit him yet.

In desperation, he grabs my left foot and tries to sit back on one more ankle lock. He struggles and contorts himself, trying to maximize the pressure on my ankle, but my ankle felt fine. We end up stuck when he fully commits to his attack, and neither of us can move without giving up an inch. I figured he would gas out and be done, or waste the rest of the match with poor technique.


Then suddenly, PPPPPPPPPRRRRRTTTT! This is the closest I can come to describing the strange noise that my knee made. There was a feeling of shifting, but my joint didn’t shift. I just felt something had changed in my knee, so I started to scramble in order to reposition it--obviously my knee wasn’t happy with the pressure it was under.


Then suddenly, PPPPPPPPRRRRRRTTTTT! This time it was my ankle, but more crunchy than my knee. I was almost out of the ankle lock attack, but I was too focused on protecting my knee. Either way, I had to pull my foot out and get on top. I cannot lose. I forced my foot out of his grasp and posted on my injured leg to get on top, but I was unable to pin him.


He made his way to his feet and we tackled each other one more time… but this time my left leg was useless. My body shut down all power to my left side. I ended up on my back, unable to close my legs and stop him from passing my guard and mounting me. 3 points for the pass, 4 for the mount. That was 7 vs. 6. I lost in the last 5 seconds of the match. Not only did I lose the gold in my division, but I also I knew I couldn’t fight 4 more times for my ticket to Abu Dhabi with my knee. On top of that, my sponsors, ETRNL RND, had paid my tournament expenses for the following weekend’s San Jose International Open, and now it was looking like I would have to back out. I was frustrated, to say the least.


My opponent told me later that he threw his back out trying to break my ankle. He’s lucky that my knee gave out first. With a grade 1 LCL sprain, which I only found out recently, I am more than halfway through my recovery already. When the injury first happened, I was definitely frustrated and a little devastated. I had to promise almost everyone I knew that I wouldn’t compete at San Jose anyway. Only one awesome friend told me I should definitely fight: “Nothing’s more dangerous than an injured tiger!” according to him. But the Pan Ams were already on my mind.

With only a month and a half before Pan Ams, I had to do everything I could to get back to training with time to prepare! I was massaging my knee the whole drive home from Long Beach and keeping it elevated. I moved my knee constantly, and in every direction that I could without pain. If I could only workout on one leg or just my upper body, I was doing that. As soon as I could squat at all, I was squatting.


Moving is the best way to recover--as long as you move pain-free. The contraction of your muscles helps push inflammation out of injured areas, and more blood moving around means more nutrients delivered for healing. I still can’t quite deadlift perfectly yet, but I can do most things now. I had to take 2 weeks off of Jiu-Jitsu training (I literally got depressed), but I only took 2 days off of working out!


I am back to training hard in Jiu-Jitsu, but I can’t do any of the techniques I was working on before the injury because they aggravate my knee. So I have learned a whole new position and set of attacks that don’t hurt my knee, thanks to the help of my teammates. And because I could only do squats for a while, I also learned to LOVE squats!


Setbacks, big or small, are just that. They set you back, but they shouldn’t stop you. My goal is to be Pan American Champion and bring back fat medals for my instructors, my training partners, and all the awesome people at UFO that help me push harder than I can push myself. Injuries are an excellent opportunity to slow down and learn something about yourself--whether it’s a better way to move in the gym or a better strategy for your next fight. My injury improved my squats and my Jiu-Jitsu, and I will definitely be better for it when I am back to 100%.


It’s frustrating, it’s painful (literally and mentally), but there really is nothing else to do but look for the silver lining. Allow yourself a bit of time to feel these things, that’s normal; but if your goals are important to you, there’s nothing left to do but move forward. My sponsor signed me up for Pan Ams today. Win or lose, I won’t be wondering if I worked hard enough when I get on those mats.