From football pitch to operating theatre – and back?

How does a football club manager deal with injury – when it’s his own?

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Taking it easy ISN’T easy

Meet Richard Ibbs, 32, who is in charge of AC Milton.

Now it’s not as if he’s got access to the medical support and physiotherapy enjoyed by the likes of David Beckham, but that’s no reflection on his dedication to his club.

Rich sustained his injury whilst helping out his men.

“Basically didn’t have enough players to start the game with, we only had ten players so I decided to help the lads out and actually play,” he explained.

“So during the course of the game I was passing the ball with my left foot and a defender came through my standing right knee – and as they’ve taken it straight through, that’s literally thrown me in the air and snapped my patellar tendon.”

He wasn’t prepared for the pain!

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A team-mate donated a new pair of jogging bottoms!

“It felt like somebody had literally blown my leg off. It felt like I’d stood on a landmine or something like that – that’s the only thing that I could imagine it would feel like. The whole of the bottom of my leg felt like it was hanging off.”

After a disagreement with the referee about exactly how he was to leave the pitch, he ended-up having to be “manhandled” off by his team members, then taken to hospital.

Initially Rich thought he’d “just sprained something” but ended up undergoing surgery to replace his kneecap and stitch back his tendon, because there was a five-to-six centimetre gap between the ends of it.

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Rich in action on the pitch

He’ll be in a leg splint for four weeks, then in a brace with restricted movement for six more – and that’s before he even starts physio on the leg.

“If I was a tradesman, you’d be talking 10 weeks off work. Because I do have an office-based job, hopefully, I can possibly even start work from home maybe in four weeks, but it’s going to be quite a substantial amount of time off work.”

In the short-term, those 10 weeks will compromise pre-season training, and in the long-term, Rich has to come to terms with some very harsh realities.

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Anyone got a staple-remover?!

“I’m not going to deny it, it’s almost made me cry while I was in hospital when they said to me after the ultrasound, you know, ‘You’re probably not going to play football again’ or ‘You’re very stupid if you decide to play football again at a competitive level’.”

Rich has taken his side to Sunday Coors Premier League from the Third Division.

He’s keen stress his club is a work-in-progress – ” a group of friends who are trying to evolve a community football team that everybody can be proud of”.

I’ve got a hunch that no injury’s going to get in the way of this goal.

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The Marathon Man Who Faced Amputation

As Austin Rathe embarks on this Sunday’s London Marathon, his experience of lying in a hospital bed with two shattered legs will be a distant memory.

Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident
Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident

Yet it was these injuries that motivated him to take up running in the first place.

Austin, now 32, was hit by a car in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in March 2001 – and at one point doctors considered amputating one of his legs.

He says he himself was never told about this, but his parents were informed.

The possibility of amputation was discussed a few hours after the accident and there was still a risk after surgery.

A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo from BBC)
A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo: BBC)

Peter Livesley, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Austin, explained: “Not only was the bone broken, but it was in pieces and the skin was broken as well.

“That’s about as serious as you get before losing the limb.”

A long convalescence followed, but when I caught up with him this week, Austin was keen to stress that, unlike many of the people featured so far on this blog, he wasn’t worried about missing out on his exercise regime – because he didn’t have one in the first place!

Wheel of Fortune - the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irrestible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)
Wheel of Fortune – the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irresistible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)

“The thing is, I wasn’t ‘side-lined’. When I had the accident I never did any exercise at all,” he told me, “It was not a part of my life in any way. Of all the things I missed, I didn’t miss exercise.”

He continued: “I was always going to be able to walk again, but I was not sure about running, so I had to push myself,” he said, “When you go through those experiences you have to have something to aim for. It’s months and months of physiotherapy.”

Pleasure at the fairground - he's back on his feet after the accident in 2001
Pleasure at the fairground – he’s back on his feet after the accident in 2001

So the man who had never run more than a mile made the decision to run a marathon while still in his hospital bed.

Fast-forward to the 2004 London Marathon and he completed it in four hours 15 minutes and 26 seconds.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s no “fast-forwarding” in real life – nobody can wish the time away to full recovery.

Austin’s convalescence from such serious injuries was considerably longer and far more arduous than my own, which, though annoying, is trivial in comparison.

So what advice does he have on handling the situation?

“It feels like a very long time, but in retrospect the good thing is you don’t feel that time. It’s very boring when you’re recovering but it quite quickly becomes a memory. It can be difficult and depressing for lots of reasons but it does go away.”

When I spoke to Austin just before the 2004 London Marathon he had no intention of running another one, but other marathons followed, with a three-hour-52-minute personal best in 2007 (“Every time I finished one I said ‘that’s my last one’ – but it becomes more attractive. Each you forget how it hurts!”).

He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games
He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games

He’s not sure whether the injuries sustained in 2001 still impact on his running now.

His left shin (where pins, now removed, were drilled in to secure an external fixator) swells up on long runs and he has to watch his knees.

Nevertheless, he says he’s “determined” to enjoy the 2015 London Marathon (“I’m not bothered about time, anything between four and four-and-a-half hours will be fine”).

Austin wants to raise £2,000 for Special Effect, a tiny charity which helps kids with disabilities play video games – you can donate on his JustGiving page here.

Read my original BBC article about Austin Rathe here. Admittedly it is difficult getting to view Anthony Bartram’s TV report, but you may be luckier than me!

Cleared for take-off?

I’m discharged.

X-ray from six weeks ago - fifth metatarsal fracture clearly visible
X-ray from six weeks ago – fifth metatarsal fracture clearly visible

The six weeks is over – the bone is officially healed.

I was given the news after a one-hour-45-minute wait, during which time I’d met a prison officer who’d broken his arm in two places falling downstairs at home (“my daughters help me”) and a carer who’d smashed both his elbows out walking his golden Labrador when she spooked and pulled him to the floor (“Lucy hasn’t left my side since”).

I was brushing a woman’s hair and fastening her pony-tail when I was called over  – she couldn’t reach around and neither could her mother (“C’mon, this lady here’ll do it”).

Mr Bhalla, who examined me, explained I had “good flexion”.

Long waits are inevitable at the bone clinic
Long waits are inevitable at the bone clinic

How did he know the bone was healed?

“You ran in here”.

Apparently no physiotherapy is necessary as my recovery is good – and walking will do the trick.

The shoe can come off – good news – now I just need to find some suitable ceremony for dispersing with it or maybe I could make it into some Modern Art installation?

Gettin' a groove on - but it'll be another six weeks before I can run again
Gettin’ a groove on – but it’ll be another six weeks before I can run again

What about exercise? Well, predictably, the high-impact ones, the ones that cost the least money to do – ie running and Guerrilla training – will have to wait another six weeks (“It’s three months after a fracture”).

The pay-in-advance ones – swimming, cycling, cross-training, spinning etc – they’re all fine.

Funny how getting injured didn’t automatically make me any  better-off financially to make these adjustments!

Yoga? Fine as long as I don’t stretch the foot, put all my weight on it.

Will the bone be more vulnerable? He doesn’t see any reason for arthritis.

It was good to see the original X-rays (on the computer screen) – especially with the realisation that this time the clean oblique break shown in them had healed.

Mr Bhalla explained the fracture was not near the joint and that, apparently, is “good”.

Things are changing, blossoms on the trees, the sun’s out – a contrast from the filthy coldness I contended with when first injured.

My foot’s changed too – healing happens.

Now join me as I continue towards my running goal.

Eve of the Fracture Clinic

Well – tomorrow’s the biggee!

He's smiling - will I be?
He’s smiling – will I be?

Time for my 6-week check-up at the Fracture Clinic.

Good news – I no longer hobble. Or even limp. The bone soreness is still there but the grotesque elephant-man swelling is gone. The outline of the tendons can be seen. The OAP-style bloating of the ankle has vanished too.

And I’ll be honest with you, when they said six weeks I couldn’t really envisage any improvement whatsoever.

But there has been a coming-to-terms-with-the-situation – or acceptance – and you’ll have gathered I’m a pretty impatient person.

No Love Like Shoe Love!
No love like shoe love! But when can I ditch it?

In “The Lore Of Running”, Tim Noakes, MD, says; “Finally, after some months (!), the athletes learn to accept their injuries and to modify their ambitions to accommodate the inadequacies of the mortal body.

“When this occurs, the athletes are likely to be over the injuries.” (My italics)

So is Time really the great healer?

There is still plenty of work to be done regarding this foot – very much a Work In Progress. And plenty more to go on this Blog.

The science behind a lifestyle screw-up
The science behind a lifestyle screw-up

Now I just need to know I’ve got the right questions for when I finally get to see the doctor!

  1. How can I know if the bone has healed?
  2. What physiotherapy will I need? (So far I’ve been offered nothing at all)
  3. Do I need to keep wearing the shoe?
  4. What advice on exercise? When can I start doing it again – eg – running, guerrillas, high impact.
  5. What are the chances of this injury happening again?

I just want, above all, to be treated as if this injury, small though it is, is not inconsequential.

Okay it’s not life-threatening. I can still work.

I just want some acknowledgement of the impact it’s had on my life. As if I haven’t imagined the whole thing.

The one thing I really don’t want right now is disillusionment.

Once again – watch this space.

Honk That Duck

I’ve finally grasped the nettle – and visited ParkRun.

They're off!
They’re off!

Basically, for the uninitiated, it’s a 5km (just over 3 miles) run which is timed – all you have to do is register on the website and print-out the barcode it gives you.

I could see the runners rounding the first bend even from the road.

Despite it being nearly a month since the fracture I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever run again!

When you get a Personal Best you get to squeeze the duck and make him honk!
When you get a Personal Best you get to squeeze the duck and make him honk!

In the band-stand I joined Natalie, who’s studying Sports Therapy at university.

“You’ve got to take your time, with the healing process,” she told me.

 “It is difficult, but it’s nature isn’t it? You’ve just got to let it take its time, because there’s no point you going back too early – you could fracture it again.”

Do You Feel It Too? (Photo by Peter Morgan)
Do you feel it too?
(Photo by Peter Morgan)

She added that I’d need the help of physiotherapists too; “Once the bone has knitted you’re going to have damaged areas, (around it) you’re going to have to work on those.”

Another woman – Sarah – appeared at my side – “Where’s the ParkRun duck? I’ve got a personal best!”

Despite having done around 14 ParkRuns, I wasn’t aware of this.

When I get my next Personal Best I won't be celebrating alone
Honk me!

Yup, you grab that duck and you honk him!

Once this was done, I joined Sarah in the ParkRun café, on this occasion a church hall.

Exercise has figured very prominently in her weight loss regime: “I don’t think I’d have lost as much as I have without my running. I’ve still got two stone to go, but I’m hoping if I just keep running it’ll come off eventually.”

So how would she cope if she couldn’t run? “I would be devastated! I’m just starting to get to that point where I’m actually feeling fit – so I’d feel well gutted.”

Alison, another runner, has had problems with shin-splints and, since having her two young sons, sometimes has issues with her hips and back (“It’s very frustrating when you’ve got very limited time, and you’re a busy mum and working, then that’s the one thing that you’ve got and you realise you can’t run”).

Dogs can join in too
Dogs can join in too

She has this advice for those who, like me, have been told that rest is the only cure: “It depends on what the rest is. It could be rest from any physical activity, the jumping up and down stuff –  so, although I’d be resting, I’d still be doing Pilates, I could go for a swim. You know, it’s finding the alternative activity and having the flexibility in your own mind.”

Feeling decidedly more positive, I’ve now resolved to remain part of the ParkRun community through marshalling.

And one day, well, I’m determined I’ll get another PB – and honk that duck!

For more ParkRun info click here