Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tri-Life: Recovering from Injury - Charles Wu

From Nic: Recovering from injury/sx can be frustrating and isolating. I remember being 6 mths post op from back surgery (I had just run a marathon a month before the sx) and then, i could barely run a mile without 1. being winded and 2. being in pain.  The process was exhausting and could have used some encouragement during that time.  

I asked my friend Charles Wu at SingleDadTriing whom I met through our tri group, Crush, to share a little about his experience with his recent injury/sx.  I hope this provides some light at the end of the tunnel for any of you nursing an ailment.... we will see you on the course soon. 

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your tri background prior to your accident?
I’m a 33 year old single parent that lives in Lincoln Park with my amazing 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son. In addition to being a parent, I am the Chief Innovation Officer and a substantial shareholder of a $20 million / year telecommunications and technology services located in Burr Ridge, IL. I am also involved as a board member of several organizations, manage a few real-estate ventures and angel invest in a hydroponic lettuce farm that has recently begun delivering product to the shelves of Kroger’s and Whole Foods.
I was a football player (Strong Safety, Tight End) and sprinter (Triple Jump, Pole Vault & 200/400 m) in high school. Going into college, I ran track and cross country and discovered in my second year that I was better suited for middle distance (800 m). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explore this as I got involved in starting a business right about the same time (ended up leaving school after my 3rd year to pursue this full-time).

I neglected my personal health to focus on the business and my professional career. 10 years later, in 2011, I woke up and found myself living an unhealthy lifestyle and generally unhappy with myself. Around the same time, my life was turned completely up-side-down.

Needing an outlet to vent my anger, I initially turned to running, but at 205 lbs (as opposed to weighing 155 lbs in college), my knees couldn’t adequately support my extra weight, so I compromised by taking SPIN classes. That evolved into cycling, and then the natural thing to do seemed to be to start swimming. In early 2012, I decided to “get serious” about Triathlon and completed 1 Sprint and 2 Olympic distance races that season. By the fall of 2012, after losing 20 lbs in the 1st year, I became hooked, signed up for Ironman 70.3 Muncie in September. During a professional development seminar, I learned how to chop wood with my bare hands and set a goal of doing a sub 10 hour ironman.

I signed up for Ironman Arizona in November and started training.
Picture: Getting in shape: Jan – Apr 2013:

2. How did your accident happen?
I fell off my bike and broke my right collarbone, shoulder-blade and 3 ribs. Given the extent of my injuries, one would expect some type of earth-shattering story, but the reality is quite boring.
3. What was the extent of your rehab (sx/PT/etc)
I was extremely fortunate to have a great support network around me that gave me access to the best health and medical care available. For example, the father of one of my daughter’s schoolmates turned out to be a world-renowned Orthopedic surgeon at Rush. The mother of one of my daughter’s Sunday school classmates happened to be an ER doctor who called in a favor to help me get in front of the top Orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern. I was able to leverage other personal and professional connections to get opinions from the University of Chicago, Loyola and Advocate Health Centers.
After doing a lot of research and getting multiple opinions, I decided to get surgery and on May 14, 2013, a titanium plate and 6 screws were inserted into my right shoulder.
I’ve always considered myself relatively weak when it comes to mental toughness and pain tolerance, but I felt fine after surgery and just walked out of the hospital and took the kids to the playground that afternoon (though the sling made things a bit awkward).

Although my shoulder and back muscles were extremely tight, I got back on the bike trainer the next day and by the weekend (4 days post-op), was able to hold my right arm above my head.

Picture: 4 days PostOp:
The next day, I did my first Post-Op VO2 Max interval set on the trainer. The broken ribs made things a bit challenging and my power output ended up being ~15% lower than when I was completely healthy.
6 days PostOp, I went for my first run. My right shoulder / upper back was still extremely tight, and it was an extremely uncomfortable 2 miles of shuffling at 9:37 min/mi pace.

Picture: 6 days PostOp – First run:
As I continued to run, my shoulder / upper back muscles began to loosen and it felt better.
1 Week Post-Op, I did my first threshold test with a 1 hour simulated time-trial. By then, I was at about 90% (the broken ribs were still quite irritating).

Picture: 8 days PostOp – Threshold Results):
3 weeks PostOp, on June 5, I got back into the pool.
6 weeks PostOp, on June 21, I swam a mile in the open water, and was officially “cleared” for physical

On June 23, I completed an Olympic Tri, and despite an abysmal swim (came out of the water in virtually last place), I still had enough bike and run fitness to get 4th in my age group with a time of 2 hours and 21 minutes.

I started physical therapy on June 28 to work on flexibility and range of motion for my rotator cuff, and on July 14, 2013, managed to finish my first 70.3 in Muncie and placed 9th in my age group with a time of 4 hours and 50 minutes.
Ironman 70.3 Muncie Race Report:

As of today, I am fully recovered from my injury and back-on-track on my training for Ironman Arizona.

4. What was the most difficult part of your comeback? Taking responsibility for my situation, not letting myself fall prey to excuses and/or “victim-hood” and maintaining a positive perspective. Interestingly, I wrote some thoughts on this at the beginning of the year, and this gave me the opportunity to “eat my own cooking”
Blog Post: Turning Bad Days into Good Days
5. What do you feel like you have learned since returning from your accident.
I’m guilty of wanting to have a “perfect day” or “perfect race” and when that doesn’t happen, of giving up and starting something else. This experience has helped me recognize that adversity and unplanned events are a part of life and take responsibility for creating my own “good days.” I am able to apply this thinking to all aspects of my life and have grown tremendously y from this experience.

6. Goals for the upcoming few months/next year?
Short Term Triathlon Goals:
After coming off a recovery week upon finishing my 2nd 70.3 (Door County) with a 6 minute PR (4:44), I’m currently starting a 7 week intensity training block with a specific swim/run focus to get as fast as possible. At the end of this block, I would like to complete an Olympic distance triathlon in under 2 hours and 5 minutes, but recognize that my swimming is currently my main limiter. After a 1 week recovery, I will be starting a 5 week build phase that will culminate with a 70.3 in late October. With luck, I will achieve my pre-season goal of going below 4:30 in 70.3. 3 weeks later, it’s time to go sub-10 hours at Ironman Arizona.

Next Season Triathlon Goals:
Being in only my second triathlon season, I am still learning about myself and am genuinely curious about how fast I will be able to make myself go. At this point, my ambitions are sky-high, but I will hold-off on setting more definitive goals pending the results of this season. However, if my triathlon dreams could come true, some goals for next year include qualifying for 70.3 Worlds, Kona and getting an elite-level USAT license.

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