Monday, August 10, 2015

Athlete Interview: Amy Leon

An interview with Amy Leon, aka 
Amy Leon just started running again after knee surgery.  Amy is a friend of mine via Twitter that lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her blog, Crazy Mama Runs, speaks of her passion for running, battles with depression, and longing for coffee, (probably intravenously!).  We e-mailed/tweeted back and forth recently to talk about her recent return to running and how she dealt with the hard times people sometimes go through when they are sidelined.

Brad Zinnecker/Trail Running Faith:  Amy, tell us a little bit about yourself and also about your running history.

Amy Leon:  Well, I am a single mom of a teenager (eep!) and I work full-time as a paralegal.  I am also a military brat, so you will see different areas of Atlantic Canada in my answers to some of your questions.

If we go waaaaaaaaaaaaay back, I had a short track stint in Junior High living in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia.   

I really started running full time in 2010 after joining a gym here in Halifax and working with a trainer.  There was a small running group at work that I joined.  I was hooked after the first run and went just about every lunch hour along the waterfront in Halifax.  I ran my first race in May of 2011, at the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon.  I did the 10k in 59:46.

Brad:  That's pretty good for your first race.  However, in the last couple of years, you started having some knee issues.  Tell us what was going on and how this affected your running.

Amy after the 10K at the Valley Harvest Marathon
Amy:  This most recent knee issue started during a trip to the Dominican Republic in April of 2014.  I slipped in the washroom after washing my hands.  I didn't feel anything, went back down to the beach, and then when I went to get up for lunch, I couldn't straighten my knee, it started to swell and I had to limp up to eat.  I had it elevated and was applying ice, but it wasn't getting much better after a little while.  I had it wrapped and was given some anti-inflammatory cream by the resort doctor. Upon returning home to Canada I went to see my family doctor.  I was told it could be a possible meniscus tear, so I was referred to physio and told not to run.    After a course of physio, things were not where my therapist was hoping, so she sent me back to my family doctor to be referred to a sports ortho.  I requested Dr. Stanish, (he is amazing), and after an MRI in June or July, I had a follow up where he asked me about my previous knee scope.  Then he gave me the news: I had Osteochondritis Dessicans.  This is a condition where a part of the bone in your femur dies and fractures.  My fracture was up in the joint part of my femur.  He referred me to one of his colleagues, (as he only consults now), to get looked at further and have surgery done.  He told me I could run, but to take it easy.  I ran a little bit, but as time went on, it became more difficult.

A short run after Dr. Stanish met with Amy the first time and cleared her to go easy.

I met with Dr. Legay in the fall and he sent me for x-rays and a CT.  He advised that I not run at all until we had this figured out.  He confirmed my condition and advised me that there was a good sized piece of femur floating around in my knee.  We talked about surgery, the options, and I was put on a waiting list.  Free health care is great, but sometimes the waiting isn't, LOL!  He advised if I had any further issues to let him know.  I could bike, elliptical, swim, but NO RUNNING.

In December I had another incident where my knee locked and I had a very hard time getting it straight.  I called Dr. Legay, he saw me in early January and booked me for surgery mid-February.  I have not run full-time since April of 2014 until recently.

Brad:  You've been pretty open about the fact that you've struggled some with depression.  When the knee started acting up, how did that effect you mentally?

Amy:  I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2011 after a breakdown and have been battling it every since.  There were some low points for me after my injury for sure.  Running was my outlet, my sanity.   I could find peace in a run.  Getting a good sweat on is great for stress, but a run was meditative.  Struggling with the fact that I was losing my main outlet was very hard for me.  

People tried to help during the period before and after my diagnosis and surgery, giving me alternatives, but those with mental illness know one thing:  once the switch is on, sometimes you can't turn it off.  I would go through times of activity and then plummet back into non-activity.  I would get mad at people telling me what I "should" do.  I knew what had to be done, but I was so upset at the fact that my knee was screwed up that I did not want to hear it.

I got mad.  I internalized.  I shut down.

Depression takes over your whole body, not just your brain.  When I am having a depressive episode everything hurts physically as well as emotionally.  Once that happens, I don't want to move.  I just want to sleep, eat and be left alone.

In my mind, it was like "Well if you can't run, then forget it".

Brad:  My guess is that there are a lot of runners who would agree with your final statement when similarly injured, but not realize the mental toll of having running being taken away from them. Would you agree that many of us runners go through bouts of depression due to injury, exhaustion, over training, coming down from big events, and so on?  

Amy:  I definitely think it's possible.  As runners we place very high expectations on ourselves.  We maintain a very intense focus on our goals, our PBs, our pace and mileage.  We push our bodies, especially during training and then don't know what to do with them during the "come down," during a taper, or the aftermath of an event.  

When we face an injury or over train and it takes us out of what we love to do or "ruins" our race, we shut down.  Our world is thrown out of whack.  All of the hard work and dedication gets thrown out like a baby with the bathwater, even if you know you will come back.  It is disheartening and you don't see the end game.  You only see the NOW and get caught up in it.

Brad:  How did you deal with your depression during this time?

Amy:  It was not easy.  I did and I didn't....

I did start my blog shortly after my injury.  I needed an outlet for my frustration.  I wanted to know if other people felt like I did.  I wanted to share my story and help others that may be in the same boat that I was.  Becoming present on social media allowed me to connect with other runners and share information.  The running community is an amazing support system!   

I was on medication full-time for my depression/anxiety since 2011 (I came off my medication in March of this year, and so far, so good!).  It kept me level, but I found that during this time of struggle, I was not able to keep myself above water as well as I once had.  I had times where I was active and felt great.  I had a new found love for yoga and joined up for some hot yoga classes last summer.  I went on hikes.  I walked.  Things were good.

Then, things weren't so good.  I started to internalize a lot.  Even though I have an amazing support system, there are times that I feel like a burden to those that love me (and I am a mom, so I was like, I can't break down.....I can't.....I have a daughter to raise).  When I tried to reach out for support I would backpedal and say I was fine, it was just a moment.  The voice of doubt in my head started to take over.  I tried to write as much as I could during this time, as I found it very cleansing.

I also began meditation as a way to focus and stop myself from the obsessive thoughts I was having.  This was off and on during that time.  My structure got lost in the depression/anxiety vortex.

In the end, I let myself feel what I was feeling.  I let it come and then let it go.  It was a weird way of getting myself through this.  My stubborn self would fight back every now and again.

Brad:  It must have been frustrating for sure, a rollercoaster of emotions.  But then your surgery got booked and you were excited to know that there was some hope on the horizon, I remember that from conversations over Twitter.  What type of knee surgery did you end up having and how did it go?

Amy:  I had a knee scope done on February 18 of this year.  They were hoping that the piece of bone would be able to be pinned back in, but once inside it was determined that it was not salvageable.  Too much growth around the bone for it to be placed where it used to be.  They removed the 2cm bone fragment and did some debridement on my femur.

Amy doing her physical therapy post-surgery.

Everything went very well.  My time in the recovery room was short and I was overjoyed to hear that I could run again.  On the way home I had my parents stop for a milkshake!

There is osteoarthritis in my knee and I will be a candidate for a high tibial osteotomy in the future. This is where they take a wedge of bone out of my tibia and then use a plate and screws to pull that together, transferring the weight from the arthritic part of my knee to the healthy part and prolonging the lifespan of my knee joint.

Brad:  I'm so glad the surgery went so well1  Now, you recently went for your first run...what was it like getting prepared to head out the door? 

Amy:  I woke up, got dressed and went out the door.  No thinking was allowed! LOL!  I was scared that if I hesitated at all that I would chicken out!  Not running for so long had me spooked a little bit.

Ready to run, the regular leg selfie!!!

Brad:  Tell us about the run.

Amy:  It was awkward, sweaty, and I felt like I had clown feet.  But the feeling of it, the endorphins and the serenity, it was amazing.  I took walk breaks, as I needed to slow myself down and this will be the norm until I can get used to pacing myself again.  

Brad:  What were your emotions like when you finished? How long was it?  Have you run since?

Amy:  I have to felt surreal.  I had to look at my phone to make sure I had actually logged a run!  Since it was a solo run, there were no tears, even though I thought there would be.  It was like a covert op, LOL!  I ran 1.47kms in 10mins 38 secs.  I've run smaller distances, up hills and down to see how I felt.  I have also run 2 kms and yesterday, (Aug 3rd) I ran 2.6 kms with a 6:18 average pace (it was 6:30 before I synced, then it showed 6:18, wooooo!) - 5:45 split.  Super happy!  

Brad:  How's the knee now?

Amy:  The knee is feeling good!  I am running smarter and strength training.  My schedule now will be run one day, strength train the next, so that I can get my feet under me and not be worried about the knee.  Having been told there is early osteoarthritis also has opened my eyes about running smart.

Brad:  What advice would you give to those in similar situations to yours, depression or needing knee surgery?
An excited Amy after a recent return to running!

Amy:  Reach out!  It's hard, there is no denying it.  Talking about it to those close to you helps so much.  Talk, talk, talk!  Also, the running community is an amazing support system.  They get injuries and will keep you focused.  Having a support system in place is extremely important.  So is having an alternate outlet.  Find out from your physician/physiotherapist what you are able to do while you are waiting for surgery, healing, etc.

Brad:  What keeps you motivated and going Amy?

Amy: Knowing that physical fitness is paramount to my mental health.  Running is my meditation, my serenity, my outlet.  Going through the roller coaster of last year was very hard.  I had some really down moments and became a lump.  My daughter is my biggest source of motivation.  She is my anchor and a big reason I get out and move every day.  My friends and family have been a great motivation.  The running community, as I have said many times before, is an amazing source of motivation!  
Brad:  What helps you deal with suffering when it comes into your life?  

Amy:  I am a spiritual person.  I believe that we are given difficult times to strengthen our resolve.  I know it doesn't seem that way when we are deep in it.  I now have a regular meditation practice which allows me to stay focused and appreciate the present, to enjoy everything around me.  We have this one life, and I am determined to live it with as much joy as I can, which in turn I hope will spread to others!  

Amy and her daughter!

Brad:  Thanks Amy for taking some time to share your story with us.  It is so great to see and hear about you running again post-surgery!  Yay!  Go CraZy LaDy Go!!!  (P.S. That's a nickname of mine for Amy!)

Finally, depression is a serious issue and not to be taken lightly.  If you need someone to talk too, please reach out to those around you and/or consult your doctor and/or pastor.  Knee issues are also serious physical issues, especially for runners.  If you are having major knee pain, don't think you can run through it, get it checked out.

A pond Amy passed on one of her recent runs!

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