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My Story - Four ACL Tears in Eight Years

If you've stumbled upon this article, I'm going to assume it's because you're browsing my blog (thanks for being here!) and you got curious to learn more about my story, or you've suffered a knee injury, and you're looking for hope, advice, and answers. If it's the latter, let me say I feel for you, and sh*t might suck right now, but it will get better.


I'm writing this at 27 years old with many knee injuries behind me, my first being when I was 18 years old and my latest being just last year, at 26 years old. 4 ACL tears, countless Medial & Lateral Meniscus tears, 1 LCL tear, and one fractured Tibial Plateau, all on my right knee. I'm writing and telling you this not because I'm looking for any sympathy; I'm writing this because I've been through the damn wringer when it comes to ACL injuries, and even with my history, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I need you to know that.


One of my main goals with this blog is to explain my ACL story and use it as advice, motivation, and hope to anyone going through an unfortunate knee injury. After all, I've learned much about knee injury recovery & prevention over the past eight years. So, as I build out this blog, I will highlight my favorite knee-strengthening tactics & exercises, and I hope it helps your crush any recovery you may be going through and keeps you healthy long into the future.


Without further ado, here's my story of the last eight years of Knee Injuries.


Eight years. Four ACL Tears. One Knee.

I grew up striving to become a professional freestyle skier. From 6th grade through high school, skiing was all I wanted to do. I was utterly obsessed with it. I grew up in Connecticut for most of my life, and as you're probably thinking right now, there isn't a ton of skiing in Connecticut. Still, you don't need a big mountain to slide rails, and with the local hill being open until 10 pm, my buddies and I would frequently get picked up from school by our parents and taken directly to the mountain. Ski Sundown was my local home mountain, and with a small amount of vertical, you could get a lot of laps in. So, I was skiing multiple times per week at a small mountain, hitting rails every lap, which made it easy to get pretty good. Practice does make perfect, you know? Anyways, I fell in love with park skiing at a young age, and I knew I wanted to chase the goal of becoming a professional freestyle skier.


Fast forward a few years, and by the time I was a Junior in High School, I was spending half of my time skiing amongst the Green Mountains in Vermont at Mount Snow. At the time, Mount Snow had one of the best Terrain Parks on the East Coast, known as Carinthia, and I used Carinthia as my primary training ground. Throughout my Junior and Senior years of High School, I traveled around the country to slopestyle and rail jam competitions, where I found decent success. I podiumed in several East Coast events, even winning some nice prize money. In the springtime of my Senior Year of High School, I placed 4th in a national slopestyle event, which allowed me to attend US Freeskiing's Gold Camp in Mammoth Lakes, California.





So things were going pretty well ski-wise as I graduated from High School. Many skiers that are trying to make it professionally will take a gap year or two after high school to focus on their skiing careers entirely; however, after I found a small school in Lake Tahoe that offered scholarships for freestyle skiing, I decided against the gap year, much to the approval of my parents. Sierra Nevada College, now a part of the University of Nevada, Reno, was the college I attended that allowed me the flexibility to both ski & study. It was a super small school, which meant it was easy to develop a good relationship with your professors, which was vital for when I was traveling around to competitions while missing classes.


ACL Tear Number One

February 2015. I was still in my Freshman year of college, and I had a competition known as the Aspen Open, located in, you guessed it, Aspen. The competition took place on the same slopestyle course they hosted the X-Games on. It's a competition for athletes just below the X-Games level, where the winners get one step closer to being invited to big-name events like the X-Games. In a slopestyle competition, you typically get two runs, and your best of two runs (as decided by the judges) is the one that counts.


I landed my first run, but after my score came in, I was sitting just outside of making the semi-finals, so I knew I needed to step it up for my second run. On the last jump, I had done a switch 1080 on my first run, so for my second, I knew I wanted to one-up that to a switch 1260 to increase my score and make the semi-finals.


I dropped into my second run, determined to better my score. Adrenaline pumping, music in my ear hyping me up, I landed everything that I had planned on the first three rails and two jumps; as I came into the final jump, I set for the Switch 1260, got the grab, and held on for the spin, but as I came out of the spin, I realized I was going much further down the landing than I had intended, because of this, I ended up landing on my heels, in a position known as backseat. As I landed, my right knee ultimately gave out, and I immediately felt excruciating pain that made me scream out loud. The backseat landing and overshooting the jump were too much for my ACL to handle. One trip to the doctor's office was all it took to confirm that my ACL was most likely gone, thanks to a simple Lachman test. And an MRI a few days later confirmed that my ACL and Medial Meniscus had torn. Little did I know that this was only the start of many knee injuries for me over the next eight years.




After tearing my first ACL, I got surgery back in Lake Tahoe on March 12th, 2015. Since I had torn my Medial Meniscus on top of my ACL, I was prescribed four weeks on crutches, and holy sh*t, did I hate that. One week was fine, but I was over it after four weeks of feeling debilitated. Looking back now, I laugh, as 4-weeks is such a minimal amount of time, and if you're pissed about being on crutches for one, four, or even eight weeks, know it's all for the best, and you have your entire life ahead of you. There's no need to get pissed off like I did; trust me, it doesn't help.


Once I was off the crutches, I went to PT two times a week and worked hard to rebuild my strength over the summer. By October, I was a little over six months out of surgery and feeling good. Mind you; this was in 2015 when the ACL recovery literature said that a 6-month recovery was sufficient; let my story be a lesson to you that six months is NOT enough time to heal for most people. Regardless, I had a return to sport test in October of 2015, where a few physical therapists ran me through a handful of exercises that compared my left leg to my right, and I passed it with flying colors. The PT told me I passed with a complete 100%, meaning my injured leg scored just as well as my uninjured leg. Imagine how stoked I was to leave the doctor's office that day.


In Tahoe, snow in October and November is pretty common high up in the mountains, so once I got the green light from doc, I went straight back to skiing, as determined as ever to come back stronger and make up time for the progression that I had missed out on.


ACL Tear Number Two

After returning from my first ACL tear in October of 2015, I was entering my sophomore year of college, still determined to chase my dream of being a professional skier. I knew I had a big competition season coming up in the winter, and I would do everything I could to prepare for it. From training on the trampoline at Woodward Tahoe to hitting the gym and keeping my knee(s) strong, I worked hard up until the mountains opened in late November, and skiing was back on full-time, besides time spent at school.


During Winter Break of December 2015 into January 2016, I traveled to Utah with my family to ski at Park City for a few days. While there, I continually lapped the terrain park to keep my muscle memory fresh for competitions in February. Looking back now, maybe I should have spent more time skiing with my family, as on the second to last day in Utah, I did a switch 540 on one jump and ended up landing deep down the landing again. This time, however, I didn't land backseat, and I didn't fall, but I did feel a sharp pain behind my knee. I immediately called it quits for the day and got an icepack on my knee, crossing my fingers that it was just a fluke shot of pain.


After that scare, I took a week off of skiing while I traveled back to Tahoe. Once I got back on my skis in mid-January, my knee was feeling good, and the pain had subsided, so I figured it was indeed a fluke, and I was good to go. Knowing that I had my first competition of the year in early February, I started skiing hard and training the tricks I knew I wanted to land in the competition.




On Tuesday, I got out of class early and decided to send it to Boreal to work a few tricks on their three-jump line. I was skiing solo since all my friends were still in class, but I was determined to get my slopestyle run together, whether alone or not. After landing the run I wanted two times clean, I went for it a third time, and when I went for a switch 540 on the second jump, I landed completely fine, but as I landed, I felt a strange pop in the same knee that I had just gotten ACL reconstruction on just ten months earlier. I didn't even fall. Instead, I skied directly to my car with a strong hunch about what had just happened. I clipped off my skis and purposely put a lot of pressure on my injured knee to see if it felt stable or not. I could feel something was a little off, but it was stable enough to walk on, and again, it didn't hurt. I walked to my car, put my skis away, called my mum, and cried. I knew my ACL was gone again.


An MRI a week later confirmed it; my newly reconstructed ACL was a goner. I couldn't believe it. I had passed my return to sport test, worked my ass off trying to get my knee strong, and I hadn't even fallen over when it retore; how the f*ck did this happen again.


Here is a little fun fact for those who don't know, a reconstructed ACL has upwards of a 30% chance of being re-torn. Once you've torn your ACL and received surgery on it, your knee will be missing quite a few nerves that it had before your injury, so any future injuries won't cause much pain, similar to what I experienced here on my second tear.


Anyone who's been through an ACL reconstruction knows the recovery is just as challenging mentally as it is physically. Being a sophomore in college, the last thing I wanted to do was go on crutches again and proceed to miss out on another year in what is supposed to be some of the best years of my life. So I made an admittedly selfish decision to hold off on getting surgery again, as strangely enough, I can do a hell of a lot without an ACL. I took a month off of skiing and worked hard in the gym to get my leg/knee strong, to the point where I could ski again with no pain, and low and behold, after four weeks, I was skiing again like nothing had ever happened. Mind you; I did have my CTI Knee Brace that added some excellent support.


Now, being the competitive person I am, I wasn't just back skiing; I was back full-on competing and still chasing my professional freeskiing dream. I was skiing, competing, and living without an ACL from March to June, and I had a damn good ski season.





When June came around, I traveled back home to Connecticut to live with my parents and finally get the surgery I had been delaying. Based on the MRIs that I got when I initially retore my ACL back in January, the surgery should have been a routine ACL reconstruction, but when the doctor when in to perform the reconstruction, he found that my Lateral Meniscus was torn, along with my Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL). These findings turned what should have been a 2-hour surgery into a 7-hour one, resulting in me being on crutches for six weeks. I guess you could say I paid the price for skiing & living without an ACL. Let that be a warning to anyone living without an ACL, yes, it is possible, and I'll get into more detail on that later in this post. Still, you're opening yourself up to more possible injuries since all of your other ligaments will be working harder to make up for that missing ACL.


Thanks to being able to bring Game of Thrones, I survived the 6-weeks of crutches and was on my way to recovering. This time around, doc made it clear that this would be at least a 9-month recovery, to which I accepted and worked hard to ensure this would never happen again.


ACL Tear Number 3

Nine months after getting my second ACL reconstruction, I was deep into my Junior year of College in March of 2017, and once again, I passed my return to sport test with flying colors. This time, however, I eased back into skiing much slower, starting with some groomers and coaching some of my friends and teammates instead of getting right back into doing tricks.


It wasn't until April that I started getting the confidence to start doing tricks again, and I immediately felt like I was skiing at the level I was at before my second knee injury.


During the winter of 2017, Tahoe received record-breaking snowfall, and many resorts stayed open through the spring and even into early summer, so although I had missed a good portion of the season, I had plenty of time to continue skiing into July. Looking back now, this period from March to July was one of, if not the best, seasons I have ever had on my skis. I won the award for best overall skier at our collegiate nationals and landed a few tricks I never thought I would do again. By the time I was done skiing for the year, in late July of 2017, I felt like my goal of skiing professionally was more attainable than ever. I even put out a personal video highlighting my season and named it my 'Comeback Season.' Oh, the irony.




Not a month later, I started my Senior year of college. After the first day of classes, I joined many buddies to play Ultimate Frisbee and Soccer. After an hour of Ultimate, we switched over to Soccer. I could feel my knee getting a little tired, which should have been my indicator that it was time to stop, but I didn't want to miss out on the fun. Ten minutes into our soccer game, I scored a goal and instinctively did a flat-ground flip to celebrate. When I landed the flip, I felt the oh-so-familiar popping sound. Once again, I didn't fall, and I didn't feel pain; I only felt a pop and immediately felt that something felt like it was missing from my knee. Again, I knew what had happened, and I proceeded to sit down and cry in front of all of my buds.


One MRI later confirmed it once again. The same ACL on my right knee was gone. Again. WTF. Talk about a great start to my senior year of college.


I didn't want to spend my Senior year of college recovering from a knee injury, and I knew I could live without an ACL for a bit, so once again, I decided to hold off on surgery. However, this time I knew that skiing hard was not an option. I wasn't about to risk injuring my knee anymore; I simply didn't want to get knee surgery for a damn 3rd year in a row and ruin my senior year of college.


So, for my Senior year, I became the coach of our freeskiing team instead of an athlete. I met the regional K2 Skis rep and started working for him. I was connected with and started working for a company that handled the ranking system of professional skiers worldwide at the time. I'm adding this tidbit because I would have just been the athlete if I hadn't torn my ACL a third time. Who knows if I would have made the connections that I made? Things happen for a reason, right? And without tearing my ACL a third time, I may not be where I am today.


After graduating from college in the spring of 2018, I landed a job as a Marketing Specialist with LINE Skis, thanks to a glowing recommendation by the K2 Skis rep I was working for. The Job with LINE was in Seattle, so I packed my bags and moved up to the PNW, where I still find myself today.


I worked in my Marketing Specialist role and got my bearings around Seattle and the surrounding area for about a year before finally deciding to fix up my torn ACL. So in September 2019, I received my third ACL reconstruction; luckily, doc completed this one without unexpected issues.


Now that I was working a desk job, I knew my dream of becoming a professional skier was officially over, but I was working what many people would call a dream job, and I knew I had to appreciate that. Given that I had a desk job, I also expected my third ACL tear to be my last. If only that were true.


ACL Tear Number 4

Fast forward to February 2023. Yeah, almost four full years after my third ACL surgery. I was on a team shoot in Japan, creating content for our new LINE Skis Bacon Collection, and amongst all of that Ja-pow, I was itching to dust off the rust and do a few tricks. On our second day, we awoke to bluebird skies, and on the mountain, we found some avalanche barriers that Japan is so well known for. The avalanche barriers make for perfect booters, so naturally, I had to take the opportunity and rip a flat 360 (kind of like a backflip for any non-skiers reading this). I stomped it and mentally checked 'jumping off an avalanche barrier in Japan' off my bucket list.





Later that same day, we found a small drop to mess around on, and I proceeded to do a casual 180 to practice landing switch in deep pow. Unfortunately, when I landed, I was heading straight toward a small tree that I had not initially seen, and by the time I realized I was going to hit the tree, it was too late. I managed to get most of my body out of the way, but my bad knee (my right one) took the full impact. This one hurt like hell, as I immediately felt my knee shift upon impact. Right away, I knew I had done it again—a fourth f*cking ACL tear. Pardon my language.





This time, I could barely put any pressure on my right leg. It was much more painful than the second and third tears, and the following day I saw a physio in Japan to get an initial evaluation. Unsurprisingly, he thought my ACL was likely gone, and he figured my pain could be coming from a Tibial Plateau Fracture & Meniscus Tear.


Two days later, I was back in the US getting an MRI to confirm the damage, and when those results came in, there were some bizarre findings. I had torn my lateral meniscus and fractured my Tibial Plateau, and yes, my ACL was gone for a fourth time, but this is where it gets weird. My doctor said that by the looks of the MRI, my ACL was gone, but when you have a recent ACL tear, the MRI should be residue from that ligament, and that was not the case with my MRI. Instead, doc said he saw no sign of a recent ALC tear. In other words, I had likely torn my ACL six months or so earlier WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT. This news was a little mind blowing, so I went in for a second opinion with a different doctor, and to my amazement, he said the same thing.



A man on crutches after tearing his ACL
Crutches after ACL Tear number 4


So, I've just learned that I messed up my knee for the fourth time in as little as eight years, but I realized that I had already been living without an ACL for some time. Oh, and I wasn't just living; I was playing Flag Football, Disc Golf, Kickball, Skiing a ton, running half marathons, and doing CrossFit, all without knowing I didn't have an ACL!?!? Now this made my next decision rather tricky.


Present Day

I'm writing this on July 21st, 2023, and I still don't have an ACL in my right knee. Part of me isn't in the proper mindset to get ACL surgery again right now. After all, what If I get the surgery again, then two years from now, my ACL tears again without even knowing it? I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't confused about what direction to go from here.


What I do know, however, is that I am enjoying my summer. I've been playing Kickball and Softball with my friends, going on endless hikes around the Pacific Northwest, training for a bike race from Vancouver to Whistler in September, and consistently going to Crossfit and working on knee-specific workouts, thanks to the Knees Over Toes Guy's coaching program.


To be clear, I'm not suggesting you live without an ACL. If you read about my second tear, you know it can lead to further injury. The point of this post was to give you some background about myself - who I am, what I have been through, and what experiences I have when it comes to ACL Injuries. And if you have made it this far in this post, first off, thank you for taking the time to read this post, and secondly, if you are going through anything to do with ACL, knee, or any other injuries, keep your spirits up, and keep grinding. As long as you continually work to improve, sh*t will get better. Don't let that injury get you down. Use it to fuel your fire and push you into your next great thing. If I had never torn my ACL, I might not be working a fantastic job in the ski industry today. I may not be living in Seattle, where I've gotten the chance to experience SO many incredible things. Oh, and I got engaged last week. And you know, if I didn't tear my ACL, that might not have happened either!


So don't dwell on the past, don't feel bad for yourself that you've injured yourself, use that energy to build yourself up, and get stoked for the future. It's nothing but good things ahead.


Seriously, if you've gotten this far, thanks again for reading. If there's anything I can do to help you directly, please don't hesitate to contact me. I hope you find my story, advice, and exercises that I will be writing throughout this site useful and motivating in your ACL journey.















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about

Sierra Lifestyle

Hi, I'm Connor - a big skier who's had his share of life-altering injuries. I've turned my passion for the mountains into a lifestyle blog where I talk about outdoor adventures, injury prevention and recovery, and life hacks. Let me inspire you with stories, photos, and advice. 

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