There is Life And Pickleball After Knee Surgery
There is life (and Pickleball) after Knee Surgery
How double knee replacements kicked my game up a notch
By Khevin Barnes
Many of us who have been caught by the Pickleball bug have transitioned into the game from other racket sports. In my case it was the racquetball craze of the 1980’s that eventually led me to discover the joy of Pickleball.
But it was competitive running that caught my attention in my early years and carried me through my life-long quest to remain both active and athletic. 10K races, half and full marathons and ultra marathons became my compulsion and my connection to staying physically fit and emotionally content. I finally sprinted my way into the Boston Marathon, my long-time dream, at the age of 59.
I was introduced to Pickleball in 2011 while living in Oregon. My inaugural game took place near a rural lake, on an old tennis court with broken asphalt. Hearing the rustle of wind in the tall fir trees and the whistling of wild elk in the distance, we played with a scuffed wiffle ball and cheap wooden paddles while trying to keep score in this crazy new game with a funny name.
And I was hooked.
Knee Pain Starts...
A few years later, after running many more miles in scores of races, I noticed a puzzling discomfort in my right knee. I had endured injuries and pulled muscles numerous times in my running life, but this time around it felt different. But still, I continued to run. Pickleball facilities were springing up everywhere and my wife and I began playing in the public courts.
After a vacation trip to Europe where I spent many hours sitting in pain on park benches while my wife explored the sights, and with great reluctance, I decided to give up running. Both of my knees, which had carried me through life and along trails and tracks across the world, had been damaged beyond repair.
I was determined to schedule surgery to receive two full-knee replacements. I knew nothing about the surgery, the options, the recovery time or the cost of implants but one thing I felt for certain was that if I stopped moving I would stop living.
I began to think about the activities that could restore my athleticism and return me to a life of action and competition; along with the sheer joy of being alive in this aging body of mine. The game of Pickleball came to my rescue.
After meeting with a surgeon at the Tucson Orthopedic Center, I was assured that both of my knees would benefit from replacements. He specialized in a new form of minimally invasive knee surgery that involved computerized, robotic-assisted measurements that allowed for exact cutting and fitting of the titanium implants with reduced recovery time. Both of my knees were replaced 5 weeks apart, and I was able to walk the day after each implant was installed.
My Return To The Pickleball Courts after Double Knee Replacement
Not long after the second surgery I headed to our Pickleball courts, grabbed a bucket of balls and served fifty of them across the net. I did this daily for the next several weeks, waiting for that moment when I could play an actual game, and by the time I was ready for my first competitive bout among friends, I had locked in a serve that is both consistent and reliable even now.
Today I am 72 years old and play two hours a day, five days a week. My game has improved and my stamina revived. The other players in my community sometimes challenge me with long lob shots because they know I can sprint to return them.
Knee replacement is a serious surgery and like all medical procedures, it’s not without risk. Results are linked to age, weight, the degree of injury and our willingness to follow physical therapy protocol. But the latest advances in technology make it an available and viable choice for those of us who hope to continue in sports that require motion and endurance.
And there is one other surprising gift that I received with my surgery. Decades ago, when I was a boy in elementary school, I earned the nickname “Bowlegs Barnes” due to a life-long anomaly in my lower leg bones. When I got back on the Pickleball courts it wasn’t only my new, improved serve that was noted by my fellow players. It was my perfectly straight legs and sturdy knees that caught their attention, along with my renewed enthusiasm for this life enhancing and delightfully engaging game we call Pickleball.
Khevin Barnes is a retired stage magician and avid Pickleball player living in Vail, Arizona with his wife, two cats and a desert tortoise. When not on the courts he can be found playing 5-string banjo around town. www.KhevinBarnes.com