In 2009, Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne showed up at training camp driving a bulldozer and wearing a high-visibility vest and hardhat. It was his first season without Marvin Harrison; he was the new No. 1 receiver, and he was ready to work, to “Build the Monster” even before it was a thing.
Wayne isn’t exactly a showy receiver, but he’s not lacking in self-confidence either. And with good reason. He’s always been both hard working and highly competent. After 13 years in the league, he knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl, and he knows what it takes to recovery from a torn ACL. He’s done both before.
In a recent interview with the IndyStar newspaper, Wayne said his recovery has been fueled by people in the media saying that he can’t come back, at least not at the Pro-Bowl level he was before — not at his age. But I’ve not seen many comments to that effect; I’ve seen “the extra time off will be rejuvenating,” “he’ll be back better than ever” and “he’s ahead of schedule with his recovery.”
References to Wayne’s recovery being ahead of schedule were especially intriguing, because of all of the discussions, that one seems actually measurable. I did a little research and talked to a couple of physical therapists about what “ahead of schedule” might mean in Wayne’s case (speculation, of course, since none of us have seen his medical charts).
Generally speaking, the first couple of months of recovery after an ACL injury center around regaining range of motion, walking without a limp, navigating stairs and standing up from a chair. The surgery to repair the torn ligament takes a lot out of the surrounding leg muscles, so a professional athlete like Wayne already has an advantage; those muscles are starting from a stronger place. And, he knows how to train his body. This is the same argument I use for why athletes always seem to do well in Dancing with the Stars; just knowing how to train your body to do something, regardless of what it is, is an underrated skill.
But no one is arguing that Wayne is “ahead of schedule” compared to your average human; he’s supposed to be ahead of schedule even by pro standards, already drawing some Adrian Peterson comparisons. Six months is not an unusual recovery time for a knee injury, but it depends on how you define “recovered.” A lack of swelling or pain and a return to everyday activities is enough for most people, but Wayne’s everyday activities aren’t normal.
Ryan Smith (PT, DPT), a physical therapist who specializes in this sort of injury and recovery explained, “All the pain, trauma from the initial injury as well as surgical trauma from his repair, and swelling all work to inhibit a person’s ability to activate the involved muscles with the right timing, control and strength. If Reggie is ahead of schedule, then he is most likely regaining that strength quickly and, most importantly, regaining his motor control or his ability to control the position and mechanics of not just his knee, but the mechanics of how he controls his trunk, hips, knees and ankles in a variety of dynamic and multi-directional sport-specific activities. The quicker he can regain that control, the quicker he can have the ability to cut, change directions and have a strong base of support to handle the hits and tackles he’ll have to take next season.”
After six months, so much of the recovery becomes mental. Can you run or jump or change direction without thinking about the knee? Do you hesitate before you move your leg? Are you afraid, or doubt its strength? We can’t see inside Wayne’s head, but outwardly he gives every indication that he’s way ahead of the game mentally, and this is probably why fans should wholeheartedly believe him when he says he’s “ahead of schedule.” His confidence and motivation have already proved contagious this offseason, and I believe we can expect great things from him this season.
Maybe we should send him down the street to visit the Indiana Pacers‘ locker room this month too.