Kirsten Alexis is an outdoor adventure enthusiast based in California, USA. Her many activities include high altitude mountain trekking, martial arts, skydiving, surfing, paddle-boarding, snowboarding and skiing.
Kirsten is a digital media content creator and the Founder and Lead Content Producer at Full Send Social Media, working with a wide variety of brands and companies, alongside sharing her own travel, adventure and lifestyle content. She also previously founded "This Adventure Life", a digital publication for outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
Some of her most memorable adventure experiences to date include reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, becoming a licensed skydiver, and trekking to Everest Base Camp. Her dream is to complete the Seven Summits mountaineering challenge.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
I was supposed to be in Argentina this month, attempting to summit Aconcagua as part of my Seven Summits attempt. I had been training all year for this. I had been sticking to my exercise and nutrition regimen. I thought that with all my hard work and dedication that nothing could go wrong.
And then, it happened.
I was practicing martial arts one evening, specifically working on my knee blocks and kicks. The next thing I knew, I felt and heard a pop in my knee. It buckled, and I went down. It all happened so quickly. I was in shock, but knew I had to check it before I tried to get up. I remember checking to see if anything was broken. Nope. Could I move it? Yeah. Could I walk? With a limp, but yes. Did everything seem in place? Sure seemed that way.
I limped back to my car and tried to finish the night as usual once I got home, hoping that I would feel better the next morning. Nothing was broken and I could walk alright, so I thought that nothing was seriously wrong.
ACL Injury & Recovery Timeline
I had forgotten about my previous injury almost a decade ago to the same spot: a small sprain in my right ACL from a nasty snowboarding landing.
The next morning I decided to stick to my daily routine, which included a kickboxing class in the morning. I guess sometimes we trick ourselves into believing that nothing is wrong if we ignore it and continue with life as usual. But it wasn’t ok. I was in pain. I was limping, and my knee felt unstable. I could barely raise my leg, let alone move around or attempt a kick. I had to swallow my pride and call the doctor, and they told me to get to the hospital for scans right away.
My results were a mild ACL tear, and slightly dislocated kneecap, which resulted in surrounding bone contusions. I was put in a compression sleeve and traction brace, and told to ice, elevate and rest it. I was also given specific stretches to do for the next few weeks, such as heel slides and seated leg raises.
I was instructed to stop most of the activities I was using for training. Running, hiking, squats, lunges and any high-intensity workouts could cause more harm to the injured ligaments. I was told to go for walks on flat terrain, ride the spin bike with no resistance and water therapy at my local pool. I was still allowed to go to my kickboxing class, but only if I stood still and worked on punches. No kicks, and no moving around, especially laterally. As well, I had to continue with stretching around two to three times a day. It’s important with knee injuries to work on mobility so they don’t lock into place. It’s also important to make time to rest and recover.
Managing my Recovery Journey
I wasn’t used to resting, especially for an extended amount of time. I’ve always had a fast-paced mentality and energy, and sitting around makes me go crazy! Guess this was a good challenge for me!
The last time I had to take “time off” was when I had spinal fusion surgery at the age of 12. I was taken out of competitive sports and was forced to live a much more sedentary life. I felt different, and suffered horrible self esteem as a result. Since that experience, I vowed to never waste time or opportunities, and went full send into training for my goals. In my opinion, wasting time meant doing nothing, and I attributed that to rest. Going too hard in my training may have contributed to this injury, and now I try to practice and promote a healthy balance.
The climb was canceled within a few weeks of the injury. It was tentatively moved to next year, assuming that I could recover and train in due time. To this day I am still uncertain about when I can climb again, but it gives me hope and motivation to heal and train properly.
Unfortunately, due to instability, my knee gave out as I was going down my stairs. I tore my meniscus and quad tendon as a result. I am currently dealing with rehabilitating this injury in tandem with the others, and going to physical therapy and putting in the daily work. Surgery is still not recommended, but it is a future option should things get worse.
The Mental Side of Injury Recovery
As bad as the physical pain can get, I would say the hardest part can be controlling my mind. There are a lot of uncertainties, and sometimes my mind can wander and get caught up in catastrophising the “what-ifs.”
What if I fall again? What if I need surgery? What if I have to be out longer than I thought? What if I never get back to the way I used to be? What if…?
This whole journey has taught me a lot, especially on how to control my mind and create positives out of perceived obstacles. It’s taught me to pivot and modify, in my career, workouts and life in general. It’s taught me to be creative, grateful and look for growth in each “setback.” There’s a lesson to learn in every experience we are given. All we need is the right mindset.
My wish is that I not only come back, but that I come back stronger. I want to be a better person from this.
I hope to still chase my wild dreams of completing the Seven Continental Summits (and who knows, maybe even complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam). I want to return to alpine skiing, hiking, mountaineering and martial arts. But more than that, I want to inspire others that they can overcome mental and physical setbacks by sharing my story. If I can do it, so can they.
I've made a lot of promises to myself: I will work smarter, not harder. I will challenge myself. I will get out of my comfort zone. I will remind myself that I can do anything I put my mind to, even if it doesn’t always go to the initial plan. I will have a new mindset, and value my body more. I will value rest more. I will focus on balance, in every aspect of my life. And I will wake up with a sense of gratitude every single day.
I am grateful for this experience, and to be able to share my journey with you. It’s only just begun, and I can’t wait to see where it will take me!
What an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your honest story and incredible ambitions Kirsten - we wish you the best of luck with all the adventures to come! If you'd like to follow along with Kirsten's recovery journey and adventure lifestyle make sure to follow her Instagram Page.
Want to read lessons & advice from athletes going through the recovery process? Click here to read our Expert Insight piece on Lessons from Athlete Recovery Journeys from Sport Injuries!