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[av_heading heading=’Caroline Moore – Featured Athlete’ tag=’h2′ style=’blockquote modern-quote modern-centered’ size=” subheading_active=” subheading_size=’15’ padding=’10’ color=” custom_font=”][/av_heading]

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We’re highlighting these amazing Featured Athletes because of their exceptional dedication to training and racing.  In addition to full-time jobs and family responsibilities, they manage to find the time to make it all work.

These athletes inspire us, and we’re proud to help fuel their passion.

As our featured athlete, we’re sending Caroline a goodie bag.  If you’d like to be featured, send us your story.

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Learning to Embrace Defeat and Discern My Identity

Summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley, Alaska; 20,320′) – June 5, 2013 around 6:30pm.

I have never wanted to quit so bad at something athletically in my life. Trying to eat was a fight I never won during our 16-day expedition on Denali (Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest point at 20,320 feet in Alaska). Summit day arrived and I was brutally suffering from the cumulative effects of exposure at high altitude with a major caloric deficit. I told my team I couldn’t go on, that I was pulling out of the rope and would wait there, 1,000-feet below the summit. Overruled, I consumed a generous serving of my favorite First Endurance product – EFS Liquid Shot – and we pressed on. With the help of my teammates and every ounce of grit, faith, and mental fortitude, we stood together as the highest people in North America on June 5, 2013 at 6:15pm. There is scope on that iconic mountain top, bringing with it a grandeur that is so indescribable. To date, summiting Denali was a feeling unrivaled by anything else and the biggest moment of triumph in my life. 

However, the 1.5-day descent of the mountain was no victory lap; it was the coup de grâce for my knee injury, tearing every last fiber of cartilage to shreds. My pain was 10/10 and tears streamed down my face throughout the descent. And little did I suspect the events would take place since stepping off of Denali 3.5 years ago would flip my life upside down.

This is my story.

An athlete since birth, I was born and raised in Boulder, CO and played nearly every sport competitively. During my freshman year in high school, I was a two-time back-to-back victim of the “unhappy triad”, tearing my ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus in my left knee playing soccer. During my senior year of college, I got the itch to start climbing Colorado’s Fourteeners again – something we did each year as a family in my youth. Climbing them quickly turned into a project; I started learning to ski them near the end of my quest and I was blessed to be able to finish all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers in 2007 (which also was when I discovered First Endurance!). I also explored mountaineering outside of Colorado, climbing and skiing volcanoes in Mexico and Washington State. From all of the pounding and toll that those sports take on the knees, I progressively kept tearing more of my meniscus and articular cartilage. I soon earned the honorable title of having Stage 4 – Advanced Osteoarthritis at the age of 29.

Fast forward to our Denali expedition in 2013. A few months after returning to Colorado, an MRI showed I was bone on bone from significant lesions of cartilage loss. I had a triple microfracture surgery and after spending a year in physical therapy, no progress evident and it was concluded as failed. I was left on my own to seek out the renowned orthopedic knee doctors in the nation and had three opinions in Colorado and two in California. Every doctor told me the same thing – that my knee warranted a total knee replacement but I was an ineligible candidate to take me on as a patient due to my age. Every consult ended with words that have kept me from giving up on all of this: you probably will not be able to climb and ski again and should seriously reconsider your activities. Unwilling to accept my prognosis, I remained in relentless pursuit of finding a physician who would give me even 1% chance to climb and ski again. 

I found a leading doctor in San Francisco who performs a biological knee replacement, and he gave me 80% chance of returning to sport. I had the first surgery of a two-part series in September 2014 to address the articular cartilage defects and a loose ACL – everything went very well. I was on crutches since then and flew back 6 weeks later for the second surgery – a meniscus transplant from a cadaver. The transplant surgery is naturally more complex, and 4 hours later my doctor was happy to report it was successful.

Right before infection surgery – my knee was twice the size of the healthy one.

His clinical team warned me that this surgery would involve more pain. A few days post- surgery, I began to have excruciating pain that worsened with each passing hour. I already had an extraordinarily high pain threshold but this was foreign and came unbidden. Every second my leg was in the upright position I was in tears from agonizing pain. It was far above what a cocktail of major pain killers could do; 13/10 if that was possible. The swelling grew quickly and with aggression – my doctor aspirated 80ml of fluid and sent it to the lab. Results confirmed I had Staphylococcus aureus. I had an emergency infection surgery and the meniscus was taken out. The only thing I could think about was how excited I was to be put under anesthesia for an hour to reap the smallest modicum of pain relief. 

I had a PICC line inserted into my arm for take-home IV treatment, injecting heavy antibiotics every 8 hours. All I could do was lay in the hotel bed, dreading every millimeter my leg would move. The pain meds compromised my appetite and I lost 16 pounds. Flying home was easily one of the worst days of my life, my leg strewn across my father’s lap while crying silent tears the entire flight.

The aftermath of the Staph infection is what inarguably has thrown my life into disarray. The magnitude of pain from lasted a solid 5 months and is something I never want to experience again. Several months of little movement left my knee completely frozen from scar tissue development, and I had a manipulation under anesthesia surgery to help mobilize it; my tibia was fractured in the process. Still on crutches, another MRI a few weeks after the manipulation not only confirmed the fracture but also suggested possible osteomyelitis (bone infection).

I returned to San Francisco in March 2015 for a surgical bone biopsy (which luckily was negative). During the scope, my doctor also noted the irreparable damage Staph caused in the rest of the joint. That was surgery No. 8 on my knee and I decided right then that I wanted to have the artificial knee replacement, regardless of what the doctors told me.

A bone density scan in June 2015 revealed I have osteopenia; mostly from being non-weightbearing on crutches the previous 10 months. I gradually transitioned off of crutches and went on my first road ride in over a year in July 2015. I continued to ride as much as possible building back up to long hours training. Masters swimming also served as a great sport to keep me in an athlete mindset.

 To make things worse, that strain of Staph was very successful – meaning I am hypercolonized with it and about 10 infections have arbitrarily developed on my skin. Constantly taking antibiotics has caused me undesirable gut problems and excessive fatigue.

A year ago, my doctor referred me to see his colleague in Park City, UT, who performs a special type of knee replacement called an “Athletic Knee Implant.” Using the same artificial parts as a traditional replacement only without the glue, the implant is very promising for Staph patients wanting to vigorous activity. A recent check-up showed my bone density is still poor and the recurring infections are a concern to him. Because of that, I have to wait a minimum of 1 year infection and antibiotic-free before he considers operating. This injury is certainly a statistical anomaly (especially at the age of 32) – it has already been an incredibly tough 3.5-year battle and now I will continue waiting until 2018 at the earliest.

I work as an HR/Accounting Administrative Assistant and teach power meter cycling classes at private health club in Boulder where I do all of my ‘rehab’ and training. My doctor and his team employ the philosophy: “think of yourself as an athlete in recovery rather than a patient in rehab.” I still train like the athlete I was prior to injury with long hours and multiple sessions, only within the limits of what my knee will let me do. I follow what Nike says by “redefining my impossible” and am so fortunate to have an incredible team working together for my good. Road cycling and swimming have become my primary training methods. My other favorite First Endurance product, Optygen HP, has been a mainstay throughout my hours spent back on the bike.

Without a doubt the hardest and most unpredicted part of my athletic career has been caused by a tiny little germ that I cannot even see. On reflection, this entire process has been the biggest test of mental fortitude I’ve displayed to date. And if I’m honest, for awhile I had a really hard time facing defeat. Trauma overwhelms our ability to cope – and I wrongly processed much of my struggle internally and manifested itself into depression. My identity as an ‘extreme’ endurance athlete atrophied right along with my muscles. Once I accepted the difference between being injured – when sport-specific training is no longer possible because something is seriously wrong – and being hurt, the reality of possibly not climbing again taught me to embrace defeat. I was forced to adjust athletic expectations of myself to work within the parameters of my injury and not from any ego. I learned to be comfortable in complete discomfort and found that to be directly proportional to developing all facets of patience. Uncomfortable became my normal and still is. Most importantly, this has been a testimony to my faith – and that is truly where my identity is found.

I’m continually amazed at how believing in yourself and visualization make an undeniable difference. I refuse to be defeated by my plight. Several people have told me to give up the fact that I’ll climb and ski again. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t visualized myself skiing or climbing. This past ski season, I decided to try skiing using two substantial knee braces. Absolutely, there was a lot of pain and some days I could only do 2 runs, but skiing 12 days was a miracle given the status of my knee. All because of the power of visualization. I will return to sport.


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