How do you go about knee replacement recovery? It sounds daunting if not impossible if the goal is to be an athlete into old age. Laura Corsentino, who always had knee troubles, showed us the way.
In 1999, the now 62-year-old mysteriously tore the meniscus in both her knees, leaving her with five arthroscopic surgeries over the course of five years. Doctors told her that it was normal wear and tear, and that eventually, she’d need two complete knee replacements.
For years, Corsentino had neglected her health. “I was a working, single mom who owned a home, went through family illnesses and deaths, and just sort of lived life without regard to my physical well being,” she says. And after the knee surgery, she passively resigned to more of the same.
That changed in 2011. At the time, Corsentino weighed 230 pounds, and after looking at a photo of herself, she decided something had to give. But when would she work out? She had a 45-minute work commute and family obligations to tend to. “I took care of my grandson in the evening when my daughter was in school, so the only gym time I had was before work.” So with a flatter belly in her crosshairs, she bought a headlamp and started setting her alarm to 5 a.m.
Long walks turned into purchasing a treadmill, which turned into joining a gym. At first, she was motivated simply by weight loss. But then she discovered something surprising: The workouts made her feel better. Instead of draining her energy, they supplied her with reserves of it.
Shortly after she began walking in her neighborhood, Corsentino took up hiking. Then she fell in love with low-impact workouts such as rowing. At 57, she took her first backpacking trip, ascending 12,000 feet and hiking 48 miles in five days with the help of custom-fit hinged knee braces.
But eventually, there was no way around impending knee-replacement surgeries. So last year, she scheduled them 60 days after one another.
The bummer was that she’d only recently discovered the depth of her own strength. She was building momentum, and she didn’t want it to end. The biggest challenge, she says, was “knowing [that] I was voluntarily taking myself out of the [fitness] game for a season, with the hope that I would come back better and stronger.”
Somewhere in the process of learning to love fitness, Corsentino had discovered Spartan. “I was terrified of Spartans because they seem so daunting,” she says. “I never really believed in myself enough to think I could complete the obstacles.” But that was her goal. When she recovered, she hoped to bounce back strong enough to take on the obstacles.
Knee Replacement Recovery Pioneer
Recovery and physical therapy (which started five days after surgery number one) were grueling and painful, Corsentino recounts. “I had to inflict pain on myself in order to get the joint mobilized to avoid scar tissue.”
So she set small goals. The first was to be able to be upright and mobile. Then she began working on slowly increasing mobility. “The only method to help ensure a good range of motion was to stretch the joint,” she says. “So I did.”
Her recovery days also strengthened her resilience. “I had good days and bad ones,” she says. “Fortunately, my time in the gym taught me that even if I’m not ‘feeling it’ on a particular day, [that] doesn’t mean I skip the workout or the PT.”
She also learned to listen to her body. “I had to let my knees tell me what we would do, when and how much, but always trying to give my best effort and push the envelope.”
Set Your Own Goals
Soon, her efforts paid off. Corsentino was back to work three weeks post-surgery. Some people require double that amount of time.
After her second surgery, Corsentino jumped quickly back into her workout routine. Her fitness continued to improve, and last November, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, with her 62nd birthday just a month away, she’ll finally compete in that Spartan Race.
Natalie Silva, a friend of Corsentino’s who will compete run alongside her, says that her friend has become an inspiration. “Her resiliency and tenacity for bouncing back and becoming stronger are very evident,” she says. “I hold onto that when faced with challenges of any sort.”
Through her journey, Corsentino now knows what it takes to overcome hardships, injuries, and challenges. “Moving through a difficult situation or time is about progress and not perfection,” she says. “Don’t ever compare yourself to others because there is always going to be someone stronger or faster. If you must make comparisons, compete or compare [yourself] to your previous status or condition.”
Now at 62, for her, there’s also a deeper reason to keep moving. She says: “I am the only one from my immediate family still alive. My father and sister both passed away at 47 and 46, my mother at 77 so I feel I owe it to them not to squander the gift I have, which is living and accepting challenges and excelling. I do some of what I do to honor their memory.”
As for that weight-loss goal: Today, Corsentino is 60 pounds lighter. In 2011, she wore a size 18-20, and today she wears an 8. “I am more fit, stronger, and leaner now than I have ever been in my life.”
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