Willmar Notebook: Experiencing the same unfortunate fate

Enacted over 30 years ago, Title IX sought to bring athletic opportunities for females in line with males. With the gain came the pain, most notably knee injuries.

Enacted over 30 years ago, Title IX sought to bring athletic opportunities for females in line with males. With the gain came the pain, most notably knee injuries.

Carson Palmer, Cincinnati quarterback, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in front of a national TV audience on Sunday. Jamie Wilson, Courtney Arends, Chelsea Vreeman and Brooke Feictinger, all Willmar athletes, can sympathize. Each recently has suffered the same fate.

It was double jeopardy for both Wilson and Arends. Wilson, a three-sport sophomore, had her second knee surgery on Monday, the same right knee that blew in April while playing Junior Olympic volleyball. She rehabilitated over the summer and got back for volleyball in late September. Everything was going fine in basketball, too, until Dec. 29 when the ACL let loose again. The first time was a non-contact "landing" injury. The second is less clear; it may have been both contact and landing.

Dr. Pat Smith, the famed Twin Cities' orthopedic surgeon, told Wilson's parents, John and Lori, that the April graft had "taken." But Smith said Jamie had the knee trifecta working against her: she was young, female and uncommonly flexible.

Females are far more likely than males to tear the fibrous band that crosses the knee cap joining the femur and lower leg bone. One theory is that females land differently -- more erect and knock-kneed. Also, the female ACL is smaller, but asked to handle the same stresses. Physical changes are also thought to be a factor with girls becoming most susceptible to ACL tears at age 16.


Arends, a senior, sustained her first crippling injury in physical education class in the last month of 2004. She was bumped as she went up for a layup. That cost her junior year of basketball.

Physical therapy and time allowed Arends to come back for an injury-free soccer season. But early in this basketball season she blew the same knee again on a pivot during a junior varsity game. She had surgery both times in Willmar, the most recent only Friday. She's walking without crutches or even a brace. Her second surgery used a donor tendon to replace the damaged patellar patch from the first surgery.

Brooke Feichtinger had her surgery in the Twin Cities two days before Christmas. The sophomore gymnast is just transitioning from crutches to a mobilizing knee splint. Commonly, first time ACL replacements use 1/3 of the patellar tendon and commonly results in temporary pain in the front of knee.

Brooke ripped her knee landing a vault -- the opening event of the first meet. "I'll be back," she said Tuesday, "and we'll be good next year with everyone back."

For Chelsea Vreeman her senior status and desire to finish the season led her to postpone surgery until the end of volleyball. A terrific jumper with a soft landing, she nonetheless shredded her ACL in a contact injury Sept. 10 at Mankato. After a short recovery, she was outfitted with a brace and was able to make valuable contributions in the back row, especially as a server.

Andrea Brown, a three-sport athlete, blew out her knee on television during the basketball state tournament. A sophomore at the time, she went down in the third quarter of the Class AAA championship game at the Target Center. By August she came back for tennis and then basketball and softball (as a catcher no less). She's sidelined presently with a non-related foot injury.

Willmar athletic trainer Rod Savig works closely with the injured athletes, especially in the second stage of their rehabilitation. Strength training, jumping and landing exercises and agility training can all help reduce the risks. But he concedes that "it's sometimes just bad luck."

Healing takes times.


Savig put it this way: "The injury occurs in a millisecond, the surgery takes two to three hours and the rehabilitation 5-12 months."

What these athletes have in common is that a painful injury that ends a season or even two is no reason to quit. Instead, they channel their competitive energies into a much less glamorous regimen of rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Grahn at game

Peter Grahn saw his former team in action for the first time Friday night. Peter watched the game with Little Falls from a wheel chair at the corner of the east bleachers. He was surrounded by well wisher at intermission and the end of the game. The entire Willmar team came out and wished Peter well. Peter is rehabilitating at Courage Center in Golden Valley. He broke his neck and suffered paralysis in a diving accident on Green Lake Aug. 7. His visiting and home jersey jerseys hang from the rafters. The boys team wears an arm band acknowledging both Peter and the late J.D. Horning, father senior forward Tyler Horning.

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