I Want. I Can. I Will.
It was October 2006, and I was lying face down on a treatment table in Melbourne, Australia, when those words caught my eye. They were written on a piece of tape that was stuck to the metal bar holding the table up that I could see through the hole where my head was resting on.
“What is that?” I asked Garry Miritis, the massage therapist who I had gone to see.
“Oh, that. Do you know who Cathy Freeman is?”
I recognized her name as a track star from Australia who had gotten a lot of publicity in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“I was her therapist for a really long time. She asked me to put those words there so she could stare at them when I was working on her.” Why, of course !
So how did I get to be lying on the therapy table of a massage therapist of international track stars, a million miles from home, you ask?
It had all started around June 2006. I was in season with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and on a hot day, a few of us had decided to go down to Ambelside Park in West Van to work on crossing and finishing. I was in the group that was serving into the strikers, and for two hours on this hot June day, we served long balls in for the strikers to control, touch and finish over and over again. With players such as Christine Sinclair in the group, one did not feel it was the time to work on their weaker foot, and so with the result, I used my right foot over and over again. At the end of the 2 hours, that wasn’t enough. A couple of us decided that we wanted to work on some crossing as well, so out to the end line we went and smashed in cross, after cross for another 20 minutes.
Right at the end, I felt a bit of a twinge in my groin and I thought to myself, “well if I have to miss a couple of practices to rest it, it’s no big deal because that was a great session and tons of great reps.” Little did I know I wouldn’t play competitive soccer for another 5 months.
That was a Wednesday, and so after taking off the Thursday session, I tried to jump back in on the Friday. But I still had a lot of pain in my groin so I had to tell the coach that I didn’t think I’d be able to play the game on the weekend. At the game on the weekend, our team physio was there and he took a look at me, telling me that he thought I had a possibly something resembling a hernia. After frantically coming home and googling the injury, I was panicked reading about surgery and a couple of NHL players who had missed a good chunk of the season with one.
By Monday, now having to pull out of our road trip to Colorado that week, I went dejectedly to my physio and life guru Randy Celebrini, who gave me a less dramatic diagnosis after pulling my leg and hips in various directions. “Ci, I think you have osteitis pubis (OP)” I went home and googled it. Inflammation of the pubic bone… Awesome. I was set up for testing which included a bone scan that confirmed it. And the consequences of a little kick around now seemed to be pretty severe.
Thus started my time with probably the worst injury I have ever had.
The first part of it was the pain. I had a chronic deep pain right in my pubic region. And I’m grateful I had the chance to understand and truly empathize with someone that is going through it. For anyone that has dealt with chronic pain, you will understand how mentally draining it is. While sleeping, I had to put a pillow in between my legs on my side, if I wanted to have a hope of rest, and every morning I’d wake up with the same deep pain. Physio, acupuncture, laser therapy and every other form of anything that provided a hope of healing was an awkward affair. Yes my injury was right there. But the worst part of it, was that there was no end in sight. I’d always had injuries, but there was a timeline associated with them. MCL, 6-8 weeks. Ankle sprain, 3-4 weeks. But OP was, “well it’s a really weird injury that there really isn’t a timeline for. It could be years.” Awesome. The fact I have the patience of a hungry two year old didn’t help.
I met my friend Ashley at physio, a friend from soccer that I came to find out had had the same injury…for 6 months since January, and still wasn’t seeing much progress. I started to feel hopeless, and devastated that a stupid kick around seemed to be threatening my soccer career as I felt myself getting more and more out of shape, as June turned into July into August and into September and there was still no end in sight.
Considering myself an expert in self-diagnosis after my time in Scandinavia, I googled and googled and googled. I figured there had to be answer, someone, somewhere that had gotten better from this. I came across an Australian sport health forum, that had a whole thread that was dedicated to OP. As I read story after story I became more and more depressed as people spoke about having a high level sporting career in a gamut of sports that all had one thing in common: they had essentially ended after their diagnosis with OP. Yet every few pages, there would be a mention of Garry Miritis, a guy in Melbourne who had “fixed” people. I was intrigued and it provided the shred of hope that I needed to know, that possibly there was someone out there who could help me.
So I looked him up online and I messaged him, explained my situation and asked him if he thought he could help me. He wrote me back and said that obviously he didn’t want to promise anything, but from the sounds of it, he thought he could. I visited another top physio in Vancouver who went over exactly what I was dealing with, and gave me some basic exercises and told me to come back in a month. After driving home in the cold Vancouver rain in October, I decided that with enough air miles saved up to go to Australia, and a friend in Melbourne that had offered me a place to stay, that I would take the risk to go and see Garry.
I figured worst case scenario, I would make it a trip of a lifetime and cross some things off the bucket list like going to see Pearl Jam and U2, two bands that would be there at the time, and scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, and figure out what I would do now that I was done with soccer. Or best case scenario, I would get better and get to play again, something that seemed too far off an idea at that point to be any kind of a real reality.
But, the craziest thing happened lying on that massage table in Garry’s nondescript clinic at his house on the outskirts of Melbourne. Although it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, after paying $50 and getting one massage, the pain was gone.
As he treated me, I spoke to Garry and got some of his life history and I found that he was a fascinating character. While some people choose to just go through the motions in their chosen profession, Garry, left his job owning a coffee shop and pursued his passion for massage. When he had a patient come in that had a stubborn case of OP, he told him that if he would be willing to be his guinea pig, he would figure it out. And he did, after months of trying different techniques, and doing so saved many a high level sporting career along the way.
The healing itself was the weirdest experience.
Although physically I knew it felt better and the pain was gone, mentally after being in pain for so long, accepting that this was my reality and having gone through so many treatments, it just seemed impossible that it was better. Yet Garry was confident and told me to start running for 2 minutes and then every 2 days build up another 2 minutes. By the time I had finished my scuba course at the Great Barrier Reef a few weeks later, I was up to running for 30 minutes pain free. I subsequently started training with some top soccer sides in the area, again the whole time, amazed that I was better, as I had pretty much walked away from the game in my mind. After 2 more trips to see Garry just to take advantage of the fact that I was in Australia and to make sure I was better, I went back to Canada, and within a couple of months was in residency with the Canadian National Team training every day, sometimes twice a day, and my symptoms never returned.
Yet the whole experience for me was far more valuable than just getting to play soccer again. As with many things in my career, the life lessons that I will take away are far greater than playing the game itself, as I am sure I or my loved ones will have bigger health concerns in the future. These are the things that my experience with OP taught me:
1) There is always a solution to a problem, you just have to be determined to find it.
2) Be willing to think and look outside the box as that is usually where the answer lies.
3) Once you find the answer even if it seems like the most ridiculous thing ever (like flying to Australia to fix a health problem), take the risk and just do it.
And a sort of crazy ending to the story? A few months after I returned from Australia, I was back at Randy, my physio for some minor concern, when I ran into Ashley, my friend who I had seen at physio the June I got injured, who now was dealing with the injury for 1.5 years. I told her, “I know this sounds crazy, but if I were you, fly to Australia and go and see Garry.”
So she did. And she got better too (here’s the article that they wrote in the newspaper when she was able to return to her soccer season that year: click here)