Neely Spence Gracey had surgery two weeks ago and has been out of commission for pretty much all of 2014 so far. The talented, young Hansons-Brooks runner had been out in New England competing as recently as September of 2014 and seemed to progressing nicely, but then we saw this:
— Neely Spence Gracey (@neelyspenceG) March 6, 2014
How did people ever get news before Twitter? Anyway, once that was spotted we had to reach out to her to find out what was going on. Between an article by David Monti and piecing together a story from Tweets, we were able to find out quite a bit, but we still had some questions. Here’s an interview that we did with Neely about the surgery and her road back to competitive racing:
Sad to hear the news. Could you tell us a little about the surgery?
After three months of frustration and a bazillion diagnoses, the MRI showed unusual results: Patella Bipartite. Essentially a fractured patella. My knee cap never fused and left a strip of cartilage that compromised the integrity of the patella. My knee cap split along that line and wouldn’t heal. So they removed the part that separated. You can see it in the X-ray!
How long has it been since you last ran?
I have run 10 miles in 2014. But it’s been a month since I did any running and December since I was training. I just had pain every step along the top of my knee cap. I hope to get on the under water treadmill and AlterG in the next week or two!
When we saw you at CVS in the fall, you had run a little slower than the prior year. Was the knee really bothering you then? Did you have any idea of what may be coming?
I was actually dealing with Lyme disease at the time and it was significantly affecting my training and races. I struggled through October but the medicine started helping and my body responded and I had great training through the month of November. I was so ready to go for club cross and had high hopes for a busy winter racing schedule.
How is the recovery from the Lyme disease coming along? Will you be completely clear of that once you ramp things up again?
Recovery has been really significant, and since November I feel like myself again emotionally and physically. For now, Lyme is not an everyday issue. There is no guarantee it’s fully gone but I think time will tell and I am learning the signs and what helps to keep my body healthy and my immune system strong.
What’s the timetable for your recovery? When will you start running again?
I am two weeks post surgery and feeling great! My PT’s seem very pleased, and I have progressed to squats, the elliptical/ElliptiGO, bike, and balancing work, and some weighted leg lifts. Hoping to start running within a few weeks. The trainers at the OTC in Colorado Springs said they think 8 weeks from surgery I should be able to handle full training again. I am in the process of figuring out a trip out there to get any imbalances or weaknesses addressed.
How nerve-wracking is it being an injured professional runner in an environment with so many pros competing for precious few contracts?
That’s a great question. I am very fortunate to have a coach, team, and company who believe in me. Brooks signed me through 2016 and though my last few months haven’t gone according to plan, there is still much to accomplish in the upcoming years. Their support has given me the ability to not stress and focus on fully healing from this surgery.
What’s your preferred cross training method?
Well I am currently on the stationary bike at my PT this morning, (doing this interview is helping pass the time), and I am very grateful for bike, elliptical, and pool options to keep me sane but indoor training is just rough as many runners can relate after lots of treadmill runs this past winter. I prefer the ElliptiGO outside because getting out is one of the things I miss the most. But the weather has made that impossible so I have used the ElliptiGO on the trainer inside. Rock climbing was a new addition during my injury and a fun challenge. Because of it I can now do three complete pull ups! I find if I can seek challenges in cross training I can eliminate the monotony of the daily grind and emotionally stay stronger throughout. I will even do a combo workout of 10 min per machine. Right after my surgery, I could only do arm work, so I would do the arm bike, the rower, the air bike and just rotate. It makes the time pass much faster.
What’s your least favorite?
The initial getting in the pool coldness. Once I’m in, I’m fine. The pool is tough for longer workouts unless I have a friend. Then it passes quickly!
Have you been able to work on your karaoke skills in your down time?
I was singing along to the radio on the way to PT this morning! We did have a few days at the Brooks Running headquarters in Seattle and I may or may not have gone up on stage with Phoebe Wright and Katie Mackey…
At the end of Monti’s piece on your surgery, you called out for advice from athletes who had gone through something similar. Did you hear back from anyone? Get some good advice?
I had great responses! It was especially encouraging to hear from runners in the community who have had no long term issues post surgery. Having a network of support is huge for me and really helps me remain positive and motivated.
You tweeted that you got dumped by US Anti-Doping. What exactly does that mean and how can you rekindle that relationship? Love your #proudpee-er hashtag too, haha. Is it as simple as sending them a urine sample, some flowers and a sweet note?
— Neely Spence Gracey (@neelyspenceG) March 5, 2014
This is my fav question of the interview! Good things are rarely simple, but this is an exception. I need to make USADA want me again by performing at an elite level. Definitely a goal for 2014 is to get back to the status of a USADA athlete.
What can we expect to see from you in 2014?
The top goal is getting healthy! I have thoughts beginning to form regarding late summer and fall road racing. As I begin to run, my coaches and I will discuss more of a set schedule.