For months, doctors couldn’t tell Dana Pounds-Lyon why her left leg wasn’t working.
When the former Air Force javelin thrower was finally told the problem, that she had a bone-on-bone condition in her knee and would need microfracture surgery, Pounds-Lyon was told her career might be over.
Just nine months after that surgery, Pounds-Lyon isn’t quite her old self, but she’s close. At last weekend’s U.S. track and field championships, she threw the javelin 171 feet, 10 inches, placing sixth. She feels good about her chances at making the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, after barely missing in 2008.
“I feel I’m just where I need to be,” said Pounds-Lyon, who is a part of the Air Force World Class Athlete Program.
In 2010, her Olympic hopes were fading fast. She first felt a grinding sensation in her left knee in November 2009. Years of playing basketball, being a softball catcher and a little time as a roofer isn’t good for the knees.
She kept going for a few months, until her leg would periodically give out as she was on the runway to throw the javelin. She would visit muscle activation specialists, and the leg would be fine for a little while, but the same problem would come up. The muscles around her knee would simply shut down.
She got two magnetic resonance imaging tests. She says seven doctors found no specific problem. She heard a few theories: it was just a bone bruise, it was all in her head, she just didn’t have any pain tolerance.
“I kind of got sick of that,” Pounds-Lyon said.
She finally met up with Indianapolis-based Dr. James Bicos in August. Bicos found that Pounds-Lyon had a significant cartilage defect, bones were grinding together, and possibly more. When she went to Indianapolis for surgery in September, she was told she had an 85-90 percent chance of full recovery in 12-18 months. But surgery found more damage than could be seen on the MRI. There were five areas where the cartilage was damaged, three on the femur and two on the kneecap. The two on the kneecap could not be fixed.
She was told after the surgery that there was a 60-65 percent chance that she would throw the javelin again, which meant there was a chance she was finished.
“Coming out of surgery, it was just one more challenge,” Pounds-Lyon said.
She credits her rehabilitation staff at the Olympic Training Center for an aggressive and effective rehabilitation program in which she suffered no setbacks. She wasn’t supposed to be able to run for six-to-eight months. She spent eight weeks instead of the recommended six on crutches, and then started walking on an anti-gravity treadmill. She was running at four months and sprinting at five months.
“I went through as much pain as I was allowed to take to get better,” Pounds-Lyon said.
Pounds-Lyon feels better, physically and technically. Her coach, Air Force throws coach Scott Irving, said he was cautious with her coming off surgery. When Pounds-Lyon told him she was ready to attack the run-up, she looked as she did at her peak in 2008.
“Not only a joy to see that she could bring it on the run-up approach, but that she could also handle it physically,” Irving said.
Now Pounds-Lyon is focused on making the Olympic team. She feels if she meets the qualifying standard throw for the women’s javelin in a meet between Oct. 1 and the Olympic trials, she’ll get a spot on the team. That would be a remarkable comeback, considering she was facing the possibility of retirement late last year.
“There were a lot of curveballs,” Pounds-Lyon said.