My girlfriend, Charlette, and I carefully drag a gear-laden canoe over a big logjam, a challenging setback. (Photo by Eric Toring)

My girlfriend, Charlette, and I carefully drag a gear-laden canoe over a big logjam, a challenging setback. (Photo by Eric Toring)

I was late; it was unavoidable at this point.  Making a pit stop to buy my weekly supply of kombucha had done me in. Kombucha is a fermented drink that most people use for its health benefits, which include joint relief, energy, digestive benefits, focus, and immune support.  I would try to drink one during each soccer game, but I had no idea exactly how much joint relief I was about to need! With adrenaline building within me, I ran through the soccer facility.  The pickup game had already started, but I was still able to join.  I entered with a bang, gaining control of the ball quickly.  Approaching the goal, I tried to pass the ball, only to collapse on the turf instantly.  My knee had given out as it twisted with my foot planted; I was finished for the night and then carried to my car.

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Charlette proudly stands by a trash can recovered during one of our adventures on Cahokia Creek. (Photo by T. Aljets)

The next day, the swelling was awful.  I eventually had an X-ray and MRI on my knee, but they only pointed towards surgery, my nightmare.  Apparently, my medial meniscus, which protects my inner-knee cartilage, had torn, preventing my knee from extending.  The doctor said it was the worst meniscus tear he had ever seen.  I not only would be barred from playing soccer, but also mushroom hunting and canoeing, my newfound passion.  I had been exploring sections of local creeks, Cahokia and Sherry in Illinois each weekend since mid-December, and warmer weather was only improving the experience.  My cousin, girlfriend, and I were nearing the Mississippi River on our last trip, so surgery was the last thing I wanted in my way.

I spent the better part of March feeling victimized by my own actions. I did not accomplish much, as I was not only bummed out, but also affected by the floaty pain medication they had prescribed me.   Luckily, I was nearly pain free only a few days after the surgery, so I could wean myself from the horrible meds quickly.   I could not, however, ween my mind from the crippling reality of my condition.

The splint I had to wear following surgery. (Photo by T. Aljets)

The splint I had to wear following surgery. (Photo by T. Aljets)

Soon after, I was able to change my perspective on the injury that had initially seemed only condemning.  I decided to reject the idea of my injury as a detriment, and to instead view it as an opportunity to make the most out of my time off of my right leg.  The first step towards a healthier mindset was not to dwell on where I could not go, but rather to take full advantage of where I was.

Little Miss, Val, and Banjo are enjoying the backyard as much as I am. (Photo by T. Aljets)

Little Miss, Val, and Banjo are enjoying the backyard as much as I am. (Photo by T. Aljets)

My backyard is absolutely beautiful, as my family has turned it into a healthy, organic refuge for all forms of life.  While I was (and still am) unable to drive, I could go anywhere that my crutches could go, per doctor’s orders.  Even with the lush, soggy ground occasionally sucking the rubber tips from my wooden crutches, I slowly progressed into a patch of dry grass on the edge of my yard.  With my backpack filled with snacks, a bottle of kombucha, my laptop, and a blanket, I had everything I would possibly need.  The dogs made it even more enjoyable, as I could appreciate their mobility from a distance, as they playfully attacked each other until each would become “dog tired” and try to gain some real estate on my blue jean blanket.  I forgot my inability to freely walk, and chose to appreciate the liberation of sitting in the grass.

Our garden is not ready, but the apple tree is blooming. (Photo by T. Aljets)

Our garden is not ready, but the apple tree is blooming. (Photo by T. Aljets)

As often as weather would permit, I found myself in the backyard for varying bursts of time.  I would do my office work, writing, or home physical therapy (which I am doing intermittently as I type right now). Even though we are on the edge of town, turkey buzzards gallantly drifted across my house, ducks swam in the flooded ditch near the railroad tracks, and spring peepers captivated my ears. I was experiencing spring in its fullest, even with my limitations.

Through the willow, the dogs are seen enjoying time outside. Val is not fooled by my hiding spot. (Photo by T. Aljets)

Through the willow, the dogs are seen enjoying time outside. Val is not fooled by my hiding spot. (Photo by T. Aljets)

On April 15th, almost a month after surgery, my girlfriend and I decided to go to Cahokia Mounds.  I had jokingly mentioned climbing Monk’s Mound, which is about a hundred feet tall, constructed by baskets of clay and mud by Pre-Columbian Native Americans.  I slowly labored towards the base, following the long walkway from the parking lot.  If people could have built this mound with their bare hands, I could easily ascend it, regardless of my condition …and so I did.  The view from the top was breathtaking; I felt my senses overwhelmed by the experience.  After I had descended, a lady who was hooked up to a breathing apparatus was walking towards me with a proud smile on her face.  We exchanged positive remarks, and she began her ascent; I was not alone. I left feeling even less crippled than before, liberated by my accomplishment on the stairs.

The view Charlette and I shared from atop Monk’s Mound.  (Photo by T. Aljets)

The view Charlette and I shared from atop Monk’s Mound.  (Photo by T. Aljets)

As a dedicated River Citizen, I had been feeling especially feeble with the strictly-imposed limits on my mobility, like being unable to bear weight on my right leg for 8 weeks after surgery.  For me, River Citizenship had always been an outlet to give back to the water that has permitted me to exist on this planet and also to ensure the preservation of a pristine ecosystem in which children of the next generation can enjoy to the same degree that I have.

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A person enjoys the view of Holiday Shores Lake, IL, regardless of being confined to a walker. (Photo by Charlette Crook)

Before my injury, I always had regarded hands-on volunteer work to be the most valuable form of dedication to the river.  After these several long weeks of being unable to help or be active on the river as I would desire, I have been given many opportunities to benefit the river from a distance, such as: choosing native plants to garden with, attending a festival beside the river, utilizing the Action Center, supporting local food vendors who practice sustainable farming, organized a litter clean-up near the river and I have even been able to recruit some River Citizens to help me along the way.  According to our website, 1 Mississippi.org, under the “Act” button under “Things You Can Do”, what I have done and a myriad of other options exist and are available for anyone else with health issues in the same boat as me (or in no boats at all, also like me, unfortunately).  In order to better deal with your obstacles, heed the advice that Tom Thompson (1877-1917) once had given, “Take everything as it comes; the wave passes, deal with the next one”

Tanner Aljets
1 Mississippi Illinois/Missouri Outreach Assistant

Update: I am now walking freely without crutches.  I attribute my progress to not only my positive attitude, but even more so to the wonderful team around me… family, friends, therapists and RIVER CITIZENS!  They have (quite literally) carried the weight for me during my time off of my feet at both events and at home.  The journey of recovery still continues, but I am taking it day-by-day and appreciating my small accomplishments.  I have even been able to canoe a couple times.  See you on the river (SYOTR)!
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