Injury won’t stop this athlete
By Nicki Anderson For The Sun January 21, 2013 10:48AM
Since his injury, Tom Krawiec is 190 pounds and squatting 732 pounds for three repeititions. He tore both ACL’s and right meniscus. | Submitted
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:08AM
Tom Krawiec is a 30-year-old physical therapist and competitive, natural (drug-free) powerlifter.
He grew up in Naperville and graduated from Neuqua Valley High School in 2000. As a physical therapist at Momentum Physical Therapy in Naperville, he is all too familiar with rehabilitating people through injuries. Little did he know that one day he would have to act as his own physical therapist.
“On May 14, 2011, I simultaneously tore both my ACL’s and right meniscus from squatting. I heard two loud “pops,” and I knew immediately something bad (like structural damage) had happened,” Krawiec said.
Hours after the injury, swelling started to set in. By late afternoon, Tom was questioning if he would ever be able to compete at an elite level again.
“Two months prior I had just set the drug-free squat world record in the 181-pound weight class of 854 pounds. Competing had always been a passion of mine. For someone who always had a clear direction in life, I was lost and scared. Combine the pain with emotion I had been feeling that afternoon, this was my bottom,” he said.
What made his situation difficult is that he didn’t know anyone who had gone through a similar injury. Though athletes have had their share of knee injuries, no one he knew had experienced such serious injuries with both knees, especially in the world of powerlifting.
“Two days after my injury, the first orthopedic doctor showed me my MRI and said, ‘This doesn’t look good, Tom.’ At that point, my confidence to recover was lost,” Krawiec said. “I was referred to a specialist, Dr. Bush-Joseph, part of Midwest Orthopedics. During my first visit, the doctor felt confident I would make a full recovery. I smiled for the first time in five days.”
He motivated himself to get off crutches determined to come back stronger than ever. He set his sites on full recovery.
“Because I believed that I would recover completely, I began documenting my journey via written and multimedia. I titled it, Road to Recovery. I wanted everyone to see what obstacles I would have to endure and overcome along the way.”
He believes that the outpouring of support along the way from his online community, patients, friends, colleagues and lifting teammates helped during his long recovery. And though he knew he had a lot of work to do, with each rehab effort and surgery, he could feel his progress physically and mentally.
Although Krawiec had worked on patients who had gone through bilateral knee surgeries, none of them were returning to a high-level, competitive sport. But a surprising phone call affirmed his journey back to strength.
“A former world champion powerlifter from the ’90s, Bill Nichols, was kind enough to call me and share some of his wisdom when he blew both his knees. I was also motivated by Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. He demonstrated that anyone can be at his or her best even after a nasty injury.”
Krawiec returned to work just two weeks after each surgery. He managed to make time to rehab himself after eight- to 10-hour work days, but to him, there was no where else to go but up.
“My best bench press to date is 600 pounds. I hit all these numbers without the use of drugs, which are pretty widely used in powerlifting. I recently competed in a meet in Iowa in November (at 181 pounds) and was the overall best drug-free lifter. This was a great confidence booster, since it was my first meet back since injury. My next meet is the APF State Meet in March. I know my best days are still ahead of me.”
For those going through physical or mental challenges, Krawiec believes having a goal should be a priority as well as anticipating challenges.
“Have a goal, even if it’s to prove the naysayers wrong. This may be the biggest motivation in life. Also, you need to anticipate hurdles along the way. Very rarely will anyone have steady, uphill progress. And remember that resistive training is the solution to a wide array of problems, including joint pain, weight loss and a self-esteem booster. I believe it should be the foundation to any rehab or wellness program.”
He can’t help but smile when he thinks about how far he has come. He hopes that people will view his documentary and perhaps be inspired by his struggle and ultimate triumph. You can find his video, Road to Recovery, on his open Facebook page under Tom Krawiec.