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The Long Road to Recovery
Posted by: Audrey Sniezek
26th March 2012
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Audrey doing physio
Photo: Audrey Sniezek
Late last spring I injured my right (dominate) shoulder. By the time the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals arrived, I was in an intolerable amount of pain. I had never before expereinced something that was so intense I couldn't even think straight. After a brief diagnostic, and different opininions, I understood my options to be the following: surgery, rest, or keep climbing and deal with it later. I had just qualified for my first Rope World Cup at the US Nationals in April and was not about to miss my chance to have that experience. That meant, surgery was out, 6 weeks of rest over the summer took the pain down to a more manageable level with intermittent spikes. I picked up climbing again doing everything I could to be ready for the competition in October.

Although I felt strong, the shoulder was weak and certain moves like gastoning were out of the question. My shoulder would just give out under those stresses. Soon, from compensating for the injury, I created other issues that led to nerve impingemnet and loss of function down the arm. I was in physical therapy and doing any and all conservative rehab that I thought would help. I'm not one to medicate but I eventually resorted to super strong, non-narcotic pain relief alternatives with sleep aid so I could finally sleep through the night.

These were tough days, with even tougher nights and my climbing performance became sporadic and my confidence in my ability was shaken. I competed in the World Cup and did my best even with the shoulder preventing 100% of what I knew I could offer. I was happy to pull it off and thought I could push through another month and a bit and get in one European experience in Spain that November. I thought this would round out my climbing career and I considered retiring from competitions after Spain.

But, the shoulder had other plans for me. I guess I had pushed it to the limit, the pain was intolerable and with the nerve symptons cleared, it was obvious I needed to tend to it once and for all. Surgery became the best option and with winter upon me, Spain cancelled, it seemed like the right time to take the plunge.

After surgery, I learned that I had indeed frayed the shoulder labrum around the bicep tendon but I has also frayed the rotator cuff tendon. The surgeon, who is also a seasoned climber, Dr. Warme of Seattle, cleaned it all up, including the surprise rotator 'tear.' To help promote labral repair under the rotator fragment he shaved off, he poked two holes in my bone. Had the rotator not been in the equation, I'm told I would have been 2 weeks in recovery and then back to full capacity. As it was, I am now going on 4 months recovery and still fighting for full range of motion as well as resistance strength.

I have a great team of people who take care of me and living in Las Vegas has given me ample opportunity to test my skills on real rock. I recently excelled my own expectations by quickly taking down a 'project.' I'm even considering signing up for USA Nationals despite knowing I'm not in the best fitness for it. Maybe I can pull something out of my hat and finish high enough to qualify for October's WC, again. Maybe this year, I can get my European experience and retire to the outdoors full-time. Maybe... :)

To stay in touch with what I'm up to, check out my FB page And, to read 'Getting Back on the Horse,' at check out my blog.

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