An Uphill Climb: Knee Surgery Recovery in the SIerra

Meredith Anderson

Meredith Anderson

Project Manager, SNEW

It’s important to play in the Sierra as well as work to protect it. In the following blog, SNEW Project Manager Meredith Anderson shares the challenges of recovering from an injury that kept her off the slopes this spring, and how her work at SBC in part inspired her motivation to get out of her home office and back into the mountains. 

I feel very lucky to be able to live, work, and play in the Sierra Nevada – to be constantly surrounded by our beautiful mountains and lakes and to enjoy the incredible access to outdoor recreation. However, I sometimes took for granted my physical ability and how appreciative I was that my body allowed me to do all of the activities that I love. This realization came after about a decade of cartilage damage to my right knee from running and other high impact activities and a bad climbing fall in late 2021, and I was told that I had a large full thickness tear in my articular cartilage (which is the cartilage found behind the knee cap). 

POV person sitting in a hammock in south lake tahoe with a kneebrace and crutches in the background
Photo by Meredith Anderson

Soon enough, it was time for my OATS procedure, which was essentially a cartilage transplant surgery. While I was prepared in many ways, what I wasn’t prepared for was the several months of immobility and how that would impact me, not only physically but mentally as well. During this recovery period, it has been incredibly difficult seeing everyone having fun outside while I’m stuck on the couch. I can do all of the exercises in the world, but without being able to bend or put any weight on my leg for a couple months, my muscles atrophied, and that’s something that was tough to accept.

This experience, though, has allowed me to grow in ways I didn’t know I needed to. I have become more patient with and kind to my body, and I have found a new appreciation for everything that my healthy body allows me to do. I have learned to manage my expectations and be more realistic when it comes to my recovery and its long timeline. And finally, I have learned that every day is a new day and that it’s important, at least for right now, to just take life one day at a time. 

Image of a person with a knee brace sitting in the sun at a ski resort
Photo by Meredith Anderson

One thing I have kept up with everyday during this injury is work, and something my day to day role here at SBC involves is thinking about the different parts of the Sierra – places I work to protect and at some point also hope to get out and explore with my new and improved knee. Here are some of the things that are at the top of my Sierra Nevada bucket list:

  • Hike Mount Whitney
  • Backpack to Minaret Lake
  • Explore Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
  • Camp at Fourth of July Lake
  • Mountain Bike in the Foothills

The rest of 2022 is going to look a lot different for me, but I am more determined than ever to come back stronger than I was before. Who knows… maybe my new-to-me cadaver cartilage will give me some super knee powers, and come 2023, I’ll be crushing miles on the trail. At least for now, I can admire the mountains outside the window at physical therapy.

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