By Caroline Lindstrom
Despite competing without an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, senior track and field athlete Henry Vildosola finished the Texas Relays in Austin last weekend with five new personal records, and a score of 7,112 in the decathlon event.
This mark is a personal best for Vildosola and the second-most points ever accumulated in the decathlon in school history.
“A lot of people were skeptical about Henry coming back without an ACL because they didn’t know how he would be able to perform, but he has treated it well and kept a positive attitude with his goals in mind,” senior heptathlete Hunter Brook said.
Assistant athletic trainer Alex Breitenwischer said the anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] helps prevent forward movement of the tibia onto the femur bone.
The ACL is critical for stabilizing the knee when an athlete plants or turns his foot.
“Injuries are both mental and physical trials, but it is mentally harder when you are sidelined, and that is something Henry has been so strong in,” Breitenwischer said.
Vildosola completely tore his ACL but made the conscious decision not to repair the injury.
“For someone who has had the type of injury he has had, Henry is really doing well,” assistant head coach Danny Brabham said. “He broke the school record along with four PR’s [personal records], so he is doing well.”
Vildosola was practicing hurdles during the summer of 2012 when he felt an all too familiar pain in his right knee. Vildosola had previously torn the same ACL and had reconstructive surgery.
After 13 months of rehabilitation, Vildosola felt like he was getting his strength back.
“I heard the pop, and I just sat there for a while in pain,” Vildosola said. “I couldn’t walk on it for a few days and running took a few weeks, but then I slowly tried to start training on it again.”
Knowing firsthand how long recovery takes to bounce back after ACL surgery, he decided to keep the injury to himself.
“I got in the weight room and tried to get my legs stronger and slowly started progressing to be able to skip, jog, run and eventually jump,” Vildosola said.
By the time he returned for fall training, he returned to his competitive form.
He practiced as normal with the team until January 2013 when he tore his meniscus—cartilage in the knee.
The meniscus tear forced Vildosola to get an MRI, where his re-torn ACL became evident to the doctors and coaching staff. Naturally, the doctors wanted him to have reconstructive surgery on both his ACL and meniscus.
Vildosola knew he was looking at a minimum of eight months of recovery before he could start practicing if he underwent such an intensive surgery. He preferred to take a few weeks off, miss a meet or two and then start preparing for the indoor conference meet that was approaching.
Vildosola’s protesting against surgery caused a custody battle over his knee with the doctors.
“The doctor told me he wouldn’t release me if I didn’t have the surgery, so I told them I would transfer, and they couldn’t release my medical record because of doctor-patient confidentiality,” Vildosola said.
He was confident he would be capable to pass a physical test at another school. Vildosola and the doctors compromised by only fixing his meniscus, which has a six-to-eight week recovery period.
Ten weeks after the surgery, the training staff had to release Vildosola for the outdoor season.
“It was a daily struggle with the trainers and him, fighting tooth and nail to be as active as he possibly could,” senior jumper and sprinter Hayden Loudenslager said.
Brabham said it was important for Vildosola to understand certain things may go slower for him than others, but he would get to the point to compete competitively in the Big 12.
“Other athletes that have his type of injury don’t rebound from that injury,” Brabham said. “It’s a totally missing ACL and doing the type of events he does, there is a lot of pressure on that.”
Brabham said throughout Vildosola’s recovery, he has never been defeated. He said Vildosola’s goal-driven mindset has propelled him to compete better than he did before the injures.
His positivity is one of the many reasons he was elected a team captain.
Brook said Vildosola’s focus is what keeps him going throughout the recovery process. He called Vildosola a “student of the game”. If they were not practicing on the track, he said the two were watching film to look for techniques to improve.
“With him, no matter how hard he gets injured, nothing is going to stop him,” Loudenslager said.
Loudenslager said Vildosola’s achievements this season only surprise him because he wants to perform better. He said an ACL tear can be a season-ending injury, but Vildosola handled the trials better than any other athlete he has seen.
Vildosola still battles swelling and discomfort in his knee, but is persistent with strengthening rehab.
“At some point when I get older I feel like my knee is probably going to be pretty bad, so I may eventually have the surgery,” Vildosola said.
As for now, Vildosola said he perceives the surgery as a hassle and waste of time he could spend training.
Brook said Vildosola serves as inspiration for himself and other teammates by his perseverance.
As a captain, Vildosola pushes the team to compete its hardest in both workouts and competitions.
“Coach Brabham is one of the toughest coaches I know and puts us through some grueling workouts, so if Henry can finish those workouts he can compete against anyone in the Big 12 or anybody in the country,” Brook said.
Vildosola received his first All-Big 12 indoor honor at the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships, where he placed third in the heptathlon event.
He currently holds the school-record in the heptathlon event with a score of 5,334 points.
The outdoor track and field season is newly under way, which brings a whole new list of Vildosola’s goals. He hopes to break the decathlon school record, attend the NCAA Track and Field Championships and compete in the USA Championships. Vildosola’s ultimate goal is the Olympics.
Loudenslager said nothing is out of reach for Vildosola because he won’t stop until he gets there. Many people believed it would be impossible for Vildosola to compete without an ACL, so reaching the Olympics is another way he can strive for the impossible.
“I have full faith that he will be able to do it because that is just the way he is, and he never quits,” Loudenslager said.