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What's it like to recover from an ACL injury?

Wanna know what it's like to be Derrick Rose right about now? Northwestern running back Mike Trumpy knows better than just about anyone.
 
"Oh man, it sucks," the redshirt junior said, his voice growing weary.
 
Chicago Fire defender Dan Gargan knows too.
 
"It's a daily, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, week-to-week thing that doesn't go away until you're far down the road and you're like 'I feel great,' " Gargan said.
 
They're not talking about owning a condo in Trump Tower or earning tens of millions of dollars a year, but rather the grueling rehab process the Bulls star is going through as he works his way back into playing shape after tearing his left ACL in the playoffs in April.
 
And if the sight of Rose crumpled in a heap of pain on the court was a worst-case scenario for Bulls fans, Trumpy and Gargan are a sort of best-case scenario.
 
Both men tore their ACLs making seemingly routine plays that they had made a million times before in their careers. Trumpy suffered his injury during a carry against Illinois last October.
 
"It doesn't look that bad on film," he said. "It was like an outside zone play, and I just got tackled. I got up immediately and started hobbling to the sidelines thinking, 'This isn't a meniscus. This is a lot worse.' When I got on the sideline, I collapsed, I was in so much pain."
 
Gargan tore his in 2007 as a member of the Colorado Rapids MLS team while trying to intercept a pass near midfield.
 
"I kind of went forward to defend and planted to turn and felt a pop and had some sharp pain," Gargan said. "I went down thinking maybe something was wrong."

Both men were also able to rebuild their careers after having their knees surgically rebuilt. Gargan has started 65 of the 74 games he's played in since returning to the MLS in 2010, including 19 of the Fire's 22 matches this season.

Just 12 months removed from surgery, Trumpy has already racked up 224 yards on 52 carries in eight games this season, including a 16-carry, 106-yard performance against Boston College in Week 3 that included a 27-yard game-clinching touchdown.

"I don't really have too much knee pain anymore," he said. "I'm surprised at how I've progressed in the past month. I wear a knee brace. That's usually protocol for the first year after surgery, but for the most part it's feeling really great."
 
But it took them a lot of time and a lot of patience for them to get back to their normal playing shape. That sense of patience is something Gargan admits he didn't have when, as a 23-year-old just starting to establish himself as a starter in the MLS, he tried to get back into the action almost immediately after getting off the operating table.
 
"I was back on the field after about four-and-a-half months after tearing my ACL which, looking back on it as a young, naive kid, I didn't understand what the process was like coming back from an injury like that," he said.
 
Average recovery time for a person suffering a torn ACL is around five to seven months, according to the University of Minnesota's Sports Medicine Institute. The recovery process itself is a little bit more complicated than you might think.
 
In addition to strengthening the muscles in your knee, there's also the issue of rebuilding confidence and staying mentally strong throughout the ordeal.
 
"Mentally and emotionally, you have to maintain that belief in yourself that you're going to get better and you're going to be as good as you were before," Gargan said. "You have to believe that your good days will outnumber your bad days. It's something that you completely rely on, your physical ability, and when it's taken away from you, it's a scary thing. Suddenly, who you have been is thrown into question."
 
Trumpy spent much of his rehab sharpening other parts of his game while trusting that his therapists and doctors would take care of his legs.
 
"I focused on my upper body getting stronger, continuing to learn the playbook mentally," he said. "The hardest part for me was being away from football and not being able to contribute to the team, which was tough."
 
He remembers the exact moment he knew everything was going to be OK.
 
"I finally felt like I was back from the injury and the rehab the first time I got tackled during summer camp," he said.
 
While he may have improved physically, Trumpy said he still feels others' pain.
 
"Ever since (my injury) happened, anytime I see someone get injured in any sporting event and they grab their knee, it really just kills me because of all I've been through," he said.
 
Both athletes say the best thing for Rose to do right now is just be patient and take his time with his rehab. Everything else, they said, will come back to him in time.
 
"Don't be afraid to be upset, but you will get better," Gargan said. "The good part about it is you have time to strengthen those muscles and do specific strengthening and balancing work that otherwise you wouldn't wind up doing."
 
"Just hold nothing back," Trumpy added. "There's a lot of bumps in the road throughout the process but as long as you have a positive attitude, you'll be a better person and a better athlete for it."

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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