Clay Valstad, 64, underwent surgery in October of 2011 to have a partial knee replacement procedure performed; leaving a scar over six inches long, severe swelling and a weakened leg, which attests to the severity of the operation. Remarkably, he and his doctor are certain, that in February of 2012, Clay will be able to join his wife and friends on their annual ski trip—this year’s destination is Lake Tahoe, California—where Clay plans to head straight for the black diamond mogul runs, not the bunny hills. But, to accomplish this, Clay has to stick to a rigid plan of rehab and strength conditioning. The injury has caused many of his muscles to weaken and become underdeveloped, meanwhile other muscles have become overworked due to compensating for the injured and now recovering knee.

Inspired by his story, I asked Clay if I could follow his progress for the next four weeks and share with you his journey on the road to recovery—and, of course, the road back to the ski slopes and golf courses that he dearly misses: he accepted.

I will share with you the trials and the triumphs that Clay experiences as he strives toward his goal to overcome his injury, recover from a major surgery and return to the activities he loves. Oh, and did I mention that Clay is 64 years-old! Well, Clay never mentioned it, not once did he refer to his age as bearing any part of the burden that is keeping him from skiing, golfing, or even walking or biking for any length of time without incurring swelling and pain. Nope, he just wants to beat that pesky knee, and he would feel the same way whether he was 24, 64 or 84 years-old.

It became clear, quite quickly, that this characteristic—of being positive and tackling the issues at hand—is a large part of why Clay has been so successful with his recovery…and throughout his life. His energy is contagious; he smiles and you cannot help but smile with him, and he possesses an inspiring will and determination. He has another advantage as well, he is surrounded by wonderful people who support him and, when needed, slow him down. Two of these people are his wife, Sharon, and his personal trainer, at LA Fitness San Marcos, Brandon Widner. Both Brandon and Sharon agree that Clay’s hard work and determination, though a great asset, can also be his nemesis because Clay has a tendency to push himself too hard at times.

As a matter of fact I was speaking with Clay, while he was on the stationary bike doing his cardio, when Sharon came over to check on him. She pointed out that Clay was not only pushing his RPMs past his limit, he had also lost track of time; he was happily chugging along without any concern about the strain he was putting on his healing knee. Sharon and Brandon were right, he would not have stopped.

So why is that so bad? I hear people say all too often clichés like “push yourself until you puke” and “no pain, no gain”; but, in fact, “pain” equals no gain in many circumstances, and Clay’s situation is one such circumstance. Pain is an indicator of injury, re-injury and a possible set-back in his recovery…a set-back that Clay does not have time for if he wants to go on his ski trip in February.

“The key is progression, knowing when to advance the exercises and the intensity, and knowing what is too much,” says Clay’s personal trainer Brandon Widner.

Check back with us next week to see what Clay’s latest prognosis is from his doctor, and if he gets the “okay” to go golfing for the first time since his surgery. Even though golf does not put nearly as much strain on his knee as skiing does, it is a great indicator of how his knee will hold-up during prolonged physical activities. Will Clay be able to make it through 18 holes or will even the first hole prove to be too much too soon? Find out next week!

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