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Healthy Living

Wonder woman

Athlete places fourth in Ironman after injury almost derails race

Kane County Magazine

When Amanda Marek fractured her foot playing softball, she was immediately concerned about her Ironman race. The athlete was registered to race in her first Ironman triathlon in just a few short months, but her injury threatened to derail that goal.

“It was extremely disappointing. I was really nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to compete, much less perform well,” says Marek, a triathlon coach and Elite Athlete Coordinator at The Mohawk Foundation – an Aurora-based, multi-sport group that raises money for charities through races and endurance competitions.

Marek has been competing in endurance sports since 2001. She first decided to tackle the Ironman after cheering on friends who competed in the 140.6-mile race. By the time of her injury, in June 2015, she had already spent countless hours training for the October race. On top of that, she was also a triathlon coach. So, she couldn’t stay sidelined for long.

That’s where Jeffrey A. Senall, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon specializing in Foot/Ankle Surgery and Sports Medicine at Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics came in. The orthopedic surgeon and director of the foot and ankle program at Northwestern Medicine sees many sports-related injuries, and he has competed in triathlons himself. His race experience helps guide him as he customizes treatment plans to fit the unique needs of injured athletes.

“I’m kind of involved in that community, so I know what their fears are with these endurance races,” he says. “You put a lot of time and money into training for these so if you get to a point where you’re not going to be able to do it, obviously you’re concerned.”

One option for treating the fracture would be forgoing an operation and wearing a boot for six weeks instead. But with Marek’s race quickly approaching, Dr. Senall suggested a surgical procedure that would stabilize the fracture but not immobilize her foot.

“In most people, we’d probably choose to treat that fracture non-operatively,” he says about Marek’s injury. “But with an athlete, knowing that she had to be back training and ready for a race, we recommended surgery.”

Dr. Senall used a minimally invasive procedure that involves making a small incision and placing a screw across the fracture. The smaller incision size meant less pain and swelling and, most importantly, a shorter recovery time. Marek was back on a bike in a week and running just six weeks later.

“The fact that he had me out there in a week is incredible,” she says. “I wasn’t at all nervous just pure excitement and ready to go.” A few months later, Marek completed in Ironman and placed fourth in her age group.

When Marek began having pain in her right leg after her second Ironman race in 2016, she knew exactly where to turn. She started seeing a physical therapist at Northwestern Medicine Rehabilitation Services in Warrenville, which helped her identify and treat the issue.

“It was perfect; they’re just so knowledgeable. It was so easy for [the doctor] to discover immediately what was wrong and start fixing it,” says Marek. “They put you through an awesome program, and they teach you the things you need to know so you can continue after.”

For more information about orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics, visit rmg.nm.org/orthopaedics or call 630.225.2663. For more information on Northwestern Medicine Rehabilitation Services visit nm.org/rehab or call 630.225.2466.

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