Q+A: Dallas Friday's Road To Recovery

Dallas Friday | Photo: Dave Sanford

Dallas Friday rode into the Ft. Worth stop of last year's MasterCraft Pro Wakeboard Tour with tons of momentum. After an entire winter of hard riding, Friday was at the peak of her powers and was coming off a win at the Nautique Wake Games. Friday left Ft. Worth with a devastating knee injury that not only ended her 2010 season but also put her 2011 campaign in jeopardy. Ten months and several hundred hours of grueling rehab later and Friday is back on the water. With the 2011 competitive season looming, we caught up with the most decorated female wakeboarder ever to find out where she is on her latest road to recovery.

Can you walk us through the crash that led to your injury? What happened? It was third contest of the year for me. I just came off a win at Wake Games and I was feeling pretty good. I was motivated, riding a lot and I was ready to compete and get back out there. I was still a little a sore in my knee before the event, but I didn't really think much of it, because that's what happens when you're training. I rested right before I went up there, and my actual contest run felt great. Conditions were good and I stood up. I was coming into the dock and on my last trick — my favorite trick — a tantrum to blind. It's one of those tricks that I know well enough that I can do it early or late. If something happens, you can usually correct it and land it. It's basically a no-brainer. I thought I was going to stomp it and honestly I never saw any of it coming. I still can't really understand how it happened. I've watched the video, and I did it perfect. It's not like I did something wrong. Honestly, it was just bad luck. One of those freak things. Maybe it was a combination of fatigue, a different wake, and I was actually landing the trick switch so my less comfortable foot was forward. My knee just couldn't take it. It just bent. It felt like a chain reaction of explosions in my knee. I could feel each ligament blow and make something else blow. It was the most pain I've ever been in and the worst feeling I've ever had in my life. The pain and just the shock of it — I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I didn't even have to look at my knee. I knew that something was majorly wrong and it was way more than an ACL injury. My whole leg just all of sudden felt disoriented. When I snapped my femur, it was like "OK, I just broke a bone, but this was like "Oh my gosh, what in the world just happened?"

This isn't your first major injury. Can you give us a recap of all your major injuries? I've had four knee surgeries total and this last one's been a major one. It was basically a total reconstruction. It was a nine-hour surgery, so it was pretty gnarly. My femur was actually a nine-spiral fracture in my left leg. Then I broke my L3 vertebra in my back during my first few years of riding. After rehabbing, I've been able to recover from all my injuries, and I'm always back and better than I was before. But now it's my right leg, which is usually my strong leg, going through it.

What did you do in your downtime while you were laid up? Bed rest for a month, which was basically not moving for a month, unless I was carried to the bathroom. That's was pretty much just sleeping. Then it was rehab, rehab, rehab, and time with family, which was the best part about getting hurt. I got to focus on other parts of my life and realize there's something out there aside from wakeboarding and competing.

Since you've already come back from major injuries in the past, do you almost know exactly how you're going to rehab? Or has the process evolved every time? You think you know, but each one is very different. They're all tough. You kind of just have to push forward. I have my good days and my bad days. Each of my injuries seemed so devastating at the time. Now, it's like "That was nothing then." What I'm going through now is something they say most people won't even recover from. I thought I had my work cut out for myself then, but now it's like "Is this even possible?" You really become discouraged and it becomes a big test of your dedication and who you are and how bad you want it. After every injury, before the doctor even told me I was going to ride again, I knew in my head that I was going to ride again. There was no way I was not going to be back on my board. It's in my blood; it's what I do. Even with all the injuries I've had, it doesn't stop me from wanting to wakeboard or from doing everything within my power to get back to riding.

What was the rehab process like this time? I went to the Andrews Institute, which is known for rehabbing all the NFL guys. The Manning brothers, Brett Favre and all those guys go to these people. It's like knee doctor heaven there. They know their stuff and I've never felt like I was in such good hands. I had work done on both legs, so I couldn't walk. I had to be lifted to the bathroom for almost three weeks. And I was going to rehab — being lifted into the back of my mom's car — four or five days after my operation, whereas most people wait around 6-8 weeks after having knee surgery to start rehab. We did ultrasound therapy, we did icing, we did massaging, pretty much getting a head start on healing. I was walking after three weeks on crutches. The docters told me it was going to be 8-12 months before they would release me to wakeboard. It's been a little over 10 months now. I went out for a set after eight months, and I only did probably five sets over the next month or two because I'm really sore after I ride. During my set, I feel fine. I feel like I could do anything, like "Let's go do a double-up at the end of the lake." It's the next day. I can barely walk. It feels like I've been hit by a train. I want to do so much more than I'm able to right now, so it's really tough. Any athlete will tell you that the worst thing is not being able to do what you want because your body won't allow you to. You want to push and push and your body's not allowing you to do it. So it takes patience and time and that's what I've realized now. Five months ago I had goals set, like "I want to ride in Wake Games, trying doubles at the end of the season" and I was setting all these goals about where I should be. But after starting to ride and starting to rebuild my full motion and strength, it's so tough. You don't need to pressure yourself to get back on the water when you're not ready. I want to go back to competing when I know I can go back out there and win. I don't want to go out there and not be the best that I can be. It's not about getting my tricks back. I've been doing them for more than 10 years. I'm not worried about that. I want to be able to come back and ride the whole season and have fun with it. I also don't want to risk reinjury or having to ride for the whole year in pain — it's not worth it. So, I'm trying to be good and listen to the docters, because I want to do this another five, 10 years. Really 20, if I could.

How did it feel to be back on your board? It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It felt awesome. I felt like I was the real me again. I felt like I could do anything. After months of having my whole life taken away from me, to get back out there the first time, it really gave me a "Nothing can stop me" type of mentality. I really felt my passion for wakeboarding on my first set back. And why I do it and why I have these crazy injuries. No matter what happens, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get back out there.

Did you ease back on the water by riding at OWC or on the System 2.0? That was the decision of my rehab: What was going to be my first set back? Do I want to do the System 2.0 at The Projects, do I want ride at OWC, do I want to go to the Tampa cable, or do I want to ride boat. It was all back and forth. I was just looking forward to riding, and it would change every week. I ended riding behind my boat here. Living on lake in Florida, glass calm, behind a brand-new Malibu that you haven't gotten to ride behind — it was just too much temptation, so I went out on the boat on my home lake here. It was awesome. It's very tempting every time I go out and ride. That's why I haven't been riding so much. One because my body. I have to rest for a few days and not overdo it. But it's also hard for me to go ride, because I know I want to do everything I was doing before and push it further than I should be. I'll honestly say this and my doctor will kill me if he reads this, but my first set back I hit the wake. The doctor said no impact, no jumping. And I know that was kind of taking a risk, but I know me, I know my body, I knew I would be fine. It's just too tempting though. I jumped the wake and then of course I was super-sore. I'm just trying to take it easy and mostly just get strong and rebuild my range of motion and flexibility.

How far along would you say you are in your recovery? They told me 8 to 12 months before I could have my first set. They told me, "We know you're an athlete and that's for most people. You guys can always get out there early — it's in your blood." But they said it will probably be two years before I feel totally back to normal. It took two years for my femur. I'll be competing a year after the surgery date, but until I feel game-on ready, they said two years. That sounds about right.

Have you targeted an event that you want to be back for? I did, but now I've changed that and realized that there's no rush. I've won it all and done it all, so I don't feel like I have anything to gain from it, besides the fact that I love competing. I can't wait to get back out there and compete. But I want to be able to compete many more years and take the time and do it right. Because after 10 months of not wakeboarding, it's not worth it to maybe have another year of being out, because you weren't patient and didn't do it right and take the right steps and listen to the doctors. I'm just being extra cautious. I'll know when I'm ready. It will pretty much be when I can go out there and do my stuff and win.

How much of your repertoire do you want to have back before you ride in an event? I want to be back full throttle. There's nothing worse than riding in a contest and not being able to do what you're capable of. It's not fun and it's not you. Athletes are competitive people, so I'm going to compete when I'm ready to go out there and throw down.

What are your goals for this season? My goals would be to get stronger and stronger and reach where I was before and hopefully surpass that. And just become a fitness machine and just really healthy and riding a lot and hopefully competing and winning. If those things don't happen this season, I know they will down the road. With some of my other injuries, I feel like I came back too early and wasn't doing what I should have been doing for myself. I'm kind of letting myself for once take control. When I feel ready, that's when I'll come back.