From A Torn ACL to National Rugby Champion
Liz Thoma shares how she recovered from a torn ACL in 2022 to win the 2023 championship with the help of Dr. Aaron Black and his team
This spring, Liz Thoma, a rugby player for Colorado Mesa, found herself in a surreal moment: she and her team had just won the National Rugby Championship 7’s Title. Not only was this a huge moment for the Colorado Mesa team, who came in second for the 2022 Championship, but it was also a personal victory for Liz who had spent the past year recovering from a torn ACL.
“It still doesn’t feel like it actually happened,” says Liz. “I had so much happen in less than a year with my knee. To feel like I could accomplish something like that was incredible. My whole team has worked so hard to go to this championship.”
Flashback to April 16th of 2022, Liz was the captain of her team. She was playing in the national qualifier for college rugby, when her foot landed in a hole, and she felt a pop. Her dad took her to get an MRI as soon as possible, and Panorama Summit Orthopedics was the first place they could get an appointment. During the consult, they saw Dr. Aaron Black, who believed it to be a torn ACL, which was later confirmed by the MRI.
Liz had several options for her care, but she wanted to continue to see Dr. Black because he made it clear that he actually cared. “He was so nice and understanding and he made it very personal,” commented Liz.
When the MRI came back, Dr. Black gave Liz a call to share the hard news. Liz laughed as she remembers him saying, “Yeah so as you can see, there’s nothing there.” Because it was such a tough injury, she appreciated that Dr. Black kept things personal and lighthearted to help her process the news.
Dr. Black recommended an ACL repair using her quad, and she decided to move forward with surgery. “I had a hard time coming out of it and honestly had a rough first 6 months of recovery. My body did not react well to the surgery,” Liz remembers. Her body had an allergic response to the dissolvable stitches and physical therapy was challenging, even though she was dedicated to doing her exercises daily. “Those first couple of months were really tough. My physical therapists weren’t listening to me when I said something was wrong.”
After six months, Liz came back to Dr. Black because she wasn’t able to get full extension in her knee. At that point, Dr. Black ordered another MRI and discovered a large amount of scar tissue that had built up under her kneecap. “When I said that something wasn’t right, he said ‘let’s do something about it.’ Dr. Black was super receptive. It wasn’t anything that went wrong with the surgery, PT or training plan, I’m just one of those people who build up scar tissue really fast,” says Liz.
When Dr. Black removed the scar tissue, it marked a major turning point in her recovery. “It was SO much easier. It was almost painless! After surgery I was walking around thinking ‘this feels great!’” She quickly got full extension and mobility back. A month and a half later, Liz was back to running and practicing with her team. “I never thought I would miss running,” laughs Liz.
Come spring, Liz was cleared to play in the national championship. The first round that Liz was able to return to play again was for the national qualifiers. “It was the same field that I tore my ACL on,” she comments. The team handily won that match and went on to win the championship title. After a challenging year, victory felt that much sweeter.
One of Liz’s biggest takeaways from her experience at Panorama was how her care team personalized her care. “Honestly, you get such a personal experience at Panorama. I’ve had friends go to other places for the same injury, and their doctors can’t even remember their names. Thank you for listening to me and pushing me towards the goal of getting back to my sport… Dr. Black’s team was still cautious with me, but they worked with me to get to the goal that I wanted. Instead of saying ‘you can’t do this until a year,’ my restrictions were based on me and my ability. I want to thank them for listening to me and valuing me as a person.”
What does the future hold for Liz? “Lots and lots of sports!” she says. “I’ve got another year of rugby and I plan to get another Natty (national championship)! I’m working with my coach to make sure I can continue playing after college, hopefully some semi-pro teams.”
This article is dedicated to Liz’s father who passed away earlier this spring. He was there for her when she was injured and encouraged her throughout the entire recovery process. It meant the world to her to play for him again.