Returning to Life in Motion

For skateboarder Toly Bitny, being able to move freely on wheels has become second nature. As a sponsored skater who has been skating for over 15 years, he has become accustomed to working towards perfecting countless tricks, techniques and moves. But after a freak accident during a standard trick led to a torn ACL, Toly would be faced with reaching a new goal: to return to skateboarding through physical therapy.

tolu-more photo

For skateboarder Toly Bitny, being able to move freely on wheels has become second nature. Bitny is a sponsored skater who has been skating for over 15 years, and he had become accustomed to working towards perfecting countless tricks, techniques and moves. But a freak accident during a standard trick led to a torn ACL, and articular cartilage injury, leading Toly to face a new goal: to return to skateboarding through physical therapy.

“This was the worst injury and the most painful one that I had ever experienced during my skating career”, says Toly. “At the time, I had no idea what was exactly wrong but knew it was very bad. Prior to the injury, I was at the peak in my career, skating at my best.”

Toly sought out the care of Penn Orthopaedic Doctor James Carey, who diagnosed him with a torn ACL and cartilage injury that would require surgery and extensive physical rehabilitation. His main concern was focused on being able to once again skate at his peak performance, so Toly was determined do whatever was necessary to get back to his board as soon as possible.

“My main goals for physical therapy were to regain the ability to skate at 100 percent, to regain the same full range of motion and strength, and to feel comfortable with my knee again. I knew that it would be a long recovery process,” says Toly, “I was told that returning to skateboarding within 6-8 months would be an extremely optimistic goal to achieve; but recovering in that time range became the driving force in my therapy.”

Toly underwent ACL reconstruction and osteochondral autograft transfer, a procedure that involves borrowing a little piece of cartilage and bone from a less critical part of the knee and putting it in a more critical part.  A week after his surgeries, Toly began  physical rehabilitation at Penn Therapy & Fitness Weightman Hall, with physical Therapist Gina Serago, PT, DPT, OCS. During his twice-a-week therapy sessions, Toly took part in a regimen created by Gina that included a combination of exercises that required proactive and dedicated time at both the gym and at home.

“Both my doctor and physical therapist had an open dialogue. Everyone was on the same page about my care. There were a lot of basic therapy exercises, involving lifting my leg off the ground– which I never thought I would have to relearn how to do again, and it was a lot harder than I expected,” shares Toly, “But what was such a key part in recovery was Gina teaching me the exercises I needed to do on my own at home, in addition to the routine we did at the gym. By taking responsibility at home, my actions allowed me to have control of my recovery, which felt great.”

While regaining function and movement in his leg, Toly learned from Gina about the reasoning behind the series of exercises and stretches involved in his treatment.

“I learned a lot about how my exercises were building up strength, not just in my knee, but throughout my entire leg. Throughout physical therapy, I was trying to build up my core strength which made me realize what intricate process it was to heal my knee,” says Toly, “Because of Gina I am more aware of my body, and have a much better understanding of how it works.”

As he continued to commit himself to his recovery under the care of Gina, Toly began to realize that he was getting closer to his goals of returning to skating three months after surgery. However, he understood that his dedication and commitment to his therapy program outside of the sessions was crucial in continuing to accelerate his progress.

“Being able to incorporate riding a stationary bike into my therapy sessions was really inspiring. I was starting to regain feeling and could experience a normal walking motion again,” says Toly, “But I knew that skateboarding was such a physically demanding activity, and that I would have to continue working hard to be able to get past the point of just being able to walk or ride a bike.”

Based on his progress, Gina continuously adapted Toly’s therapy regimens in order to focus on movements needed for skateboarding.

 “When I finally stepped on the board, at the 6-month mark, it was the best feeling in the world,” says Toly. “I overcame an obstacle that didn’t seem surmountable, not so long ago. Even with all of the encouragement and optimism I had throughout the whole recovery period, there was always a lingering doubt in my mind. Slowly I began relearning tricks and was able to get everything back. Now I am skating as well as I ever skated before, and it feels good to know that I made it.”

Eight months post-surgery, Toly successfully reached his goal and has now resumed his full skating routine at the same level prior to his injury.

“Toly was an extremely motivated, driven and compliant patient.  He was consistent with his home program and was very involved with his rehabilitation plan from the beginning of therapy.  Participation is key with achieving designated timelines for recovery after such a complex surgery,” said physical Therapist Gina Serago, PT, DPT, OCS, “I guided him through the process with his ultimate goal of skateboarding in mind through-out his plan of care. He gave me a lot of credit for his success but he made my job easy. He did all the work from the start.”

Once again, he is able to trust his knee and enjoy his passion, pain-free. Toly is grateful for having Penn Therapy & Fitness for getting him there.

“I credit Penn Therapy & Fitness for returning me to skating so soon. Gina was incredible because not only did she know my goals, but she made it her goal to get me back to where I wanted to be.”

by Patrice Bendig