If you need a sub for softball, call Craig. A lifelong athlete and former personal trainer, sports have always been a part of Craig’s life. As a student, he played football, basketball and ran track; he’s partial to golf and skiing now. But really, he doesn’t discern — almost any physical activity will do.

Yet, as for most athletes, injury is part of his past and a constant possibility for the future. None threatened his everyday more than an Achilles tear in 2012.

Craig plays in a basketball summer league. Forty and over, the league is very competitive, stocked with NBA referees and former college or pro players. On one particular July day, the game was not going well. Craig’s team, despite being defending champs, was getting blown out. It was about to get worse.

A couple days before, Craig had gone on a 20-mile bike ride along the lakefront. Usually compulsive about stretching and staying limber, he had forgone the usual therapy stops. His Achilles was sore starting the game. In the last two minutes, Craig cut toward the basket and the damage was done.

Achilles tear scan

An Achilles tear can be severe; the tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bones and, when torn, can affect your mobility. It’s closely related to running speed and power, which can be especially harmful for an athlete with a competitive drive.

Craig is one such competitor. But as someone with experience, personal and professional, with sports and sports medicine, he was committed to treating it right. After the game, one of Craig’s neighbors, a rehab specialist, stopped by the house and confirmed his diagnosis: It was an Achilles tear and he would need an MRI. His friend recommended Anish R. Kadakia, MD, an orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Another of Craig’s friends, an orthopaedic surgeon in Indiana, co-signed the referral.

Dr. Kadakia presented Craig with the standard surgical and non-surgical options. While surgery would require more work from Craig, it would also be his best shot at full-function.

The surgery was set for a couple weeks later, after which Craig began a personalized rehab plan, participating in a study led by Dr. Kadakia on how post-op protocol impacts when and to what degree flexibility and functionality return. The research, specifically on the evaluation of operative versus non-operative management of Achilles tendon ruptures using computerized adaptive testing (CAT), was one of a series of studies Dr. Kadakia has led comparing the outcomes of surgical and nonsurgical treatments for foot and ankle injuries.

Years ago, Craig had shoulder surgery for a rotator cuff tear which limited his function. Throughout rehab, he was unable to do everyday activities normally and to the extent he wanted to. He remembers the care he had to take during recovery, being very measured, never over-exerting his body. Following the pace of his rehab plan was worth it to return to full-function, and he never forgot how the injury impacted his quality of life.

High-level athletes approach physical therapy in a unique way, oftentimes with an ambition that outpaces that of their more casual peers. An injury can represent a drastic change to their everyday, not only impacting their ability to do simple tasks like walking, but also their ability to perform at the level they are accustomed to in the activities they love.

Dr. Kadakia understood what I wanted to do, post-op, in terms of still being able to be active.”

Dr. Kadakia understood completely. From the moment Craig arrived at Northwestern Medicine Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care, the team helped him set realistic benchmarks, taking into account his goals as an athlete and his knowledge as a personal trainer, answering questions whenever he had them.

“He was able to relate to me,” Craig said. “He understood what I wanted to do, post-op, in terms of still being able to be active. Communication was the most important thing. One, to make me feel comfortable and also, to let me know where I was so that I didn’t steer outside the guardrails.”

To wit: The Northwestern Medicine team made sure to communicate what was at stake if he went too fast. His enthusiasm was obvious, and Dr. Kadakia cautioned him not to over do it. But his commitment to a speedy recovery was matched by his commitment to preventing a relapse, and he followed Dr. Kadakia’s plan closely.

By September, Craig was walking again, by March, running. A little under a year since the tear, he was back on the basketball court in June. He was hesitant in his first game, but it wasn’t long until he was back to playing with confidence.

Craig is constantly on the move. Chauffeur to his three daughters, he calls on his medical sales accounts between dropping them off in the morning and delivering them to their respective activities — which range from acting and piano to volleyball and ballet — in the afternoon. Whenever possible, he tries to sneak in a workout — cycling, running, swimming, a pick-up game of basketball.

Craig playing basketball

I am active, I have kids that are active, and I want to be able to continue to do stuff with them.”

An athlete from a young age, injuries along the way (ankle, shoulder) deterred him from a college career, but he never stopped staying active. And with skilled rehab when needed, he hopefully never will. It’s a passion shared by his family as well, though their favorite activities are diverse. His wife ran track professionally and enjoys her cross-fit. His three daughters are all over the athletic board: ballet, track and volleyball hold their interest for now. As much as he loves basketball, Craig has to admit golf is probably at the top of his list. This passion, however, is not yet shared by anyone in his family.

“They have no interest whatsoever,” Craig said with a laugh. “That’s okay with me, that’s my me-time, so I’m not going to rush it.” The family does find common ground on vacation. Ski trips are a consensus favorite and pool and beach time can keep everyone actively occupied for hours.

“For me, being fully functional — physically being able to do whatever I want to do — is very important,” Craig explained. “Because I am active, I have kids that are active, and I want to be able to continue to do stuff with them.”

With rehab in the rearview, Craig can just do about anything again. That softball game? He’s in. He’s athletic and active, with his loved ones and for himself.

Whether in a competitive league, a pick-up game or at home with family and friends, Craig sees the impact of his recovery. And after it all, he’s stronger than ever — confident that action can always be a part of his everyday.

Making an #ImpactEveryDay