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Finding Her Inner Strength: Triathlete Rebounds

Thursday, April 12, 2018 7:55 AM

Toeing the starting line for the 2017 Chicago Triathlon last August, veteran athlete Susan Perkins could see the challenge before her. But it paled in comparison to what the Hyde Park woman had already overcome. Two years earlier, while driving to pick up her son from school, Perkins was rear-ended by an intoxicated driver. The painful recovery tested the limits of her body and mind.


“Being an athlete was part of my identity and the central source of my energy,” recalled Perkins, 48, who had been a competitive swimmer since age 6 and began running in high school. “After the accident, I didn’t see myself doing triathlons again until I came to your Orthopaedic Institute office.”

Daunting Comeback
After the accident, Perkins visited her primary care physician who diagnosed her with neck and back injuries and a severe concussion. She was referred to the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute’s renowned team of sports medicine specialists. Her radiating pain was tempered with a combination of steroid injections, nerve blocks and physical therapy. The optimal treatment for her concussion was rest and time, which was unnerving for the driven University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor.

With time her body began to recover, but Perkins couldn’t regain her confidence to compete.  She was fearful of attempting to swim or run—two important legs of the triathlon. A turning point came when the Institute’s Director of the Division of Primary Care Sports Medicine had a heartfelt conversation with Perkins about focusing on her goals, and not the past.

Physical and Emotional Support
“Susan thought she wasn’t an athlete anymore. I told her it’s in her, we just have to find it,” recalled the doctor, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “We talked about diet, recovery, treatments for pain and that it was going to be a process. She did a great job in taking that information and using it.”

NorthShore board-certified, fellowship-trained primary care sports medicine physicians offer guidance and treatment for athletes in all stages of life. From assessment and treatment of concussion to tendonitis and heat illnesses, these specialists provide exercise guidance and goal setting to ensure fitness progression and injury prevention. 

With the full support of her physicians, Perkins returned to her beloved sport on the shoreline of Monroe Harbor for the 2017 Triathlon. After a half-mile swim, 15 miles on a bike, and a 3.1 mile run, she sent a simple message to the doctor: “Your encouragement carried me through the race,” she said. “Thank you!”