Enduring the pain: Tigerette continues dancing despite relentless knee injury

Annie Matheis, News editor

Pain plagued junior Cari McCabe’s life for the past year. It is likely that knee pain will be with her for the rest of her life.
Her injury prevents her from doing daily activities that she is passionate about.
She can no longer do the same dances she was once able to do as a Tigerette.
After visiting two different orthopedic doctors and receiving several diagnoses, Cari was informed she had Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.
“It is just a big fancy word for your knee hurts all the time, all over,” Cari said. “They said I might grow out of it, but it has been over a year and it hasn’t gotten better.”
Trouble with Cari’s knee began when she broke her growth plate in kindergarten.
The growth plate is developing tissue that is located at the end of long bones and helps to regulate the length and shape of the fully grown bone.
Since then, Cari has participated in soccer and dance. While active, she experienced occasional pain, but nothing out of the normal.
Cari’s knee started to bother her at her first Thursday night Drill Team practice sophomore year.
“I went inside and I thought ‘OK, I will just throw a brace on it and it’ll be fine,’” she said. “The next day comes around and it still hurts. It just never really stopped hurting.”
Cari said she was relieved to find out the name of her condition because she could tell people what she had.
“It was bittersweet, because I finally knew what I have, but there is nothing I can do about it,” she said. “It is not curable. You can’t fix it. You have to learn to adapt.”
Cari said she experiences knee pain about 75 percent of the time.
“The hurting is on a scale,” Cari said. “It can hurt from a dull ache, which is not as annoying, to excruciating pain. Most of the time, it is in the middle to upper range.
“I’ve had aching. I’ve had throbbing. I’ve had burning. I have had it where is it like someone is stabbing me. Pretty much any forms of pain you can think of, I have experienced it at least once.”
Cari said her knee can hurt when she is doing a variety of activities, such as going up or down stairs and walking for long periods of time.
She is also unable to perform some dance moves.
Cari doesn’t have to be physically active at the time for her knee to be in pain, though.
“If my knee is in a position for too long, it will start hurting,” she said. “I am constantly moving my knees so that they don’t hurt.”
Cari’s mother Susan McCabe said the condition is the biggest puzzle she has ever faced as a parent.
“She can forgo all physical activity, and it would still hurt because of the way she has to sit at a desk,” Susan said.
Tigerettes coach Tess Pattison-Wade said she thinks it is unfortunate Cari doesn’t get to take part in all the things the other dancers do.
“I think it is sad for her to watch everybody else get to participate in everything,” Pattison-Wade said. “It is something she really enjoys, but she is unable to do because her body won’t let her do it.”
Cari said she opts out of some Tigerettes activities like the football half-time field show, where there is a lot of lunging, kneeling, crouching and running.
“I can do everything,” Cari said. “Physically, I am capable of doing everything she wants me to do. It is just when one person jumps and lands perfectly, they are fine, and for me, it would hurt more than it should.”
Despite the challenging condition, her mother said Cari stays optimistic.
“She has such a positive attitude and such a positive outlook,” Susan said. “She doesn’t complain about her knee. She always says she is fine.”
Pain relief medication has no effect on Cari’s knee and she said she knows there is nothing she can do about it.
“My motto for all of this is: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” Cari said.
She said she realizes this pain might be with her for the rest of her life.
“It is a constant reminder that life isn’t perfect, but you have got to deal with it,” Cari said.
“You can choose to let it bother you or you can ignore it and accept it.”