Learning Patience through my ACL

Developing my new programming

By Ryan Willms

I tore my ACL in my left knee at the start of June last summer. I’d finally got back into running and joined the Santa Monica Trail Runners club, my body was feeling stronger and summer was really about to kick off. The day it happened I was devastated. I’d run 22km in the mountains the day before and I was planning on taking the Monday off to rest. But when my brand new basketball came in the mail from Amazon, after watching the NBA playoffs and looking for some more ‘fun’ in my life, I couldn’t help but to dust off my basketball shoes and head to the gym to shoot around.

I knew I should be resting, so I told myself I wouldn’t play a real game or anything, I’d just shoot around and keep it lite. About 10 minutes before I was going to pack up and leave, I went down and knew it was bad. I managed to hop on one leg back to my car with my t-shirt in my mouth so that I could bit down and scream through the pain as I changed gears on the way home and dragged myself up my stairs and onto my couch, then I started processing all of the emotions, the things I was going to miss out on and how bad I felt for myself.

My last run in Malibu before rupturing my ACL…

Over the last 18 months I’d sprained my knee in two different ways, three times. At the time of tearing my ACL I obviously wasn’t able to read the signs—hindsight is 20/20 so they say. My body had been telling me, asking me, pleading with me to slow down, to take it easy. I wouldn’t hear it, and those were just the big signs that I hadn’t really listened to. There were plenty of others over the last couple of years but I had a very hard time sitting still. If I was going to sit still, then it would be in an infrared sauna, so I was still doing something, accomplishing something, on some level, at least thats what I subconsciously believed.


I’ve been increasingly battling with this idea internally. My mom told me when I was younger, “don’t talk about it, be about it.” That line had lodged itself deep into my psyche and represents one of the clearest ways that I’d become attached and addicted to doing in my life. One of the stories I told John, my health coach, was when I was around 12 years old on vacation with my family in Maui. My parents would take us to the Grand Wailea hotel for a few days at the end of our trip and it was absolute haven. There were all sorts of pools, rope swings, ping pong, rapids—it was non-stop fun for an active water-loving 12-year old boy in Maui. They had a main waterslide and as I got used to it and the grounds, I began to count the times I would go down the slide. By the last time we stayed at the hotel, and the last day I was there, I was absolutely dead set on going down that waterslide faster and more times than anybody ever had—at least more times than I ever had, and I was probably the only one keeping track of the records.


Why was 12-year old Ryan was obsessed with setting PR’s on the waterslide? I didn’t make a big deal out of it or really tell anybody either, it was for me. I was critically planning my day for this epic waterslide-a-thon but to the casual onlooker, parents included, I was just having a fun time, but really it was all business. It’s a funny, sort of cute story but it’s one of the earliest examples of a behavioural pattern that has developed throughout my life. It’s driven me to succeed in some circumstances, a quiet dedication and obsession to achieve for myself when nobody else even knows I’m keeping score, counting my stats, however it’s subconsciously lead me into treacherous territory too—most recently in the form of a ruptured ACL.

Slow moving return

This pattern could have continued the rest of my life, getting me in and out of opportunities and despair, due to the lack of awareness of my own actions and behavior. Fortunately this time I am listening, and while changing a pattern like this and learning to heed the signs from my body is no easy undertaking. I am committed to my own evolution and a new skill that my experience could benefit from integrating: patience.


With all of my doing, patience had never been one of my strong-points, at least not one that I used with myself. I can be patient with my family, my friends, my colleagues, in my intimate relationships, but with myself, not so much. The past year has equipped me with some new tools that I can use to witness how I’m feeling, learn about why I’m acting and ask myself about why I am choosing this. The motivation behind these actions and the ability to understand and learn from the consequences is refreshing. I am extremely grateful for this, but it is still difficult and I struggle with it daily. There is so much to unpack within this simple idea of doing versus being, and the many ways in which it’s affected my life. I can feel the progress over stretches of weeks and months but I have to work to catch myself. My subconscious, like everyone’s, is a strong-willed monster lurking just out of sight waiting for its chance to grab the wheel again.


John likes to bring up the waterslide story when he spots my attention drifting and hands falling off the wheel, and I’m grateful to have another set of eyes on the lookout because as individuals it’s very challenging to make these changes in our lives, and see our shadow patterns poke their heads out. It’s really easy to fall back into our familiar behaviours, even when they hurt us mentally, emotionally and physically—especially. It’s an interesting defence system we have installed, but we can reprogram it. We just have to reprogram it nearly everyday, for months or years before the new setting starts to work automatically, without having to consciously choose differently each time.


My new programming is patience. Patience with myself and to not only listening, but respecting what I hear and making decisions that are more authentic to how I really feel and what my goals are. I have a ways to go but my body has been a big teacher for me. There is a lot of wisdom in our physical reality, and learning how to develop this dialogue is a skill I am dedicated to nurturing, I just have to be patient with it.

This article was written by Ryan Willms and published on January 6, 2019