Bouncing Back From a Devastating Injury

Creating your own comeback story requires dedication, self-discovery and a little creativity.

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Have you ever suffered a devastating injury, a debilitating disease, or a massive personal or professional setback? If so, then you know exactly where I was in May 2018. I’d finally made it onto another season of American Ninja Warrior after a brief appearance in Season 7 — and this time, Season 10 was going to be my season. I’d worked so unbelievably hard training for my second chance and was incredibly pumped for the opportunity to show the world just how strong I was!

But everything changed the moment I dismounted from the Wingnuts obstacle — boom! I tore my right ACL on the landing, and it was game over. I knew exactly what had happened to me because I’d had this exact pain once before: in 2010, when I tore my left ACL during my NCAA collegiate gymnast days.

I was in complete and utter shock — here I was, the strongest I’d ever been, and it was all gone in an instant. Just like that, I went from such a high — I was having the best run of my life — to such a low. I couldn’t believe the universe would do that to me. It felt so cruel. And it was downright depressing thinking about starting over at square one.

Angela Gargano ACL Injury

Shifting My Perspective

After allowing myself a little “poor me” time, I realized enough was enough. Instead of succumbing to depression and self-pity, I decided to look at things differently. I chose to view this experience as an opportunity to come back stronger — not only physically but also mentally. It was a chance to work on myself in a different way. I decided maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

Instead of focusing on my injury, I chose to focus on my comeback. The first thing I did was start posting about it on my Instagram page so that my followers could see what I was going through. After all, most everyone has experienced a devastating setback in their lives at some point, so I knew the topic would be relatable. The outpouring of support was amazing. I got messages of love and encouragement — and the more I posted about my feelings and emotions, the more I realized I was also helping others deal with their own devastation and disappointment. I was so grateful for my ability to help inspire others to make their own comeback.

I also began journaling incessantly. Whenever I felt myself freaking out, getting anxious or worrying, I journaled all my thoughts. One tactic I used was writing down all my negative thoughts (like: What if this happens to me again?) and then countered each negative thought with a positive one (like: I’ve worked hard and trained for this). Journaling about the situation really helped get me to a healthier place, emotionally. I had no idea how much sharing my feelings would help heal me.

Angela Gargano ACL Injury Workout

Adapting My Workouts

Another aspect to my recovery was finding ways to remain active while confined to a leg brace and crutches. So I started posting my one-legged workouts on Instagram. I’ll admit, some of it was a little over-the-top, but I was determined to prove that you can get stronger than ever even if you have an injury.

I knew that I still had use of my core and my arms, so I didn’t want to neglect those. I created workarounds that allowed me to keep moving without risk of re-injury. I did a lot of hanging exercises to help improve grip and strength. And I did a lot of core exercises because that leads to a strong foundation. I made sure to clear everything with my doctor first, to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself too hard. 

Once my leg was strong enough, I began training on that exact obstacle again — especially on how to stick safe landings. For me, putting myself back in the same position where I tore my ACL was therapeutic. I wasn’t going to let fear keep me from that obstacle; I was going to learn how to do it right.

Life Gives You Do-Overs

Thankfully, there are rarely single chances in life — most of the time, if you work hard enough, you’ll get the opportunity for redemption. And that’s exactly where I am today, a little over a year after tearing my ACL on national television. It was a wake-up call that I needed to be more aware of my body and train differently.

And now, I’m a better version of myself. I’m stronger because this happened. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you focus on your comeback story.

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