One of the worst feelings as an athlete is being sidelined due to an injury. Not only can injuries be incredibly painful, but, even worse, is not being able to participate in the game that you love. This is also true of pickleball athletes at any level. The pain of not being able to participate and be on the pickleball court due to an injury can be intolerable.
For those of you that have been in the sport of pickleball pre-2019, you will certainly recognize the name Marcin Rozpedski. Rozpedski was on a tear in the sport of pickleball before early 2019, as he was back-to-back men’s singles champion at the USA Pickleball National Championships and Tournament of Champions in 2015 and 2016. He also won the same title at the 2016 US Open Pickleball Championships. Rozpedski even had success in doubles pickleball, winning a gold medal at the 2017 Tournament of Champions, a silver medal at the 2018 US Open Pickleball Championships, and a bronze medal at the 2018 USA Pickleball National Championships. In fact, during the three-year period from 2015 to 2018, Rozpedski’s singles record was an astonishing 74-2!
However, things would change in 2018.
In 2018, in his early 40s, Rozpedski’s knees were already overused, as Rozpedski, a former tennis player, had been playing the sport of tennis since he was 6 years old. His entire life revolved around tennis, as he played throughout his youth and then both collegiately at UCLA and professionally. He also taught lots of tennis after his professional career. So, to say Rozpedski had wear and tear on his knees is a massive understatement.
As a result of this overuse and wear and tear, Rozpedski experienced incredible pain in his knees – so much so that he could not sleep at night. Rozpedski tried physical therapy and various shots and other medicine. But, nothing worked. The pain persisted and, as a result, surgery was necessary. The first surgery on Rozpedski’s right knee went smoothly. Although Rozpedski did not realize how major and difficult a knee replacement would be – even at his young age – he was able to recover in less than six short months. Rozpedski had his first knee replacement in May 2018, and was playing and winning a bronze medal in the pro men’s doubles division in November 2018 at the USA Pickleball National Championships. However, it was at this 2018 USA Pickleball National Championships that Rozpedski’s left knee started to really ache with pain, which would cause Rozpedski to slide into what felt like a never-ending injury spiral.
The timeline of what happens next is hard to believe (bear with us, as the sequence of events seems never-ending, so we cannot even imagine what it was like to live this nightmare):
- On the pickleball court at the 2018 USA Pickleball National Championships, Rozpedski received cortisone shots in his left knee from his doctor, so that he could finish the tournament and not let his partners down.
- By May 2019, Rozpedski could not even walk, let alone play pickleball. As a result, in May 2019, Rozpedski underwent a second knee replacement surgery – this time on his left knee.
- Ten days after his surgery, Rozpedski felt very different compared to his first surgery. He knew something was “off,” but was not sure what.
- Rozpedski woke up with excruciating pain and went to the emergency room with a pocket of fluid in his knee. His blood pressure crashed to the point that doctors were mixing steroids and morphine to keep him awake and numb the pain.
- Three days in the emergency room later, Rozpedski went to a senior living center to recuperate and do physical therapy. He lasted only one night because of the horrendous treatment. His wife, Carley Rozpedski, picked him up in the dark of night.
- Doctors “confirmed” that there was no infection in his knee.
- In July 2019, there were now two pockets of fluid and the doctors decided to open his knee up to determine if there was an infection, which he had. Rozpedski was left with three choices – (1) leave the knee like it was and hope the infection goes away; (2) take parts of his knee out and hope the infection goes away; or (3) take the entire knee out, live without a knee for three months, and then replace the prosthetic later. He opted for option #2, as it had a shorter recovery time, so he can get back out on the pickleball court.
- Three months later, after countless attempts to remove the infection and pump Rozpedski’s body with medicine to fight the infection, the issue remained. The doctors opened Rozpedski’s knee up and found that the infection spread around his leg.
- Rozpedski then was filled with more medicine to kill the infection, as the doctors put bead-like substances in his knee. He also was forced to walk with a walker and could not put any weight on his leg.
- Three months later, the infection remained and the doctors were forced to open Rozpedski’s knee up again. This time, the doctors took out the prosthetic knee.
- Rozpedski had a fifth knee surgery. His left knee was now replaced with a revision knee, which is a heavier, bulkier, but more durable knee prosthetic. He also had a metal sleeve placed on his leg to fit the larger prosthetic.
- After two years of feeling like he had the flu, unable to put weight on his leg (or even get his knee wet with water), and unable to be active like the athlete he is, Rozpedski was able to be back to his active lifestyle and back out on the pickleball court.
Rozpedski describes this two-year span as the most difficult time in his life. Besides the physical pain, Rozpedski struggled mentally at times with depression and tiredness, as he would lock himself in a dark room and cry to try to cope with the fact that he could not work, could not provide for his family, could not play, and was in constant pain. For a lifelong athlete to be sidelined from even walking was a brutal pill to swallow for Rozpedski. This is despite that Rozpedski is no stranger to injury. In the past, Rozpedski had to end his professional tennis career after contracting malaria from a player in the Davis Cup in 1995. So, he has past experience with derailing injuries.
However, Rozpedski recovered from this injury. After this dark two-year period, Rozpedski re-emerged in the pickleball community and onto the pro pickleball tournament scene. Rozpedski played pro men’s doubles with Morgan Evans at the inaugural USA Pickleball Tournament Series event in Newport Beach, California. Rozpedski and Evans went 2-2 on the day and did not medal. But, when asked about his return, Rozpedski triumphantly exclaimed:
Rozpedski gives all the credit with his recovery and ability to stay mentally strong to his wife, Carley (who he also calls his best friend), his family, and his friends. Without them, he says, his story would be entirely different. (Rozpedski also stated that he knew he married an incredible woman, but he did not realize just how unbelievably incredible she really is!)
Looking to the future, Rozpedski plans to play in more pickleball tournaments and says to absolutely expect a comeback! Although he says his expectations are low, Rozpedski says he loves the sport of pickleball and the people in it too much not to wage a comeback. He feels that he owes it to the pickleball community. So, be on the lookout for Rozpedski at the upcoming major pickleball tournaments!
And, for all of you in the pickleball community that may be struggling with something similar to Rozpedski, or some other unfortunate injury, his advice to you is that this life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. So, take the time you need, whether it is away from the pickleball courts or some other aspect of your life, to be both physically and mentally healthy. And, then, wage your comeback… just like Marcin did! Then, enjoy the moment and the people in it…