He set his sights on the CrossFit Games, spending three to four hours in the gym each day. But that process came to a halt when he slide down the fire pole to respond to a call and felt a pop in his right knee. Despite his setback, six weeks later Steve was back on track to be a champion.
When Steve King began doing CrossFit in 2012, his goal was improving his fitness level. He achieved that and more. Today, the Jacksonville firefighter is ranked as one of the top CrossFit athletes in the world within his age division.
“I’m in better shape as a 51-year-old than I was as a 28-year-old,” he said.
In the summer of 2015, he set his sights on the CrossFit Games. At the Games, a pool of the top CrossFit competitors from around the world compete in challenges intended to test their strength and endurance. Steve began training for the 2016 competition that August, spending three to four hours each day in the gym.
But that process came to a halt in October. As Steve slid down the fire pole to respond to a call—something he’d done hundreds of times before—he landed wrong and felt a pop in his right knee. He had torn his meniscus, the cartilage that cushions the joint between shin and thigh.
Treatment at Passavant
He knew what to expect. In 2009, he’d torn the meniscus in his other knee after he fell through a floor while fighting a house fire.
But this latest injury was “really devastating,” Steve said. “I went home after it happened, and I told my wife, ‘My Games are over.’”
In mid-November, he had surgery at Passavant Area Hospital to repair the tear.
Orthopedic surgeon Darr Leutz, MD, has more than two decades of experience treating patients with meniscus tears. Although he didn’t operate on Steve, he’s seen plenty of similar injuries over the years.
Meniscus tears are “probably one of the most common injuries of the knee joint,” he said.
Dr. Leutz said the meniscus, a gristle-like substance that cradles the knee joint, can often be repaired arthroscopically. During this minimally invasive procedure, three small incisions are made to insert a 4 mL scope that allows the surgeon to examine and repair the tear.
During recovery, the patient typically wears a knee brace and uses crutches for 4–6 weeks. The prognosis for complete healing is good, Dr. Leutz said, particularly in a physically active patient like Steve.
At each follow-up appointment, Steve showed improved range of motion in his knee. Six weeks after his surgery, he was released to return to training.
Quick Recovery, Back to the Gym
Although he was discouraged by the setback, his friends insisted he still had a chance to qualify for the CrossFit Games.
“Everybody at the gym worked with me in terms of getting the flexibility back in my right knee and getting me back in cardiovascular shape,” he said.
As the weeks went by, he gained confidence. In March, he took part in the first step toward qualifying for the Games: the open competition. He finished 28th in the world in the 50–54 age category, earning himself a place in the regional portion of the competition. There, he finished 12th in the world.
Later that summer, with his family, friends and workout partners cheering him on, he competed alongside top international CrossFit athletes at the 2016 CrossFit Games. He finished 9th in his age category, earning him the title of one of the fittest men in the world.
The achievement capped off a year of exhilarating highs and devastating lows for Steve, who only months earlier had been sure that his knee injury would derail his dream of being a CrossFit champion. But now, he believes the injury was just another step toward achieving his goal.
"2016 was my Cinderella year,” he said. “The stars were aligned. Everything worked out.”