Amy Bilquist on Knee Recovery: ‘When the Time Comes, I Will Be Able to Throw Down’

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Amy Bilquist was hoping to get though one year without a major injury.

After dealing with multiple setbacks during her career, she was hoping 2019 would finally be her year.

It was — but not nearly how she envisioned it.

Bilquist’s 2019 was the most successful in her career as a swimmer. But she also dealt with not one, but three major injuries.

Before NCAAs, Bilquist was working through a broken foot. She went on to have the best NCAAs of her career as a senior at Cal.

Before U.S. nationals in the summer, after moving to Scottsdale, Bilquist broke her hand. She responded by winning her first national title.

Then, during her first International Swimming League (ISL) season, Bilquist noticed some pain in her right knee. Now Bilquist is recovering from knee surgery and hoping to be back to 100 percent before the Olympic trials.

“Timing is not great but it is not awful,” Amy Bilquist told Swimming World. “It was an extreme home makeover of my knee.”

Bilquist really started to feel the knee pain during the Budapest stop of the ISL.

“My knee was swelling a lot when I was in Budapest for ISL. I kept pushing it off, but when I got back I was in pretty good pain, so we had to make a choice. I was really loving ISL, so I didn’t want to pull myself out, so we waited until now. I am really happy I finished the ISL,” she said. “I also wanted to get some aerobic training over Christmas first before surgery rather than skip that training.”

Bilquist’s initial MRI showed several small tears in her patella tendon and doctors wanted to go in and remove her plica, but it turned out to be more invasive than that.

“They were planning on removing the plica,” she said. “Once the doctor went in, he saw my meniscus was torn and 75 percent of my cartilage of the back of my knee was just toast.”

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

It was something that had to be taken care of immediately.

“It kind of prolongs the recovery time unfortunately, but hopefully this will be a good fix for the rest of my life. It wasn’t getting better and had to be done,” she said.

Bilquist is five days removed from her surgery and has already begun physical therapy.

“I will definitely be out of the water for a couple of weeks. Hopefully I will be able to get in the water in early February,” she said. “I have started PT. I will be doing that a lot the next couple of months, retraining my leg to take pressure in the right place.”

Now, the pressure will shift back to the mental side of the sport as Bilquist prepares for the trials.

“The closer we get to trials, it is more of a mental game. I know my body will get there, but it is worth the risk because this is how my journey has been. I have done it so many other times,” she said.

In 2012, she sustained a broken rib right before the Olympic trials. In 2016, she was in the hospital with severe illness leading up to trials. She has also suffered more than a dozen stress fractures, not including her broken foot or broken hand.

But after each major injury, Bilquist performed well at a major meet, which is nothing short of astonishing.

“I put a lot of faith in myself. The best thing for me is to focus on me — 2020 is exciting and has a lot of things riding on it. 2016 I was in and out of the hospital super sick before the trials and I was still able to perform.

“It is knowing when the time comes I will be able to throw down.”

It has become an unfortunate pattern for one of the top swimmers in the country, but something that has helped define her career as well.

“I feel like there is always something in my career, but at the same time, that has helped make me the athlete I am. I think with the bad comes the good. I don’t ever want to get to a spot where I feel bad about myself because other people are going through worse things,” Amy Bilquist said.

“I would have loved a full season without any issues, but that is not how my journey has gone.”