Jan 29, 2015
Amira Idris

University of Delaware

By R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at: [email protected].

When University of Delaware track and field athlete Amira Idris reflects on her very successful 2013 outdoor campaign, she feels both surprised and grateful. After spending the entire season competing with a ruptured anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), Idris surprised everyone, including herself, by capturing a conference championship and shattering her own school record in the triple jump. Much of her gratitude for this improbable success is reserved for Delaware’s athletic training staff, which helped her manage an injury that would eventually require surgery. Idris’s injury troubles can be traced back to February 2012, when the then-freshman rolled her left ankle during a practice. It marked the first time in her career she had been dealt an injury blow of any kind. Although she was initially diagnosed with a sprain, her pain persisted and an MRI revealed a slight tear in her ATFL. The first treatment option she was given was surgery, which would rule her out for the rest of the indoor and outdoor seasons. The second option was rehab, which offered the possibility that she could continue competing. Idris chose the latter and began working with the Blue Hens’ athletic training department. By strengthening the muscles around her compromised ligament, Idris was able to complete a stellar freshman season in which she finished fourth in the triple jump at the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Championships, leaping a school-record 40 feet, 4.25 inches. The team’s most accomplished jumper, Idris returned for her sophomore year with high expectations. But this past February, in the midst of the indoor season, Idris had a major setback. Going through triple jumping drills during practice, she again rolled her left ankle. “It was an injury to her calcaneofibular ligament, which brought back her symptoms,” says Shawn Hanlon, ATC, a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer at Delaware, who had just begun a rotation working with the Blue Hens track and field team at the time of the injury. “It was a re-sprain resulting in gross laxity. This time the pain was worse.” An MRI showed that the tendon had additional tearing, and again the option of surgery was broached. “She was also told that instead of surgery, she could take the season off and rest while undergoing a comprehensive three-month rehab so she could come back for her junior year at 100 percent,” says Hanlon. “She kicked around those options for a week, but eventually rejected both. She decided to fight through the pain and keep competing. Basically, she told me to do everything on my end to keep her healthy and she would take care of the rest.” With an eye on coming back for the end of the indoor season, Idris worked with Hanlon for a month to strengthen the muscles around her ankle and build up her lower body stability. “Shawn was confident that he could help me improve and he was very easy to communicate with,” says Idris. “I trusted him immediately. Once I started his workouts, my leg began feeling stronger and I had better balance.”

Hanlon’s initial work for Idris included basic four-way Theraband ankle exercises and manual isometric work. “Manual strengthening allowed me to see where she was weak and helped reveal the direction we should take,” he says. “We strapped her leg to the table and asked her to give it all she had for 15 bouts of resistive ankle range of motion against constant submaximal resistance.” Following a week and a half of strength-building sessions, Hanlon turned the focus to increasing Idris’s ankle stability. “We looked at her instability as mechanical–because the ligament was compromised, there was no static stability left,” he says. “So we developed ways to increase her dynamic stability.” Hanlon then added ground-based functional balance movements that mimicked the demands of her main event. “The triple jump is a whole body movement, so we had to develop a strategy for her to maintain balance using her entire kinetic chain, not just her ankle,” he says. “We wanted her to learn how to align her hip and her knee so that the stress of maintaining balance was not all on her ankle.” The balance program began with exercises on a stable surface. When Idris mastered the movement, Hanlon would then introduce an unstable surface. “For example, she would stand on the ground and do a single-leg squat, picking up an object and putting it back down for three sets of 15 repetitions,” he says. “After a few days, when she was strong enough to complete that movement with perfect form, I would have her stand single-legged at the center of a wobble board and hold her balance while someone tapped on the sides of the board to introduce instability. “Once she was able to control that, we introduced the Bosu ball,” Hanlon continues. “Amira would start with single-leg standing on the ball then progress to a running start position, pumping her arms to introduce rotary force while maintaining her balance. During every exercise, she was taught to set her hips so that her knee and her hip were aligned in correct posture, which would help her keep her balance and place less stress on the ankle.” A few weeks into the balance program, Hanlon added a new component: landing. “Our focus was on her jumping form and we taught her to land with perfect mechanics after each foot strike,” says Hanlon. To accomplish this, Hanlon had Idris perform exercises in front of a mirror while a member of the athletic training staff gave her verbal start cues and feedback on her form. “Once she saw herself do a movement with perfect form, her neuromuscular system became trained and those ideal mechanics were second nature for her,” says Hanlon. “In every step, we had her concentrate on sticking the landing perfectly before adding repetitions and progressing to more advanced movements. “Once she was proficient at hopping forward and backward, we introduced side-to-side jumps, followed by diagonal-patterned jumps,” he continues. “She began by doing two sets of 15 for each leg and worked her way up to reps of 30 with shortened landing time.”

The final phase of the four-week dynamic jumping program involved teaching Idris to land on an unstable surface. The chosen exercise would require Idris to hop onto a Bosu ball, flat side down, and land on one leg. “She wasn’t trying to do it from far away or jump high onto the ball,” says Hanlon. “It was more about landing on the ball with complete stability.”

On March 2, a month into her rehab program, Idris returned to competition at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Women’s Indoor Track & Field Championships, where she placed 13th in the triple jump. “She was two feet short of her personal record, which she was happy with, especially after such a long layoff,” says Hanlon. “For the next month, as the outdoor season got underway, the coach wanted to limit the amount of pounding on Amira’s ankle, so she took a break from jumping and instead concentrated on sprinting. She joined the 4×100 team–and they did quite well. The overall plan was to keep her healthy so she could excel in the jumps at the end-of-season meets.” Idris kept up with her dynamic jumping rehab, visiting the athletic training room every day before practice, which was no easy feat. “In my major, biomedical engineering, you can’t miss a lot of class,” she says. “I was very busy, running from class right to treatment and practice. It took a lot of planning, scheduling, and alarms on my phone to get me through that time.” Despite her busy workload, Idris rarely missed a day with the athletic training staff. “We worked around her schedule and she was great about coming in for early morning sessions or staying later in the evening if she had to,” says Hanlon. “She was dedicated to getting better no matter what was on her plate.” By the time the late-season meets arrived in May, Idris’s workouts and rehab had entered a maintenance phase. During practice, her jumping coach had her do bounding work on mattresses instead of the ground to minimize impact on her ankle. In the athletic training room, Hanlon continued to run Idris through the program she had begun in February. “We continued the mechanical work to make sure she was still using the good landing habits she had learned earlier,” he says. On May 3, unsure of what to expect, Idris entered the triple and long jumps at the CAA Outdoor Championships. The results were a pleasant surprise. With a jump of 41 feet, one inch in the triple jump, Idris captured first place and bested her own school record by nearly nine inches. She also finished second in the long jump. For her efforts, she was named co-winner of the meet’s Outstanding Field Performer award. It was the most gratifying moment of her career to date, she says.

“After I sprained my ankle, I wasn’t hitting 40s very often and became concerned that I might never jump that far again,” Idris says. “When I jumped 41 at CAAs I was shocked, but also relieved.” For Hanlon, Idris’s performance validated all of the long hours and hard work. “It was funny thinking back two months earlier when Amira and I sat in my office discussing the possibility of her not competing that season,” he says. “And there she was breaking her school record and winning the outstanding performer award at the CAAs.”

However, Idris’s performance at the CAAs belied the fact that her ankle was hurting–and everyone around her knew it. It took the combined efforts of her coaches, doctors, teammates, and Hanlon to convince Idris that it was time to consider surgery. “That conversation began the week after CAAs,” Hanlon says. “I told her, ‘It’s great that you got this far, so imagine what you could do with a fully functional ankle. Who knows how much better you could be.'”

Idris wasn’t completely on board though. “I was scared,” she says. “I thought, ‘What happens if after the surgery I can’t perform like I did before?'”

She eventually relented and the ATFL reconstruction was scheduled for June 4. But in the interim, she still had two more meets: the ECAC Championships and the NCAA Division I East Regionals. At the ECAC meet, Idris placed fifth in the long jump and ninth in the triple jump. She then finished a disappointing 38th in the triple jump at the NCAA Regionals, with her best jump being just 39 feet, 1.25 inches. Her pain had been worsening during those meets and Idris says her performances further justified her decision to have surgery. With the reconstruction procedure now behind her, and a long rehab road in front of her, Idris has her sights set on returning in time for Delaware’s outdoor season in the spring. Come March, she hopes to wow the competition in the long and triple jumps and rewrite the school record books once again. As for the rehab that will get her there, Idris says she’s confident because she knows she’ll be encountering plenty of familiar faces. “I like going to the athletic training room,” she says. “It is a vibrant place where everyone is always in a good mood. The athletic trainers and students are so good to me–they are playful, but never distracted. I’ve grown really close to everyone and it is almost like being with family.”


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