February 13, 2014
The Silver Lining
By Lauryn Lax

“I knew something was not quite right, but, like anyone, I was a little nervous to check it out (and) to find out what was going on.”

You may remember Jessica Estrada from a crucial moment at the 2013 South Central Regional. 

Estrada of CrossFit Central was lunging her way to the finish line of Event 6 when her teammate Michael Winchester dropped his axle bar. They were just one step away from finishing. 

With her teammate unable to pick up the bar due to fatigue, Estrada helped him clean the bar and finish the workout. CrossFit Central finished fourth.

At 5-feet tall and 115 lb., Estrada may look small but her CrossFit stats tell a different story. She squats nearly twice her body weight—225 lb.—and snatches 145 lb. And her Fran time is 2:44. She’s been on the CrossFit Central affiliate team since it competed at the Games in 2012.

With her team finishing just shy of podium at the 2013 Regional, Estrada discovered, in the aftermath, she had a new battle to fight.

An intense squat cycle ahead of regionals made a crucial ring of cartilage*—the labrum—in her left hip weaker.

At the regional, the labrum tore completely.

“There’s not one moment that I remember it actually tearing,” Estrada said. “In fact, I later learned that it had been torn for a while prior to regionals—lots of wear and tear. … I actually also had an extra layer of bony growth on my hipbone that I was born with. This extra bone actually rubbed away at the labrum more and more due to the depth I go (to) in my squat. It’s something I never felt, though, until it got to the point that it became so worn down that it was bone-on-bone—really painful.”

She took six weeks off to give her hip time to rest from what she thought was inflammation from training. However, when she got under the barbell and still felt pain, Estrada knew something wasn’t right.

“I have a fairly high pain tolerance, so for me to not be able to withstand a squat or a tweak was really different,” she said. “I knew something was not quite right, but, like anyone, I was a little nervous to check it out (and) to find out what was going on.”

Three months after waiting to see if it would heal, Estrada scheduled an MRI. Then the doctor gave her the bad news. He said if she ever wanted to squat below parallel again, she’d have to have surgery. 

“I was not ready to give up my goals to be a competitive CrossFit (athlete),” she said. “I told the doctor about my goals, what I did. I told him I wanted to be back and well enough in order to compete in the Open—which I knew would be some point in February—and he told me he could get me in the following week in order to get the process happening.”

Typical rehab for repairing a labral hip tear can take anywhere from nine months to a year or longer. However, the doctor reassured Estrada she could be back to training in three to four months.

“He told me, ‘You may not be where you were before, but we will have you back to training and on your way,’” Estrada recalled.

A couple days after surgery, Estrada started physical therapy. One week following surgery, she was already in the gym, doing seated presses, on the stationary bike and swimming.

At four weeks, the doctor gave her the “OK” to begin working on strict pull-ups, strict muscle-ups and handstand push-ups. 

“I couldn’t do anything that may recruit my lower body—like the kip until six weeks,” she said.

Three months later, in December, Estrada was released to squat, jump and run.

“As soon as I was released to squat, I was in the gym squatting,” she said. “After all, I had a new hip.”

Today, Estrada is back in the gym nearly daily, and ready for the Open.

“While I am still working on catching up after being out of training at full capacity and intensity, I was actually pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t really lost any of my strength numbers from before the surgery,” Estrada said.

She is doing her best to focus on just her lifts—and doing what she needs to do to qualify for regionals as an individual, which will be new for Estrada in 2014

“I am aiming to go individual this year, first and foremost, because there are plenty of other athletes who have been training hard this year for a spot on the CrossFit Central team,” she said. “I was out for three months, and I only think it’d be fair for them to have first choice to go team.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Estrada will give up team altogether.

“If a spot did open up, and I was back to my fullest potential come May and they chose me to be on the team, I would definitely consider it,” she said. “But I am also ready for something new. If I qualify as an individual, I definitely want to take that opportunity.”

Estrada’s attitude toward her injury and taking time off is positive—a silver lining to every cloud.

“Since I was forced to do only strict movements for sometime, I quickly learned I was pretty weak, especially overhead,” she explained. “I also learned about efficiency with my movements. In CrossFit, everything is about efficiency—how can we do a movement quickly and in the least energy draining way? Answer: From the hips! Everything we do in CrossFit is from the hips. And if you’re not using your hips properly, you are doing yourself a disservice and making things harder for yourself. My injury really forced me to work on some of these weaknesses.”

*Correction, Feb. 13: The labrum was previous reported as a tendon. However, the labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the acetabulum, the socket of the hip joint.