Road To The Olympic Games

Pole vaulter Alysha Newman to miss track and field nationals with knee injury

Canadian-record holder Alysha Newman won't be defending her pole vault title at this weekend’s track and field nationals in Ottawa because of a partially torn patellar tendon in her left knee.

Canadian-record holder recovering from partially torn patellar tendon

Canada's Alysha Newman, who won pole vault gold at the Commonwealth Games in April, will sit out this weekend's Canadian track and field championships in Ottawa as she continues her recovering from a partially torn patellar tendon in her left knee. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Canadian-record holder Alysha Newman won't be defending her pole vault title at this weekend's track and field nationals in Ottawa because of a partially torn patellar tendon in her left knee.

Newman, who hasn't competed since being forced out of the Diamond League's Prefontaine Classic by the injury in late May, would risk further damage and a longer recovery period if she was to compete in Sunday's final at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility, according to her doctors.

"I need to take the time now to heal because I really do want to perform well next year at world [championships in Doha, Qatar] and the Olympics in Tokyo [in 2020]," Newman said in a phone interview Wednesday morning.

The London, Ont., native will be evaluated in five weeks and is hoping to return at the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) track and field championships Aug. 10-12 at Varsity Stadium in Toronto.

"As long as I have a week to get ready for NACAC, I feel I would be fine," said Newman, who will be in Ottawa this weekend to support and coach her fellow Canadian athletes.

[Dr. Miniaci] was saying I was jumping at 65 to 70 per cent [capacity] in that knee for the past year.— Canadian pole vaulter Alysha Newman on the partially torn patellar tendon in her left knee

Newman met Tuesday with Canadian doctor Anthony Miniaci, who practises in Toronto and Cleveland, and has worked with several NHL players. He expects Newman, who is receiving physiotherapy at least five days a week, to make a full recovery.

They had previously discussed surgery but Newman felt it wasn't a viable option, given the approximate six-month recovery time so close to the Summer Games.

Newman said tests in early June revealed a five-to-six millimetre tear in the middle of the tendon, which attaches the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone, or tibia, and works with the muscles in the front part of the thigh to straighten the leg.

Newman has also been dealing with "a lot" of arthritis in her left knee along with swelling, scar tissue and arthritis in the quadriceps muscle, so she'll need to monitor workouts going forward with coach Doug Wood of Bolton Pole Vault to make sure the quad is contracting properly and protecting the knee.

Tough luck

Since early June, Newman has received three rounds of injections, including a pair of PRP — platelet-rich plasma — injections to help treat her knee pain due to arthritis. In between those, doctors also took a stem cell from a newborn to initiate the healing response. The most recent PRP was administered on June 25.

"My main focus is strengthening my quad and glutes," said Newman. "[Dr. Miniaci] was saying I was jumping at 65 to 70 per cent [capacity] in that knee for the past year. He said he couldn't imagine what I will jump when I'm 100 per cent and the quad is working for me, so that's kind of reassuring, but I'm obviously impatient."

Newman jumped 4.75 metres last September at the Diamond League final in Brussels and had a strong start to 2018, clearing 4.70 at the world indoor championships in March to improve upon her Canadian record.

But the 24-year-old experienced some tough luck after winning a gold medal in April at the Commonwealth Games, where Newman matched her Canadian mark and broke the Games record by clearing 4.75 on her third and final attempt.

Newman was one of 4 Canadian track and field medallists on day 9 of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. 3:15

First, she didn't get her poles back from Australia in time to compete at Drake Relays at the end of April in Des Moines, Iowa. Then, while travelling to a Diamond League meet in Doha in early May, eight of her poles — valued at $1,000 apiece — were damaged during an Air Canada flight. She borrowed poles from a local club and managed to clear 4.54 to place seventh in a field of nine.

'My knee was as big as my quad'

Newman received new poles on May 17 ahead of the Pre Classic in Eugene, Ore., where she heard a pop during warmup. Newman made one attempt in competition after passing on her first two but her knee caught the bar and she was eliminated.

"My knee was as big as my quad, they couldn't even find my patella," Newman told The Canadian Press in early June. "They initially told me my patellar tendon was ruptured."

CBC Sports' Anson Henry features the champion Canadian pole vaulter, who is trying to get accustomed to a brand new set of poles, after her original ones were destroyed en route to a competition. 2:09

In Australia, she didn't receive the same treatments and was uncomfortable travelling long distances.

"I was so nervous all the time and forgot to take care of my knee fully leading up to [the Prefontaine Classic] and it gave out," said Newman, who didn't injure the knee in previous years as a pole vaulter or gymnast.

Newman said she first experienced discomfort in the knee last June at a pole vault street meet in Prague. She continued to receive treatment but was forced to stop jumping before the world championships in August.

Knee 'never bothered me in meets'

"Right before worlds it was so, so bad. We were scared [the injury was more serious]," Newman said of her and Wood. "An ultra sound revealed some inflammation so we thought it was patellar tendonopathy [tendinitis] and then it increased to a buildup of fluid in the joint area."

Newman said the injury progressed from the weight room to her running workouts to jumping and then in the warmup in Eugene.

"It never bothered me in meets," she recalled. "But it was really bad during long practices or heavy squat days. My quad wasn't protecting the knee and all the pressure was going on the [patellar] tendon."

The University of Miami alumna will be in the city on July 13 for Sports Illustrated's in-person, open casting call to find the first rookie of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2020, but vaulting remains foremost on her mind.

"I'm still doing mental [training]," she said. "I watch all my favourite [competition] videos from the past year every night before bed about 40 times to remind myself I'm still going to be able to [jump again]. I just have to keep my mind in it."

About the Author

Doug Harrison

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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