For Australian actress and teacher Jo Christiaans, a ruptured ACL and MCL in her knee and the resulting emergency knee surgery was the best Christmas present she could have dreamed of.
Best known for her role as Selena McMillen in Spielberg’s epic TV series Terra Nova, Jo has worked with some of the industry’s finest actors such as The Rock, Heath Ledger, Chris Hemsworth and Kate Blanchette.
Off-screen she led a very active lifestyle. Playing netball and softball at competitive levels until the birth of her son 7 years ago. “Instead of settling into a traditional motherhood role, the mamabear in me fired-up. I started training in the Israeli close-combat fighting style of Krav Maga and Aikido. I also started training to complete my stunt qualifications. I was extremely active, fit and healthy. This was until I was 34 when everything changed.”
Jo’s marriage ended under quite stressful circumstances which was compounded by a long drawn-out legal battle. “During this time life seemed to stop. I stopped playing all sports, stopped working out and my fitness and health started to decline rapidly. Things just couldn’t go on like this anymore and the universe intervened. ”
In December 2018 she was playing in a Student v Teacher basketball match at the school she was teaching at. With only 10 seconds to go until the full time buzzer she took the hero shot. “I remember hearing a dreaded popping sound from my knee as I twisted to take the shot and felt excruciating pain as my leg collapsed under me.”
As a netballer since the age of 8 years old, she knew that the dreaded popping sound was the ‘pop of death’. ” I have a relatively high pain threshold and injuries are a part of the lifestyle and activities I tend to be drawn to.” This fact is backed up by an impressive medical record that reads like a yearly injury list for a football team; three concussions, a broken radius, broken scaphoid, broken fingers, dislocated ribs, fractured ribs, knocked out teeth and a 28 hour labour that ended up in an emergency caesarean with no time for an effective spinal block.
“I have a tendency to hide my injuries – just like birds of prey. This fact I learnt from the countless David Attenborough docos I unwillingly watched during my recovery. I started hiding my injuries in childhood as having an injury meant being taken off the court or field….something that I despised. So true to this repressed childhood behaviour, after the basketball match I tried to hide my injury and ‘laughed it off’ until I could get into the privacy of my classroom to check my knee. I knew it was bad when I could no longer tell where my upper leg ended and my lower leg began and where on earth had my knee gone? Stubbornly, I continued to teach for the rest of the day before getting an MRI.”
Jo recounts her time getting the MRI. “I remember after I finished having my scan the two radiologists came out from their booth and said, “We don’t normally do this, but we were taking bets as to how you did such an injury.” As they aren’t legally allowed to give the results of an MRI to patients, I knew what they had seen on the MRI must have been bad. ”
Jo was not allowed to return to work and had a right knee reconstruction a week later. She had also suffered a Grade Two tear in her MCL, meniscus damage and required a chondro plasty procedure as well. She was told the devastating news that she had a 12 month-recovery ahead of her. “I had a hamstring graft to replace my shattered ACL which I now call my HamCL. Not quite an ACL anymore and not quite a hamstring anymore…so it’s Hollywood name is my HamCL.”
“I won’t lie. The first 2 weeks after my operation were very, very painful especially when my physio rehabilitation started 3 times a week from day 5. I may have accidentally, gently, pushed my physio’s arm away from my leg… with a closed fist… the first time he tried to straighten my leg.”
Five months post-op and her rehab program consists of one traditional physio session and 2 exercise physiologist sessions a week.” I still have trouble maintaining a straight leg but my ever-so-patient physiotherapists are relentless in ensuring this is my number one goal. Regardless of the eye rolling and sighs I give them in return.”
“As I said earlier, the best Christmas present I received in 2018 was my ruptured ACL. I know that may sound like I have suffered concussion number 4, but it has forced me to wake up and take my health and fitness seriously.” Her intense rehab schedule has helped her to regain some of the fitness she had lost prior to her injury. And the added bonus of strengthening her hamstrings, quads, calves and glutes for 3+ hours a week is shedding the extra kilograms she gained during her divorce.
“There is a long road ahead of me to get back to Krav Maga, stunts and netball but I now have the drive, and the people behind me, to help me be the best me I can be!”
Follow Jo’s recovery and adventures in showbiz on Instagram at www.instagram.com/themagicalozfamily.