“My job was to repair my knee. I did physical therapy for three hours a day, followed by exercises. Then, I was exhausted.” — Peg Dalton, owner LePeep
It was for fun. They didn’t have huge goals—just wanted to finish. They even talked about the obstacles and decided they were only going to do the ones they wanted.
It was Peg Dalton’s first Tough Mudder. She had prepared for it with fitness classes and had fun planning their Tough Mudder outfits with her sister, Marijean, and sister-in-law, Candace, who were joining her for the Sept. 9, 2012 Madison, WI event.
Peg, owner of LePeep Restaurant in downtown South Bend, worked 50 to 60 hours a week. She was in decent shape physically, but remembers that time as “living with a stress that felt like I was hanging from a cliff by my fingernails.”
“It was an encouraging I’ll-help-you kind of atmosphere,” said Peg of the team-building feel of race day. Clad in matching shorts, suit ties and swim goggles, the three set out on the 12-mile, 28-obstacle course. About four miles in, they saw the seven-foot wall ahead.
“Marijean went up and over. I went up and a guy on the other side offered to help me down. He held my right foot in his hands but as I was coming down on his shoulders he slipped in the mud—I went seven feet down and landed with all my weight on my left leg.
Her partners took action. Marijean, a nurse, wouldn’t let her look at her leg “because it looked like I had two knees.” Candace stayed on top of the wall directing racers to climb the other side.
Peg laid in the mud amid the ongoing race for a half hour waiting for the EMT’s—long enough for hypothermia to set in. When help did arrive, they couldn’t get pain meds into her constricted veins.
The 25-minute ride to the hospital was capped with a stop at a garage area where they washed off her layers of mud. And still, no veins were warm enough to take in useful pain medication.
“This is a catastrophic knee injury, we’ll never see anything like this again,” she heard the doctor say when they finally wheeled her into the hospital. Peg remembers seeing other Tough Mudder participants coming in. “I guess they staff up the hospitals for those events,” she said.
They first relocated her knee—finally some relief. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, she thought. Maybe she’d get a cast and be back to work by Monday.
Not quite. Not with a torn ACL, MCL and a chipped fibula and menisucus—which was all they could see amid the swelling.
A long road to recovery
By Sunday, travel was still questionable, but she wanted to be home for surgery. Orthopedic surgeon Brian Ratigan in South Bend could see her Tuesday. More relief.
“All I was thinking was, ‘When can I go to work? Wednesday is payroll.’”
Peg wasn’t going back anytime soon —in fact, it would be January before she stepped into LePeep again.
The first surgery wasn’t until Sept. 25, after the swelling had gone down. Once in, they also found her quadriceps muscle was detached (and resembled hamburger meat) and her PCL was torn. Immobilized, Peg was confined to a wheel chair or hospital bed on the first floor of her house; perpetual traction and physical therapy. She had lost flexion in her foot. She may not have been going back to work anytime soon —but she had a job.
“My job was to repair my knee. I did physical therapy for three hours a day, followed by exercises. Then, I was exhausted.” The physical therapy was so painful she had to take anti-anxiety pills simply to get to the therapist’s office.
“I would get so afraid of the pain— I was screaming and crying the whole time.” Her PT, Fran McDonald, “understood my brain and knew what he had to do:”
Deep breath. Forced bend. Audible “crack,” as the scar tissue was forced to give. Despite Fran’s best effort, there was too much scar tissue to work through manually, so Peg made another trip to the hospital to have it surgically reduced.
She was diligent with her daily PT — every half hour as her phone alarm demanded. Eventually it would mean rehab on the bike three times a day, even after long days at work on her feet.
At one point, Peg passed Steve Mitros, a friend and orthopedic surgeon, who greeted her with, “Good to see you walking.”
“Why did you say that?” Peg stopped to ask.
“We studied your case for months,” he told her. “We didn’t think you were going to walk again.”
“It was then I realized this was a pivotal moment in my life that could have been so different if I had chosen not to listen to the doctors. Ya, it was ‘just a knee’ but it was catastrophic. I made the choice to be diligent about my physical therapy.”
Peg graciously accepted the love and support of the people who surrounded her and gave her the strength to overcome the physcial and emoitonal toll—among the stars, her then husband, Nick, and their three children Katie, Colleen and Connor. Another sister, Kay, cared for her throughout. The LePeep staff took charge and Peg was able to watch sales climb from her hospital bed.
“I could have lost the business,” Peg said. Instead, the people in her life stepped up. “There was so much love and support around me—I was getting meals and cards from friends, staff and my customers.” As her sister told her, “It is like getting the benefit of dying and seeing how much people love you.”
“That’s when I knew LePeep was way more than breakfast and lunch,” Peg said.
the restaurant is open 360 days a year. For 12 years, it consumed Peg’s life. New perspective, however, has made Peg realize she doesn’t need to be there all the time. “They ran things without me for five months. Now I can stand back and work on the big picture stuff. I can do more in the community.” (And Peg does love to say “yes.” )
The night before the accident, Peg and her sister talked about their dad’s death at age 52 from a heart attack—had he not seen the signs? she wondered—at the same time she was hanging from her cliff.
“This was my warning sign to get healthy. This is my second chance at healthiness and happiness,” says the 52-year-old who’s driver’s license weight reads the same as when issued at age 16.
Up until Dec. 31, 2013 —a year and four months after the accident—“My job had been to get my body healthy. So why isn’t my job now to keep it healthy?”
Today, Peg works out six days a week, though always plans on seven so when there is a day “I just can’t,” it can be her day off. “Then I am more committed the next day.”