For nine-time ABS National Champion Alex Puccio, the last two years have been the most trying of her career. After a nine-month recovery from a June 2015 knee injury she was climbing some of the hardest outdoor boulder problems of her career only to have a freak accident only weeks after a full recovery cause a disc in her neck to rupture. The neck injury would go undiagnosed by several specialists until an MRI, prompted by a shooting electrical pain in her arms during the 2016 Vail World Cup, revealed the severity of the injury. Now after another surgery and several months of rehab, Alex is back to near normal form, winning major comps and testing her limits outdoors. We caught up with Alex to discuss injury and rehab and the mindset it takes to keep coming back.
How do you stay motivated through setbacks like injury?
Injuries, injuries, injuries! It’s something to which most can relate. Not being able to what you love is hard, especially when it’s part of your job. So far, I’ve used every setback as motivation to become a better athlete and better version of myself. If someone tells me I can’t do something then I want find a way to do it. I like to overcome obstacles, and I have never taken the easy path in life. I always say “Something of worth never comes easy!” The big picture is that setbacks are a part of life and you are the one that determines how it will affect you. I always try just keep looking forward and keep my goals and dreams in mind!
You keep bouncing back from these injuries with relative ease, what is your secret method to rehab and recovery?
It was pretty hard not being able to exercise at all after the neck injury. Around the six week mark, I started to use the elliptical which kept me sane until I was able to climb again. You can always find a way around things. Every time I have an injury and can’t climb, I find as many exercises I can do so that when I’m able to climb again I won’t have to make a huge comeback.
How did it feel to come back and win the Portland Boulder Rally, the first comp after the neck injury?
I tried to go to the Portland Boulder Rally with little or no expectations since I didn’t feel my fittest yet. But once I got there I couldn’t help it, the expectations were there! It was the most I had climbed in one day for over 4 months! It was a tremendous surprise to win. I felt like a kid again!
Ed’s note: At publishing time, Alex had just won the Yank and Yard competition in Albuquerque, NM. This marks two straight wins for Alex after her neck injury. Additionally, it puts her in 1st place for the inaugural USA Climbing National Cup Series.
This past Saturday I competed in my first bouldering completion back after my spinal surgery just 3.5 months ago. I tried to enter the competition with no expectations since I have only been climbing again for about 3 weeks and bouldering for 1.5 weeks after a forced 2.5 month break. Being a competitor I was definitely unable to have a "no expectations" mind set. I'm definitely not back to where I was before my surgery and i still have a ways to go to get back to where I was, but seeing the progression is what matters! Taking first place at the PBR competition really helped my confidence and gave me more motivation to keep pushing myself to get stronger!!! Motivation and dedication is the key to succeeding!!! Psyched for what lays ahead!!! @e9clothing @us_e9 @scarpana @petzl_official @frictionlabs @kiltergrips #pbr #bouldering #motivation #tryhard #havefun
What’s next in the world of Alex Puccio?
My life has been an up and down entertaining and exciting roller coaster ride for the last couple years so I have learned to just go with the flow and have some loose plans. I definitely want to keep climbing outside more and see how far I can push myself. I will also keep doing comps here and there along the way.
So I have been climbing again for about 2 weeks now after a 2.5 month break after my spinal fusion in my neck. I'm almost at 3 months post OP, only 8 more days until I get my 3 month x-ray and hopefully the ok to start bouldering again. But for now I have been doing a little bit of sport climbing the last 2 weeks after my forced time off. @joelzerr and I went to Wild Iris this weekend for my first time sport climbing outside in about 8 years. I was able to send my hardest route outside to date, Atomic Cow 5.13D/ 8b! The day before I was able to flash Cow Reggae 5.13B. Psyched to be getting back into climbing after this injury!!! Thank you @eddiemorillas for the picture!
Watch the video from Alex’s first inspiring return from knee surgery back in early 2016.