View All Articles

Ryan's Story: Wakeboarder defies the odds to get back on the water

June 24, 2014

At the age of 26, avid wakeboarder Ryan McCabe was told the words he thought he would never hear:

“You’ll never be able to wakeboard again,” the doctor told him. Ryan was devastated.

Ryan McCabe is an energetic athlete who loves the outdoors and enjoys staying active. Growing up, he took an interest in wakeboarding and spent much of his time on the water practicing his hobby. As a student at the University of Florida, Ryan’s interest in wakeboarding developed into a strong passion as he became the star of the school’s wakeboarding team.

After college, Ryan continued to spend much of his free time on the water. While it was no longer competitive, he still enjoyed wakeboarding every chance he got. Just a few years ago, however, a freak accident threatened to derail his path.

While vacationing in Michigan, Ryan was out on the water, practicing tricks on his wakeboard when he attempted a backflip and seriously injured himself. Upon landing, his left leg released from the board, but his right leg stayed attached, tearing all four ligaments and rupturing the peroneal nerve in his right knee.

The damage done to his knee was significant. Ryan was in excruciating pain and was unable to walk. Although Ryan’s knee was severely injured, he was extremely fortunate that his femoral artery—a major artery that supplies blood to the lower portion of the body—did not tear.

Despite his painful injury, Ryan opted to stabilize his knee and return home to Florida, instead of having emergency surgery in Michigan. Ryan decided to do this because he wanted to ensure that his surgery would reconstruct his knee to be fully functional again.

But that was the problem—no doctor was willing to do that.

To fix the damage caused by his injury, Ryan would need arthroscopic surgery, which involves removing damaged cartilage and bone around the joint. In addition, Ryan needed complete reconstruction of the ACL, PCL, MCL and LCL in his right knee—a procedure some doctors are hesitant to perform.

In all, Ryan sought medical advice from three different doctors, and all three told Ryan that they couldn’t help him.

“After one doctor told me his name, he actually said to me, ‘Don’t bother remembering my name though. I can’t do anything for you,’” Ryan recalls. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘This can’t be possible. Why won’t anyone help me?’”

After all three doctors told him that he would never be able to wakeboard again, Ryan finally found a doctor who assured him that he would be back on the water soon. Dr. Stanley Kupiszewski, an orthopedic surgeon at Orlando Health, was willing to help Ryan.

In total, Ryan had three surgeries. He underwent two reconstructive knee surgeries with Dr. Kupiszewski—or Dr. Kup, as Ryan calls him—and a third surgery to repair his nerve damage.

It took months of intensive rehabilitation, but Ryan ultimately regained much of the strength and stability in his right knee—and yes, he did get back on the water. In all, Ryan’s recovery—from the surgery table to rehab to getting back on the board—took two years.

While Ryan has returned to the water, he now enjoys a different type of watersport called wakesurfing—or “skurfing” as he calls it. Skurfing allows Ryan to stand on the board without strapping his feet to it, which significantly decreases his chance of getting injured again.

Now, two years later, Ryan has nothing but praise for the doctor who helped him defy the odds.

“Orlando Health changed my life. I had been turned away by three doctors before meeting Dr. Kup, but he assured me right away that he would get me back on my feet in no time. The confidence he portrayed had a domino effect on my recovery and rehab, which helped me run, play sports and get back on the water again—all things that many thought would not be possible.”

You can see Ryan's return to water sports here: