Helping Olympian Aimee Buchanan get back on her skates

Aimee Buchanan, who had surgery to remove a bursa, performs a Biellmann spin at the 2018 winter Olympics

Like many young athletes, Aimee Buchanan dreamed of going to the Olympics. But unlike most athletes, she skated her way to success, overcoming multiple injuries along the way. A dual American-Israeli citizen, Aimee competed for Israel’s figure skating team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She placed 10th in the women’s short program team event and ultimately helped her team finish ahead of both South Korea and France.

Road to success

Born in Boston, Aimee started skating at age 4 in her hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. From the moment Aimee’s skates touched the ice, she had found her calling. “I fell in love with the feeling of jumping, spinning and skating fast. From that point on, I’ve never looked back,” she says. Wanting to spend more time on the ice, a more serious 19-year-old Aimee vigorously trained at Colonial Figure Skating Club and Nashoba Valley Olympia in Boxborough. In 2013, Aimee took second place in the New England Regional Figure Skating Championships.

Aimee continued to dedicate her time to her sport and soon enough, the possibility of competing internationally loomed on the horizon. With this in mind, she became a dual American-Israeli citizen in 2014. Aimee went on to represent Israel in three European Figure Skating Championships, and was crowned Israeli National Ladies Champion in 2016. Continuing to chase her Olympic dream, Aimee relocated from Boston to Euless, Texas to train with new coaches Peter and Darlene Cain in the spring of 2017.

From the outside, it would appear that Aimee effortlessly traveled down the path to success, but behind the scenes, she faced many obstacles along the way.

Overcoming roadblocks

In 2014, Aimee arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital with an abdominal obstruction — unrelated to her skating. This resulted in her having 3 feet of intestine removed in the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “They had to cut my stomach muscles in half, so recovering and building back strength from ground zero was really tough,” she recalls. Three weeks before the European Figure Skating Championships, Aimee was back at Boston Children’s — this time with a torn hamstring and gluteus, and a quadriceps strain.

In late summer of 2017, Aimee’s Olympic dream was threatened again when she experienced severe pain in the back and side of her foot, heel and ankle. In August, she underwent surgery to remove a bursa sack the size of a softball from her ankle.  Through it all, Aimee remained anxious to stay on the ice. “I should have been off the ice, but I skated through it and modified my routine. I did a lot of physical therapy, but overall it was a painful experience,” she remembers.  “Skating is pretty much all I’ve ever known. Even to this day, I hate taking time off.”

With the Olympics right around the corner, Aimee worked virtually with Ellen Geminiani, MD, a sports medicine physician in Boston Children’s Sports Medicine Division, as well as a former figure skater and current chair of the U.S Figure Skating Sports Science and Medicine Committee. “Sure, the medals are nice, but it truly should be about the ability to participate,” says Dr. Geminiani. “When you can make that a little easier for someone, it’s all the better.”

Aimee was not only able to participate, but also scored a personal best at the 2018 Olympics. “Right after I finished my program, I knew that I had done everything that I could in that moment. It was everything I’ve ever wanted,” she remembers.

Road to recovery

“She made it through the Olympics with a lot of work and gritting of her teeth. For her it was a huge personal victory just to get through a short program,” says Geminiani. She adds that it’s not uncommon for athletes to play through pain, seeking treatment only after their athletic event. Indeed, after the Olympics, Aimee returned to Boston Children’s to meet with Geminiani in person.

Right away, Geminiani and Aimee made a game plan. “For us, it was about refining and pinpointing the nature of the problem that she had not been able to define previously,” says Geminiani.  Because there was so much damage done to her foot, their first goal was pain management. “It’s a trial and error thing. My goal right now is to just focus on getting better,” says Aimee.

Aimee Buchanan, who had surgery to remove an os trigonum on her ankle, at the 2018 winter Olympics

For Aimee, getting better has become a team effort. Sports medicine physician Andrea Stracciolini, MD, used an ultrasound to confirm the existence of an os trigonum on Aimee’s posterior ankle and achilles — an extra bone growth that can cause pain and discomfort. Orthopedic surgeon and director of Boston Children’s Sports Medicine Division, Lyle Micheli, MD, then surgically removed the os trigonum, removed a second inflamed bursa sac and fixed a bone spur, all on her left ankle. “I’m now about 7 weeks post-op and recovering pretty well,” says Aimee.

While Aimee focuses on recovering, she is passing on her love of skating through teaching. “The most rewarding thing is being able to see my students accomplish their goals — I know how much it means to them,” she says. Eventually, she wants to coach figure skating full-time.

While Aimee helps young skaters, Geminiani continues to help Aimee with her goal of getting back on the ice. “There are certain individuals who have that dedication to their sport no matter what,” says Geminiani.  “It’s about perseverance and the will and the drive. To not only be able to participate through her injury, but also to achieve the level of success that she did, it’s clear skating is part of her soul.”

Learn more about the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s Hospital.