Karly Gomez has the kind of physique that turns heads and wins the approval of bodybuilding judges. But until recently, that same body was wracked in pain.
“It was excruciating,” Karly said, holding back reminiscent tears.
Today, thanks to doctors who finally diagnosed and treated her and to experts at Summit Therapy and Health Services in Pullman, Karly is pain free. She appears more chiseled than ever and is hoping to compete nationally against other bodybuilders this spring in Chicago and New Jersey.
“I am more comfortable with the way my body looks now than I have ever been.”
A 33-year-old mother of two boys, Karly had yet to enter the world of competitive bodybuilding four years ago when an unlikely accident resulted in a strained quadratus femoris muscle in her hip, a bruised sciatic nerve and most importantly, a torn hip labrum.
“You would never think I had sustained such a huge injury from such a little fall.”
In addition to battling pain, Karly said she actually clicked when walking. “You could hear this popping, it was so bad. You'd hear this clunk, clunk, clunk. You could hear me walking down the hall.”
Carrie Coen, director of Pullman Regional Hospital's Summit Therapy, confirmed Karly's dire condition that worsened months after the injury. “She didn't have any muscle in her leg or in her buttocks or her hip. There was nothing. She couldn't walk without a severe limp. She could hardly do functional things.”
The accident happened at Washington State University's Institute for Shock Physics, where Karly works. While the institute is a place where scientists conduct shock wave and high pressure research to understand physical and chemical changes in solids and liquids, Karly is hardly in harm's way. She's a principle assistant dealing mostly with payroll and budgets. So the odds of sustaining a debilitating job-related injury were next to nil. But the fall, Karly explained, was more of a freak flop.
“I went to sit in a chair and the chair's seat was not attached. Somehow it had gotten broken and none of us realized it,” Karly said. “And so when I sat down, I hadn't braced myself and I just crashed down on the floor.”
Raised in Ephrata, Wash., where she graduated from high school, Karly said she was always athletic. She ran cross country, played basketball and volleyball. After graduating from college and marrying her high school sweetheart, she started a family, moved to Pullman eight years ago and continued running.
But the hip injury all but throttled her lifestyle. “I had to find something else to do besides go crazy,” she said. So she talked to a co-worker who was into competitive bodybuilding.
“I think I weighed 110 pounds sopping wet.” Nonetheless, Karly said she saw that bodybuilding, despite the chronic pain from her yet-to-be-fully-diagnosed injury, might speed recovery while offering a long-term goal. “I thought, that is so cool. I want to do that. I'd love to develop that type of muscle and see where you can take your body.”
Enter Coen at Summit Therapy. She worked with Karly on rehabilitation. Even though a definitive diagnosis was still lacking, Karly said Summit became a hub in her life.
“I can say so many nice things about Summit Therapy. When I first went in there, I was in so much pain I could hardly walk or stand up straight. It was awful.” But she persevered, going through painful but productive sessions three times a week.
“It was the one place I went where I knew we were working toward the goal of getting better. That's all I wanted, I just wanted to get better,” Karly said. “I did a lot of pool work. I did a lot of movements, strength training, trying to get the mobility and movement back. I had lost a lot of range of motion. We did tons of stretching and rehabilitation exercises.”
Finally, despite the persistent pain, she started training in earnest to eventually compete in the “figure” classification of body building.
“In figure we carry the type of muscle you would see in an Olympic track athlete,” Karly explained. “Nice and toned, good muscular balance, it's kind of the overall appearance, shoulders, wide back, good taper, small waist, you have quad sweep and you're just nice and lean.”
She also hoped that her training would somehow heal the hurting.
“I kind of had the mentality that if I could build up the muscles around the injured area, that it would at least help me get stronger.”
She was lopsided – stronger on the left side because she compensated for her injured right side. She couldn't squat lift or dead lift. She couldn't run, jump or lunge. But she kept going back to Summit Therapy.
“If it wasn't for Carrie constantly pushing and questioning, I don't know if I'd be better. It was obvious something was wrong, I mean you could hear it. She thought there was a tear, or something catching.”
The ultimate diagnosis was delayed more than two years, Karly and Carrie said, mostly because of an insurance snafu. But an MRI eventually confirmed what Carrie suspected all along – that Karly's right hip labrum was indeed torn. Surgery was performed in Spokane on Sept. 14, 2011.
“Instant gratification,” Karly said. “I was able to bear weight as soon as I woke up and I could walk. The popping was gone. And that pain was gone.”
One year later, after the final rehabilitation work, Karly surprised everyone, including herself. She placed first in the National Physique Committee (NPC) Night of Champions competition in Spokane, winning both her class and overall in the “figure” classification, thus qualifying for national competition this spring.
“I don't know where I'd be without Summit Therapy,” Karly said. “They were there when I came back. Carrie was the first one I called when they diagnosed it. I said, they found a tear, they found a tear. You were right.”
Coen and others at Summit Therapy deflect the credit. “I would give her 99 percent of the credit for everything that's happened,” Carrie said. “Your job as a physical therapist is to give people the tools they need. But whether they choose to use them is another story.”
Karly is currently training with her husband, Manuel, who she calls her “buff man.” She said her sons, Felix, 9, and Fabian, 5, join their dad in supporting her bodybuilding dreams.
“Believe it or not, some of the most amazing physiques I've ever seen are on women that are in their late 50s and into their 60s,” Karly said of a bodybuilder's longevity if they stick to it. She plans to just that.
“I want to maintain the muscle. I want to be active all the way until they put me in the ground.”
Coen said Karly seems to have it all. “She went from the aftermath of that injury to this amazing bodybuilder who looks better than any woman I've ever seen in terms of strength and tone,” Carrie said. “And that took a lot of work to do.”