The Semi-Bionic Woman - Letchen du Plessis
Interview with the Semi-Bionic Woman - Letchen du Plessis
A career ending injury led Letchen on a path to the Crossfit Games. Read more about Letchen's incredible story below.
Tell us a bit about your fitness journey until your injury?
Sport was what my life revolved around. I was a provincial netball and waterpolo player with scholarships to different universities in both sports. I did crossfit as accessory work 3 times a week and absolutely loved it. I decided to pursue my Netball dream after school but it only lasted 5 months.
Can you tell us more about your injury and being ‘semi-bionic'?
I got injured on 3 May 2017 in the last 5 min of practice. I dislocated my hip. I only went in for surgery 3 weeks later, which was when they discovered the extent of the injury. I tore my labrum from 12-6 as well as my glute minimus and iliopsoas (hip flexor). I did a whole lot of rehab and made the cycling team for the University as my netball career was over. 6 months later I slipped and tore the iliopsoas again which they had to fix. They then discovered that I developed avascular necrosis in my left hip meaning the bone had died and I had 2 options- either get a hip replacement at 19 years old or get an experimental surgery done. I opted for the experimental surgery where they hollow out the bone to encourage new bone growth but you have to use crutches for 3 months. Around 6 weeks after the surgery I lost movement in my foot and all went downhill from there. By November 2018 I had lost most function in my left leg and was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Dystonia. Nobody knows why it happened and it is nothing the doctor did wrong. It was just a series of unfortunate events.
Because CRPS and Dystonia are progressive diseases they had to intervene and I had a team of amazing doctors and physios who decided to implant a Spinal Cord Stimulator. The battery pack is right under my skin in my belly (I call it my ab implant) and it is programmed to send signals via wires to the plate that is on my spinal cord to stimulate the nerves on my left side. Hence why I call myself Semi- bionic.
What were some of the most challenging things you had to overcome after surgery?
I stopped seeing myself as an athlete and I was ashamed of my disability. I didn't want to leave the house and I distanced myself from a lot of people. Learning that I can still do the things I love, it will just look a bit different, was a big turn around for me. It took about 1 year after being diagnosed to be confident enough to go out in public alone and enter a gym. I literally woke up one morning and decided I don't want to feel sorry for myself anymore, cause that isn't going to change my situation. The only thing about my situation that I have control over is my attitude so I decided to change it. So my mindset was the biggest challenge and it's still something that I struggle with.
For most people – being told they can never play their sport again is a devastating blow. How did you change your mindset and adapt to a new goal?
The news literally crushed me. My whole identity was Letchen - the girl who played netball - and that changed in a blink of an eye. I was completely lost for a long time and started coaching netball to still be involved. But after my 3rd surgery and diagnosis I stopped and had to move back home with my parents. I took every day hour by hour till about June 2019. I started going to my old gym and literally stayed in my own corner figuring out how certain movements would look for me. After struggling with a certain movement I would go back to the rehab centre (I was there 3 times a week) and we would figure out together how to do the movement. From there on it gave me my confidence back and I fell in love with the progress I was seeing. My doctors also couldn't believe the progress I was making. I decided to join a Crossfit gym after hard lockdown in September 2020 and join in on classes to get me out even more of my comfort zone. It was the best decision I ever made!
It’s beyond incredible that you’ve gone on to compete in the adaptive divisions in the Crossfit Games. Tell us a bit more about that experience.
This is something that I still can't put into words! It was the best experience of my life and I still can't believe it happened. The workout was not what I expected or in my wheelhouse but I still enjoyed it. The whole athlete experience was crazy and the support I received from the community blew my mind. I'm still so grateful and hopefully I can go back this year and soak up even more of the experience.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
A typical week is:
05:00-07:00 Crossfit Training with accessories and skill work
16:00-18:30 Crossfit WOD with strength/ Aerobic capacity
Friday- Rest day with a nice walk
08:00-09:00 Crossfit class
10:00-11:00 Skill work and strength
What is something you would tell yourself at the beginning of this journey knowing what you know now?
It will be worth it, all the hard work will be worth it.
The best piece of advice you use in your life?
I live by the saying onwards and upwards. Life will happen and all you can do is to work through it and move onwards and believe that everything will get better :)