New type of ACL surgery helps Sage earn a spot on one of the nation’s top college wrestling teams

During his junior year of high school, wrestler Sage Walker suffered a painful knee injury in a postseason tournament. The setback threatened to prevent him from wrestling as a senior, and it had the potential to shatter his dreams of wrestling in college.

Sage, of Eddyville, Iowa, was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that needed to be surgically reconstructed if he hoped to return to the mat and meet his goal of advancing to an elite college program.

Sage Walker wins a wrestling match
Sage capped his comeback from surgery by winning the 182-pound title in Class 2A at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament.

But recovery from a standard ACL reconstruction could take as long as a year, and Sage would likely miss most or all of his senior season. He needed a different solution.

With help from his parents, Sage made the decision to place his trust in University of Iowa Sports Medicine and orthopedic surgeon Robert Westermann, MD. Using a cutting-edge technique, Westermann reconstructed the ACL, and Sage was able to return to action far sooner.

He went undefeated as a senior, capping off his high school career by winning a state championship eight months after surgery. This fall, he’ll wrestle for nine-time defending NAIA national champion Grand View University in Des Moines.

Dedicated to wrestling

For Sage, who took up the sport in first grade, wrestling is a way of life.

“It’s helped build character and toughness and gives me something to work for,” he says.

When he went down with the ACL injury, Sage held a 185-14 record for his high school career, with multiple colleges recruiting him. He vowed to approach his comeback with the same determination that led to his success on the mat.

“Not wrestling wasn’t an option,” he says.

The Walkers knew that Westermann and the UI Sports Medicine team treated the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestlers and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club and had the expertise to help high-level athletes chase their dreams of NCAA championships and Olympic medals.

“Westermann’s done surgery on Division I national champion wrestlers,” Sage says. “We heard a lot of good things about him.”

New approach, faster recovery

A common treatment for ACL reconstruction is a patellar tendon graft. This approach often results in numbness and discomfort when kneeling, which poses a significant problem for wrestlers trying to return to their sport.

The Walkers chose Westermann because he specializes in a newer procedure that has shown promise as a better choice for wrestlers.

“We stabilize the knee by reconstructing the ACL using a quadricep tendon graft,” Westermann says. “It’s a new approach that does well with wrestlers.”

A quadricep tendon graft reduces the risk of discomfort while kneeling after the procedure. Early studies have shown that the procedure may reduce recovery and rehabilitation time for wrestlers.

Ready for the next level

Equipped with a rehabilitation program provided by Westermann and the UI Sports Medicine physical therapy team, Sage completed his post-procedure physical therapy close to home.

“Those months of rehabilitation gave me time to think about what I needed to do to get back and what I needed to do when I got back,” Sage says.

After only five months, Sage was able to complete the UI’s thorough return-to-sport protocol, confirming he was ready to get back to the mat.

He allowed only two offensive points during his undefeated senior season, demonstrating that he was healthy and ready to join the Grand View Vikings as they seek a 10th straight national title.

“Dr. Westermann and his team did a great job,” Sage says. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Eddyville, Iowa