It's been almost a year and a half since Greg Childs grasped both knees and let out an agonizing scream on the sidelines of the Vikings annual training camp passing scrimmage on a warm August night at Minnesota State-Mankato. It was the last time he practiced with the Vikings … until Wednesday.
Childs stepped foot back on the practice field after being activated from the physically unable to perform list and he said it's been a long time coming since he tore both patellar tendons on the same play in 2012.
"There are times when it seems like yesterday and times when it feels like forever since then," Childs said. "My job has become getting myself healthy and putting myself back in position to get on the field and make plays."
On Wednesday, he was running routes, making sharp cuts and catching passes, even leaping for high passes in the back of the end zone.
As serious as one torn patellar tendon injury can be to rehabilitate, having both is more than being twice as bad. Childs was unable to do the standard type of rehab work in which he would lean heavily on his "good leg" in the process of helping the injured leg heal. Such injuries can be career killers, but Childs has remained optimistic about his chances of making a full recovery – which wasn't the case back in 2012.
"I knew right away it was serious," Childs said. "There was a lot of pain, but what I remember is how many of the medical staff came over and their reactions. That's when I knew it was bad. I was upset, but it didn't take long to get my head right and start the process of coming back. What was done was done. My job then became to get back to where I was before the injury as soon as possible."
The biggest issue for Childs is that he has never been the type to accept "no" for an answer. When it comes to rehabilitation, it is a process and improvement is made in baby steps. It's been a difficult lesson for him to learn, but one that he understands, and he is willing to take the incremental steps needed to not only come back, but to wait until he's 100 percent to minimize the potential of aggravating the injury or having a significant setback.
"You can't just be in a rush with it," Childs said. "You've got to take it day by day and not try to go full speed. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, maybe he'll start practicing then, maybe he'll start practicing in training camp.' But that wasn't the case so we had to wait until now."
Over the last 16 months, Childs has fielded several questions concerning what his NFL future might hold and if he viewed his injury as career-ending or, at a minimum, career-threatening. While those thoughts have crept into his mind at times, he has been quick to dismiss those and get on with coming back and proving his doubters wrong.
"I'm just not built to where I'm just going to fall into what everybody else thinks – ‘Oh, he got hurt. This type of injury he had, there's no way he can come back, his career has to be done with,'" Childs said. "Since I was smaller, my dad always instilled in me, ‘If you want it, go get it. Don't let anybody else deter you.'"
As would be expected, when you're isolated from your teammates to a great extent and spend as much time with the training staff as the coaching staff, the ups and downs of the rehab process can be just as mentally draining as physically.
Childs has ridden that roller coaster for more than a year and he knows the frustration and elation that comes with taking that next step to returning to the field and the potential of living out his NFL dream.
"You have great days, you have days that are not so good," Childs said. "You have days when you come in sore, and you have days when you come in and are like, ‘Ugh, I'm dealing with something else now." Maybe I was doing something, and I was doing it well, but now something else is bugging me. But you've got to push through it."
Childs is in a unique situation because he was drafted along with Jarius Wright, who has been a teammate of Childs since their middle school days in Warren, Ark. He has seen Wright living his NFL dream, but their relationship has remained effectively unchanged other than Childs not yet having his opportunity to shine.
"It hasn't changed much," Childs said. "We're still the same we were back in high school. I do have some catching up to do and I plan to do that."
While Childs' injury is different than the torn ACL/MCL suffered by teammate Peterson, inevitably when a player suffers a significant knee injury, Peterson has become the benchmark of a hasty rehabilitation and a return to pre-injury form. Seeing Peterson return as strong as he did was motivation, but Childs pointed out that every injury is different and unique.
"t was great to see, but I am my own man," Childs said. "I have to set my own goals. I can't look at him and think what happened to him and how he came back is just going to make it for me to do the same. I've got to come in and put in the hard work. I've got to come with the mindset that I'm going to get better and not to be discouraged."
Not being discouraged can be problematic, especially for a player whose NFL career was nipped in the bud before it could get started. It would be natural for a player to ask "why me?" in such a situation. Although he has asked that rhetorical question at times, his desire to play the game won't allow him to dwell on "what ifs?"
"If anything happens to you, it doesn't go your way, you always tend to want to question," Childs said. "But, at the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. You can't really question the Man's plan upstairs. You just pick your head up and go. I could have just been like, ‘Cool, I got hurt. This is what it is. I'm just going to put my head down and this is going to be it.' I chose to take a different path, to work as hard as I could and just defy the odds."
The Vikings have two weeks to activate Childs to the 53-man roster. The team has an exemption that allows him to practice for two weeks and then, after the Chicago game Dec. 3, the team will have to make a decision on whether to activate him or shut him down for the remainder of the 2013 season.
Childs isn't sure when that announcement will come, but his goal from draft weekend 2012 until today hasn't changed. He's going to be on the field as a member of the Vikings. The only question is his mind is when will that day be?
"I'm going to stick on the plan that we have," Childs said. "I'm going to do the things in practice that I need to do. I'm just going to take it from there each week. I'm going to eventually get on the playing field. I don't know when. It could be by the end of the season or it could be the beginning of the next. But it's going to be one of the two."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Childs determined to play, at some point
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