The Grueling Path On Road to Recovery

Wizards' Arenas Endures Punishing Workouts to Rehab Knee

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007; Page E01

Shortly before noon yesterday, Debbie Suitt entered the track beneath Cardozo Senior High School in Columbia Heights. She puts in two miles of brisk walking on the faded red oval three times a week. Aside from three employees lining the worn football field inside the track, she had the facility to herself.

A few minutes later, she had a workout partner. After ditching his gleaming red mountain bike in a grassy nook and taking off his donut-size headphones, Gilbert Arenas entered the same track, which he also visits three times a week. He wore gray Wizards shorts, a black Wizards top and soccer cleats without socks -- "I'm not a socks person," he said. Then he unveiled two red-and-blue parachutes that, when attached to his waist, are meant to increase the explosive potential of his surgically repaired left knee.

Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas waits for the light to change as he rides his bike leaving Verizon Center. (Jonathan Newton - The Post)

"Man," he said at one point yesterday, "the stuff I've had to do to get back."

During a series of training sessions in front of a small group of reporters, Arenas described both his offseason workout regimen and his physical condition. He said his knee is "fully healthy" and that he won't wear a knee brace because it would only serve to remind him of the injury, which ended his season early last April about two weeks before the playoffs. He joked that he might use his recovery as an excuse to opt out of some preseason drills, but said he wants to play as many preseason minutes as Coach Eddie Jordan will permit. And while he allowed that he probably won't be doing any Vince Carter-inspired 360-degree dunks -- "doubt it, but you can always hope," he said with a laugh -- he emphasized that after months of rehab, his own expectations haven't changed.

"I'm coming back with the same vengeance," he said. "Nothing's stopping me. I've got to prove myself coming back from this injury; I've got to prove myself that I'm an MVP candidate in this league and I'm one of the best point guards in this league. So I'm going to come back with that same passion, that same fire. If I have to go out there and score 70 or 80, it's going to happen, but I don't shoot for those goals. Goals of mine are always about winning the game."

The surgery, to repair a torn meniscus, initially left Arenas unable to extend his leg. He described attaching 10- to 15-pound weights to his ankle and dangling it off his bed to regain full extension. "Man, that was pain," he said.

He said he has taken tens of thousands of jump shots since the surgery, and closed his morning workout yesterday by making 100 three-pointers in 143 rapid-fire attempts. "That rim's broken, usually I make all of them," he said.

He has been scrimmaging with teammates and their friends on the team's practice court and said the results leave no doubt about his health. "If they're playing today, you'll see I'm going to dominate the hell out of them," he said. "Out of 15 games, I already hit nine game-winners."

But despite the hours inside the Wizards' F Street facilities, much of his rehabilitation was done in the public eye. As in past summers, there were street games in Southeast's Barry Farms neighborhood. And as in past summers, there were long bike rides with strength and conditioning coach Andrew Cleary. Yesterday morning, after Arenas hugged a few young female fans on Seventh Street, they set off, weaving through pedestrians, lounging in front of red lights and generally being ignored by workaday Washington.

Arenas wore headphones but no helmet -- "I look goofy in it" he said -- and mostly stuck to the sidewalks -- "there's cars in the street, I'd rather hit a person than a car any day," he said.

Three times a week, the pair ride from Verizon Center to the Mall, up Rock Creek Parkway to Military Road and then back down 16th Street. Yesterday, they veered off their course and headed to the track at Cardozo, which they discovered after finding renovations underway at Dunbar High and being asked to leave the field at Howard University.

"We came over here and the gate was unlocked, so we just started coming," Arenas explained. "If the gate was locked here, we would have gone to another place."

Arenas has taken teammates -- including Donell Taylor, DeShawn Stevenson and Antawn Jamison -- to the track for a series of gradually longer runs; four 100-meter sprints, then four at 200 meters, three at 300 meters and two at 400 meters. When Taylor watched Arenas's gait and said he was still limping, he responded with more running.

"We just kept running and running and running," Arenas said. "Try to run [the limp] out."

Since basketball requires bursts of quickness rather than sustained top speed, Arenas and Cleary turned to resistance exercises in early June, first with a rubber cord tied to Cleary and then with the parachutes. On a typical day, Arenas said, he would run the length of the football field into the wind 10 times, with the parachute billowing behind him.

"I can't actually limp, I can't favor it when I'm running with a parachute" he said. "This is going to be part of my regimen now, because I can see it works."

After his fourth parachute run yesterday, Arenas sat on a bench in front of the lined field and again talked about his health. He said he's in the final stages of rehabbing the knee; training camp starts on Tuesday and he said he's cleared for all drills. He said during his workouts he hasn't eaten meals until the late afternoon, when he eats a massive fruit salad, but that "I can't live off fruit salad; I'm sorry, I'm American." He said for dinner he's eaten sea bass, spinach and brown rice from P.F. Chang's every night for the past week. He said "this has to be the year" for the Wizards, and that anything less than a trip to the Eastern Conference finals would be regarded as failure.

Then he changed out of his soccer cleats, retrieved his bike, put his headphones on and pedaled down 11th Street.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company