Bo Scaife’s dream was always crystal clear. As a teen football standout, he planned to play in college, then in the NFL for 10 years.
But a devastating knee injury threatened Scaife’s plans during his senior year at Mullen High School. Viewed by many as the top player in the state then, Scaife rushed for three touchdowns, then tore a ligament in his right knee during the semifinal game. Mullen went on to win the championships and fortunately, the team’s doctor was orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Ted Schlegel, of the UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver.
Schlegel, who also spent many years as a team doctor for the Denver Broncos, reassured Scaife that he and his team at Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver could help Scaife make it to the NFL. But he would need to be patient as his knee healed and diligent in fighting his way back.
Scaife had his doubts at first.
“I had to trust them, which was hard to do,” Scaife said.
The sacrifices came right away. While friends were sleeping in, Scaife woke up early to go to physical therapy appointments before school at least three times a week.
“Mike (my therapist) would get really serious with me. He saw all my potential and said, ‘Trust me. I’m going to help you get better,’” Scaife recalled.
Ultimately, Schlegel, his partner, Dr. Martin Boublik and Mike Allen helped Scaife bounce back from three potentially career-ending knee injuries. He went on to live his dream: playing for the Texas Longhorns in college, then in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans, the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots.
Scaife became the only tight end in NFL history to rush for a touchdown, catch a touchdown, return a kickoff and record a tackle in the same season.
Over the years, Scaife has continued to rely on his Denver medical team. During his playing days, the pro sought out his trusted pros, often flying in for a day to Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver to get checkups, second opinions and essential physical therapy tune-ups.
“Every time I’ve been down and something was wrong with my body, they always helped me get back and get better,” Scaife said.
Since wrapping up his football career in 2012, Scaife earned an MBA from George Washington University in 2014. He’s back in Denver now and has started a company called Fresh Ed. that’s dedicated to helping young athletes succeed on and off the field. When young players get injured, Scaife serves as a mentor, helping them find the strength to succeed.
Dr. Schlegel said Scaife’s attitude was key to his success.
“The ones who are able to overcome the psychological challenges have what we’re calling resiliency,” said Schlegel, director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship Program at Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver. “Bo’s a perfect example of this concept. He was very talented, very physically capable. He also had that determination and drive to work hard, set goals and meet those goals.”
Schlegel believes that Scaife’s very specific goals led him to heal after multiple surgeries.
“If he hadn’t had that mindset, he probably never would have achieved his goals. We weren’t training patients at that time on resiliency. But he’s a case of being diligent and following through,” Schlegel said.
After working with professional athletes for many years, Schlegel has been doing research on resiliency and translating the findings into practice at the clinic for both professional athletes and weekend warriors.
“When someone isn’t quite as resilient, they tend to shrink back from injury. This has been studied primarily in the military. The Department of Defense is doing some very good work looking at soldiers and how some are able to overcome adversity on the battlefield,” he said.
Schlegel is adapting that research to better understand how athletes heal.
“We’re trying to understand when patients come in — whether they’re recreational or professional athletes — how we can help that person continue to be resilient,” Schlegel said.
Thus far, he’s seen athletes do better if they have physical therapy before surgery and realistic counseling to prepare them for the work of recovery.
A single ACL tear can doom a football career, making Scaife’s recovery all the more amazing. After tearing the ACL on his right knee in high school, Scaife rebounded and was excited to make it to Austin to play college ball. But during the first week of training camp sophomore year, he endured a second blow, tearing the ACL on the left knee. Doctors in Texas did the surgery on that knee, and unfortunately chose a method that didn’t provide a lasting fix.
“Unfortunately the surgery was done in a way that set him up for another injury,” Schlegel said. “In our clinic, we have worked on the ideal placement for the tunnels where you put in the graft.”
Scaife knew right away that something was wrong.
“Coming out of surgery in Texas, my knee was all bruised up,” he said. “With Dr. Schlegel, it was so clean.”
He later ruptured the ACL in that left knee and had to endure a third set of surgeries and recovery. He returned to Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver to repair the rupture.
But frustration from all the injuries nearly defeated Scaife. Back at Texas, far from home he struggled for a time to do the proper rehab on his left knee and started partying and blowing off classes.
“I almost flunked out of school. I came home at Christmas break and my parents had gotten my report card. Here I was getting a free education at a wonderful place. I was at a crossroads. I had to look in the mirror and make some hard choices. Do you want to be the guy who throws away all his potential or do you want to be the guy who has the opportunity to find his own potential?”
Scaife chose opportunity.
“It was time for me to transform myself. My knee actually healed up really, really well and I felt stronger than ever. I turned it on. I had to alter my game a bit and be stronger mentally because I didn’t have the same physical speed and explosivity.
“But I challenged myself. You start playing well and your confidence is sky-high,” he said.
Scaife teaches young athletes that mental strength is just as important as physical strength. They have to surround themselves with healthy mentors and advocate for excellent medical care.
“We’re supposed to trust individuals who are working on us. But we don’t know if they’re doing stuff in our best interests. In football, your body is your career. So you have to know as much information as possible,” Scaife said.
And you need a trusted team.
Since college, Scaife’s knees have held up well. He suffered some other injuries during his NFL years, but he achieved his goal of playing football in college and in the pros and now is embarking on an exciting new chapter.
Scaife said optimism clearly helped him triumph over injuries. But unrelenting support from his parents and his medical team at Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver also allowed him to succeed.
He talks to many former players who suffered a single torn ACL and never made it back to the game.
“Adversity is something that everyone faces. It’s something we can all relate to,” Scaife said. “It’s how we embrace those moments as a launching pad to something else that makes a difference.”