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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

No ‘weighting’ to get back to life for this powerlifter

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“I am all gas, no breaks,” Bob Merkh of Atlantic County says.

The professional power lifter, who’s been called one of the strongest powerlifters in the world, says during a routine training session that he was doing squats when he heard a pop and felt the pain that brought him to his knees.

“My first thought was, ‘is this it? Am I done?’ I’ve been powerlifting most of my life. There aren’t many 39 year old's in my profession,” Merkh said.

But in addition to the possibility that he might not be able to compete in the sport he loved, Bob had other weights on his mind. He and his wife Stacy are involved in caring for their community in many ways. They support Special Olympics Powerlifting. They founded We Belong Cape May County, and Merkh teaches seventh grade at Upper Township Middle School.

“I was devastated,” Bob said.

“The quadriceps muscle is made up of four muscles that come together into one tendon that attaches to the patella—which most people refer to as their kneecap,” Bradford S. Tucker, M.D., sports medicine surgeon, Rothman Orthopaedics at AtlantiCare, said.

“Bob had an isolated tear of one of the four muscles called the vastus intermedius. This tendon is the deepest layer of the quadriceps muscle. In Bob’s case, the tendon ripped off of his patella and retracted up his thigh. An isolated tear of the vastus intermedius is a rare injury which has not been previously described in the orthopaedic literature. Because Bob is a powerlifter, we felt he would benefit from open repair of the tendon, in order to have all four tendons functioning again,” Tucker said.

“Dr. Tucker told me recovery might be tough. But I always tell my kids, powerlifting is like life. If you work really hard, you will get better,” Merkh said.

Dr. Tucker performed Merkh’s surgery in January 2023 at AtlantiCare’s Center for Orthopaedic Surgery, in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

“I had to split the quadriceps tendons to get to it. I was able to get a great repair and reattach the tendon to his patella by putting a strong suture tape whip stitch in the tendon and securing it to the patella through drill holes.”

“I’m a big baby, so I was nervous. Dr. Tucker and the team did an awesome job. I was back to work teaching in three days and to working out in six days,” Merkh said.

“One of the things I most appreciate is that at Rothman Orthopaedics at AtlantiCare, they didn’t tell me I was done. For me, in life, everything is a rush because there is so much I want and have to do. They appreciated that. They listened to me and included me in all of the decisions about my care,” he said.

As Merkh continues to recover, he plans to take a family vacation with three children—including 19-year old twins and an 11 year old and his wife. He’s says he’s exceptionally glad to be back on his feet and nearly back to full benching strength because he has a large lift on his summer agenda. He’ll be teaching pre-school students.

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