After being a soccer player for 12+ years, I was met with some adversity my sophomore season in high school. I had torn my ACL, and would be out of sports for 5+ months.
Once I found out I had torn my ACL and meniscus, I was pretty devastated. I had known other players and friends who had injured their knees this way, and had seen them post-surgery. I had witnessed their battle mentally and physically with returning to sports, and the seeming never-ending rehab. This frightened me, but made me more motivated than ever to get healthy again and come back better than before.
About 5 months later, I was cleared to return to sports. I returned to my starting position, and my high school soccer team ended up placing in the 2A state finals. I was feeling unstoppable, and felt no restrictions from my previous ACL injury. I felt like I was in the best shape of my life.
Then, a year and a half later when I was a senior in high school, the unthinkable happened- while playing at a fall soccer tournament in Champaign, I felt a pop in my knee. I knew I had re-torn it all over again. I was desperate to play my senior soccer season that spring. I worked my butt off, and was cleared yet again to return to soccer mid-March 2011. Come May, our team had made it to the sectional finals.
Ten minutes into the game, I again felt that all-to-familiar pop in my knee. For the 3rd time, I had re-torn my ACL.
After the victory, I felt tears form in my eyes as I watched my team accept our sectional final plaque. Mentally, I was completely ruined. I watched my team go on to prepare for supersectionals as I was preparing for my third ACL reconstruction and meniscetomy.
While this entire experience is pretty minute compared to what others go through, as a high school soccer player, this was my life. It was one of the hardest challenges I have faced physically and mentally. It was difficult to stay motivated, positive, and appreciative. I felt as if my current level of health and fitness would never be achieved again, and knew I was done with competitive sports. As I headed to Iowa State in the fall to pursue a degree in Architecture, I was still feeling pretty sour about my whole situation, and decided something needed to change. It started with my outlook on life. Instead of focusing on my set backs, I started looking ahead. I was scared of never being able to rise to that level of fitness I had in high school, and was not open to a life without sports. As any former athlete knows, having to adjust from a life filled with weekly practices and demanding coaches, to a life without the expectation of performance can be quite a challenge.
From there, I started moving forward. I needed to teach myself how to exercise again, but in a way I could sustain. I started researching lifting routines and how to make gains in distance running without completely ruining my knees. I gave myself some goals, and worked hard to achieve them- just as I had a goal to return to soccer after my injuries.
Not long after this, I switched my major to Kinesiology and Health, and decided I wanted to become a physical therapist (surprise, surprise). A year later, I ran the Steamboat 15K and felt great. Another year later, I started experiencing some tendinitis in my “good” knee, and had to take a break from running. Yet another setback.
Currently, I still experience knee issues, but I have grown to accept it and just work around it. I have done my fair share of experimenting with exercise routines and workouts, and have found what works for me and what doesn’t. I still run 5-10 miles a week, and I play intramurals at Bradley and play in rec leagues with friends. The difference now is that I listen to my body, and accept it when it tells me no, but also know the areas I can push myself, and am not afraid of failing and trying new things.
While tearing my ACL three times was an absolutely awful experience, I am thankful for it. I discovered what it’s like to work my very hardest and be pushed to my limit mentally and physically to achieve my goals just to get knocked back down again; I have been tested mentally, which has overall made me a stronger person; and I have met some excellent therapists and clinicians along the way, which I think inadvertently helped guide me towards the career path I have chosen. Lastly, I allowed myself to rely on others. Without the support of my friends and family, there is no way I would be where I am at now. This experience also helped me understand it is ok to seek out support, and the hardest part is recognizing and admitting to yourself that you need it.