16-year-old's ACL story

by Carolyn
(Wisconsin)

I was involved in an indoor soccer league over last winter to prepare my for my outdoor season with my highschool. It was going to be my sophomore season, and it was going to be AMAZING.


My freshman year I had the most assist on the team and I was a real standout player. But even though getting awards is nice and scholarships to big universities was something that I always had in mind for myself, all I really wanted to do was play with my team. I was pumped to get back on the field and hear the fans cheering and feel the adrenalin pulse through my viens.

I was ready for the pasta dinners and the shouts of all my teammates in the locker room getting ready for the big game. But when it came time for my last indoor soccer game of the season, my head wasn't in the game. It was Super Bowl Sunday, 7:00 in the morning, and I really just didn't feel like playing.

I remember exactly what I was doing when I tore my ACL. The ball was in front of me and I reached for it with my left foot. As my poor little knee bent for its last time in a soccer game, number 10 on the other team tackled me hard and I heard the infamous "pop" that no sports players ever wants to hear. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. (It sounds dramatic, but its exactly how I remember it).

The pop, knowing in the pit of my stomach what had happened to me, and then collapsing on the ground in a heap. I was scared, but more than anything I was SHOCKED. My friends tell my that all I kept saying was "This isn't happening, this really can NOT be happening."

To make a really long story short, I rushed to the hospital where the doctor mis-diagnosed me with a sprained knee. I stayed in an immobilizer for the next couple of days before I went to my trainer at school, knowing in my heart that it was not a sprain. I told him of my concerns, and he referred me to one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in the country, Dr. John Heinrich.

I cried when he first told me that I had torn my ACL; it was the first time someone had actually said it too my face, and I knew that I had a long couple months ahead of me.

I'll skip ahead a month to my surgery. I chose to have a patella tendon autograph reconstruction, which I have never regretted. During the surgery Dr. Heinrich repaired my meniscus that had been torn during rehab before the surgery. I am not a big fan of needles, but when it came time for my surgery I put on a brave face and more than anything, wanted it to be over so that I could begin my road to recovery.

My surgery was a success, a "textbook procedure with textbook results", as my surgeon likes to say. Today, almost ten months later (10 months? Mentally, it feels like ten days) I can say that tearing my ACL has changed my life in positive ways as well as in negative ways.

Negatively, because this was one of the hardest, most depressing parts of my life, and for the fact that I blame my pain killers for my bad grades during finals. But of all of my bad memories, I can say that the experience has changed my into the person I am today. I now have empathy for people that are going through the same scary situation that I went through.

A couple months out of my surgery I spent a day at the hospital with Dr. Heinrich and his PA to observe surgeries and reaffirmed my dream of becoming a doctor. I found a best friend in my physical therapist, Megan Batha, who treated my knee with expert knowledge while building my confidence and simply being wonderful to talk to. I remember the day that I ran for the first time after my surgery was as much of a celebration for me as it seemed to be for her.

Even though my experience rebuilding my knee has been, for the most part, positive, I have decided that I am not going to play soccer anymore. Only my mom knows about my decision, and I know that telling my teammates is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I made this decision because I know that there are more things to life than soccer. Sure, I will be missing out on the pasta dinners, the fun bus rides, the crowd cheering and the amazing rush of scoring a goal. But I know that I will never regret making this decision if it means that I will never tear my ACL again.

The experience was not the worst, but there is no way in the ENTIRE world that I will ever set foot on a soccer field again with the chances being so high that I will injure myself again.

I don't want to discourage anyone from going back to the sport they love just because Ive decided not to. If its really your thing, and you live and breathe what you do, then DO IT. But if you're like me, a person that loves to play tennis, swim, go horseback riding, go for a run with her dog, play the oboe, get good grades, a person who has more to her life than just playing soccer, I think that the mature decision is to try something else. Because in my opinion, another couple of soccer games before tearing my ACL again wouldn't be worth it, and I would look back on it with such regret.

If you have actually read this far, thank you! I'm writing this as much for myself as for anyone who wants to know my story. I wish you all the luck in the world that your surgery will go smoothly and that your road to recovery is as successful as mine was.

I want to say that I strongly believe that as important as the surgery is, what you do after the surgery is just as, or more, important. So find an excellent physical therapist and keep a positive attitude. Never give up, and know in your heart that whatever decision you make about what to do after your recovery is what YOU want to do. Not your coach, not your teammates, not your parents, but YOU. Because they are not the ones who tore their ACL, YOU are. They are not the ones having to go through rehab to walk again, YOU are.

So make the decision that's right for you, and never look back.

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