April 17, 2014
I’m sure for most people the date stands out in their mind like a death in the family or a birthday. It sounds dramatic but the events of such a day usually are dramatic.
I was training with the Washington Spirit during preseason. It was an open training so our fans and the media were able to attend. That means people were watching our every move.
I went to take a first-time shot, planted with my left foot and shot the ball with my right foot and felt something extremely uncomfortable. Before I could process what had happened to my knee, I watched as I scored the last goal of the drill, the day and the season. The goal was the last image of have of myself playing soccer for a long time. I was down on the field, crying because I knew something bad happened and there were tons of people there to see it.
Days later it was confirmed that I had indeed torn my ACL and also my meniscus and my 2014 season was over. At first I didn’t believe it at all. I went through the stages of denial in the span of about a month. But after that I put all the pieces together and went through the injury logically.
In 2007, I was in camp with the USWNT. We had to go through routine physicals if we were picked to go on the upcoming trip to China. During that physical, the doctor did the ACL test on both my knees. He found that one was looser than the other. With that, I wasn’t allowed back on the field for the rest of camp and had to be cleared by a doctor in order to come back into a camp at a later date.
A few weeks later, an MRI showed that my left ACL was intact, even if it was looser than the other.
Fast forward back to 2014 and we’re back to the Spirit preseason. On April 1, I was tracking back to get the ball, took a bigger step with my left foot and felt as my knee went out. It swelled up really fast and I was done for the session.
I went to the doctors and they said that my ACL definitely felt loose and I explained how it had always been that way. I even showed them the old MRI.
The swelling went down and knee started feeling better. After two weeks I was back in training and feeling pretty good.
Then April 17th happened.
Whether my ACL was already completely torn or it was just loosened more or not, I don’t know if I’ll ever know. What I do think is that I’ll never know if it was preventable or not. I’ll never know if I did all the right things or if this was bound to happen. I’ll never know if I over trained in the offseason or if it was because I had my period during that training session on April 1. There are tons of reasons it could have happened and trying to figure out which one it was will get me nowhere. Realistically there is no such thing as going through the process logically and piecing things together. There’s nothing I can do about it now except come back from it and that’s where I am in the process currently.
I had two separate surgeries, one to repair my meniscus and one to repair my ACL with a patellar tendon graft. I had an option to use several different doctors, but I wanted to go home and use a doctor I knew of. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into his office and he told me I definitely tore my ACL and that the way he does it is by having two separate surgeries. He walked out of the room and I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. My mom was in there and told me it was going to be okay. He walked back in, saw me crying and gave me a big hug. Right then and there I knew, no matter what process he was going to use, he was the right doctor for me. I felt like I was in the best hands possible and I still feel that way seven months later.
I now realize the importance of finding a doctor that fits your personality and would recommend people to do the same.
With this being my first serious injury/surgery, the meniscus pain was like no pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I was using painkillers and anti-nausea medicine because every time I stood up the pain in my leg was so intense that I felt like I would pass out. I got on the right meds and realized I had to stay ahead of the pain with my medication schedule. Once I realized that, the pain was more tolerable, but the beginning part of the meniscus rehab was by far the hardest part of the process so far. It was so uncomfortable and so painful and for the first two days it was literally hell.
After that things got a little easier. Pushing through the bending pain and figuring out how to put pressure on my leg again took some time, but eventually it happened. I had to get to full range of motion before I could get my ACL surgery and since that was taking so long they gave me a cortisone shot to speed the process. Three months after my meniscus repair I got my ACL repaired. The ACL post-op seemed so much easier compared to my meniscus, and I’m sure there are several reasons for that. One being that it was my second surgery and I knew what to expect and the other was the miracle gift of life called a nerve block. Thank you nerve block, for doing your job and blocking the pain or whatever you were supposed to do. It was much easier to deal with.
My rehab went well. I lost a lot of muscle so things took longer than usual, but I just kept pushing through. I enjoyed rehab a lot when the ball was introduced, even for the smallest things. Just doing little touches here and there helped my motivation more than I ever thought it could have. I craved the ball, even in the smallest doses. The better I got at things, the more I could use the ball, so my motivation was simple.
Once I got through my basic rehab, which included squats, lunges, leg press, leg lifts, general movements, etc. I was able to start really doing stuff with the ball and getting more touches on a ball and running on a treadmill. Using the alter G was really amazing and I would recommend that to anyone who has it available. I also benefited from running in the pool and working on my form that way. I think that a regular treadmill was tough on my body, especially when I was trying to figure out what my form was again.
Once I was able to start doing more stuff with a ball like passing and dribbling I thought it was a very difficult thing to find a sports specific rehab place in Connecticut especially a place that had soccer people. I was lucky to have a friend who was an AT and a former college soccer player. He was able to get me back on the field doing stuff with a ball and incorporating my rehab in a way that made me feel like a soccer player again. It was on a field with balls and goals and that’s all I wanted. I think that people like that are really hard to come by so if you can find someone who played the game or who really, really understands the game and the movements and nuances, the process will be easier, more enjoyable and smoother.
Off the field during rehab I watched as much soccer as possible. I watched so many games and learned so many different styles and players and their tendencies that I feel like I understand the game on a new level. I feel like the game is easier in my mind now than it was before. I also coached a lot during my process. At a time when my body wasn’t reacting to the signals my mind was sending, I could tell kids what to do on the field and they would respond and I felt like that helped me cope. It wasn’t ideal physically at times, but mentally I would do it all again if I could. Maybe in a chair.
I’m at the point now where I’m going to start with a team again. I’m getting more comfortable with cutting and doing single leg jumps and drops. I’m a little behind in the process, but I’m doing my best not to think about timelines. It’s hard not to compare my process with someone else’s, but I have found that when I do that and think about dates and timelines too much it makes me crazy. So what I focus on is my body and my mind and what feels right and what doesn’t. I haven’t been wearing a brace, for example, and I’ve had people tell me they wore a brace throughout the process. The brace doesn’t feel right on me right now, so maybe I won’t be using one during training. I don’t know yet. But it’s my body not someone else’s. And I have to trust my instincts with this process just as I would with anything else.
Even though my process isn’t quite over yet (although I’m not sure the process is never really over it seems) I can already tell that I’m not the same person I was before it. I have had to be patient beyond anything else that has required my patience. I’ve had to handle physical and mental pain that has exceeded most other things I’ve been through. I’ve had to sit out and watch while my team played on without me, unable to contribute on the field. Those things have made me a stronger person with much more perspective than I had before. I was able to see things from a different point of view and slow down. I realized that prior to the injury I took for granted simple things like walking, being able to use the bathroom and shower comfortably.
I always valued and appreciated my time on the field, but it wasn’t until this injury that I realized just how valuable the little nuances of the game were. I’m struggling even now to do a simple move like inside-outside without hesitating, simply because it requires a lateral hop with my “bad” leg. The whole is the sum of all its parts and without the little bits, like hopping, balancing on one leg, deceleration, lateral movements, etc. there is no soccer. There is no 90-minute game. So now I appreciate every single step and I take it with care and I think for that I’ll be even more detail-oriented than I was before.
So the hope is now that I don’t over-think or under-think the process and although that seems nearly impossible at times, I know that in order to get back on the field I must find a middle ground, or there might not be another 90-minute game in my future.