Have you ever experienced an inconvenience, and it feels like nothing is going according to plan? You know how it goes — you miss your bus on the way to work, you spill a drink on your new jeans, and all of it makes you sigh in exasperation because the world is testing you. Not being in control of your circumstances can feel rough, no matter how small the inconvenience may be. However, when something major actually happens, you just might be forced to re-evaluate your life.
Three weeks ago, while walking home from work at the fastest pace I could, I spoke on the phone with my friend about how unlucky I had been feeling that day. “You want to know what happened?” I said. “First, five minutes before I had to go to class, I spilled ramen ALL over my lap,” I complained. “That wasn’t it, though…tonight while I was closing, I spilled the mop bucket all over my boots. ALL over!” I exclaimed. My friend laughed, affirming my frustration, and I felt satisfied that someone other than me recognized how unlucky everything had been.
That day, everything seemed to be putting me through the wringer. I simply wanted something to go “right.” I complained, I sighed, and shared my exasperation with everyone around me. It wasn’t necessarily that they could “do” anything to help my situation, but having someone acknowledge that the day really really was inconvenient made me feel better somehow. Yes, Alex. You’re unlucky.
Then, a week later, I experienced an even bigger inconvenience: Tragically, I tore my ACL at volleyball practice. Prior to this incident, I had big plans — plans that felt really important to me. At the time, making the club volleyball team had become my aspiration. It was something to work toward and focus on before school stress swallowed me whole; plus, I was strength training and attending volleyball practices and open gyms to make sure I was physically and mentally strong for tryouts. Volleyball became my reason to keep going and stay motivated; plus, it provided three times a week where I could escape from the demands of college and the stress of a busy life.
Then, the night before tryouts, I landed from a jump during practice. I instantly felt a pop and crumbled to the floor — I didn’t see where the ball went. Immediately, the pain spread from my knee to my leg, and in that moment, I knew my volleyball career was over before it had even begun. Deep down, I knew that there wouldn’t be a simple fix or easy recovery for the pain I was experiencing. And in the moment, I felt defeated. I had worked for so long. I was a volleyball coach. I felt like 5 years of work had gone down the drain in a split second.
A week later, my doctor told me I tore my ACL completely and that I would need surgery. He assured me that although I would be able to walk (for the time being), I, unfortunately, wouldn’t be able to play volleyball for at least nine months in order to recover. I could never have imagined not stepping on that court for so long, or not high-fiving my teammates and coworkers. I was enraged, I was annoyed, but mostly, I was sad.
In the midst of dealing with my disappointment, I thought about my phone call the week before when I had complained about the smallest inconveniences. And after hearing the bad news about my ACL, I started wishing for a million of those “little” issues to replace my injury. I looked back at my complaints — and how “unlucky” I felt at those times — and laughed at first, then cried.
Prior to my injury, my friends would laugh along with my “inconvenient” stories because they knew how I felt. They knew what it was like to be inconvenienced by small things, from stepping in a puddle to spilling ramen all over your lap. But when they heard the news about my ACL, it was clear they didn’t know what it was like to experience an inconvenience like this. On the outside looking in, this just looked like a bump in the road.
Everyone tried to reassure me and attempted to make me feel better. Sure, I couldn’t play volleyball anymore, but what did it matter? I wasn’t a Division I player, so my college career wasn’t over. I wasn’t dead. I could still talk, walk, write, and learn. The truth is, nothing in my life really appeared to change as a result of my ACL except the negation of three, two-hour practices a week. Looking at it that way, I was probably fine, right? Sitting out from playing volleyball meant more time to focus on getting better grades, and the ability to devote more time to other clubs and extracurriculars. So, was dealing with an injury really that bad?
At the time, I felt like my friends couldn’t see that my injury was far more than a minor inconvenience — it was dream-killing. I was in pain — not just physically, but mentally. My friends looked at me as I navigated campus with crutches and struggled to carry my backpack, food, and everything else. They offered to help, carrying my things and opening doors for me — which I really appreciated. However, I also hated the pity from others, and desperately wanted to be independent again.
Now, some time has passed since I had my knee surgery. It took me a while to accept the surgery at all, to soothe my fears of anesthesia and pain, and mostly to stay away from my friends for so long. (Having surgery meant that I’d have to take online classes from home — just like I did for a year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.) My recovery period is around six weeks, but it feels like forever. I constantly have to remind myself that in six months to a year, I’ll be back to normal. Processing all of this has been unbelievably challenging, but I have received nothing but support from my friends, family, and even strangers.
Even so, I cried to myself just a few weeks ago. Prior to the injury, I was so focused on the “life plan” I’d curated for myself that I couldn’t see my future playing out any other way. As a result, it has taken me some time to accept such a significant impediment at such a busy time in my life.
However, at the end of the day, I’m not giving up on my path. I’m realizing that this inconvenience is part of defining who I am. Navigating an injury has already taught me so much, and it has caused me to reflect on how some obstacles feel impossible, yet they might be necessary for our growth. Nowadays, I’m trying to be optimistic about the future, and I know that I will come back from this experience. Nothing can stop me from being where I’m meant to be.
My 19th birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and since my surgery, I have realized how much there is to look forward to over the next year. I have a successful college career, two majors, and friends who do so much for me without asking for anything in return. I have so much to live for and so much left to learn. Navigating an injury has been painful, that’s for sure — but I can see now more than ever the love that radiates from my loved ones, and how much they do to support me (in good times and bad). This experience is a defining bump in the road; it’s teaching me how to stay patient, resilient, and motivated, and the truth is, I can only go up from here. I’ve realized that, like the weather, your circumstances change, and everything can be interrupted in the blink of an eye — but that doesn’t mean it will never be sunny again.