An Unexpected Injury: Soccer and the ACL

Throughout my soccer career I have known countless girls who tore their ACL during games and practices. The injury is so common among soccer players that I’ve actually never played on a team were a mate was not affected by this seemingly disastrous knee injury. So, the phrase “I tore my ACL” is common to my ears and never truly shook me. It was kind of like you telling me that you had asthma, like yes that sucks a lot and I’m so sorry, but also, I’m not exactly surprised. ACL injuries permeate the lives of soccer players, but I never expected to be on the receiving end of, “That sucks, I’m so sorry.” I made it through middle school, high school, and travel soccer of all kinds, only to tear my right ACL during offseason for my college club soccer team during the last half an hour of a rain-soaked, miserable practice.

I remember everything. I can tell you the day, time, and drill we were doing. I can even recall the exact spot on the pitch where I crumbled to the ground after sprinting and cutting for a sharp pass to the corner flag. Over a year has passed since that night, but I can still feel the motion of my knee that ripped my ACL cleanly in two. The injury was such a shock to my body and brain that I couldn't un-see what had happened for weeks, and I dreamed about it for months.

The fact that I had never suffered from an injury more severe than a concussion combined with my innate stubbornness led me to believe I was perfectly fine and only in shock after the initial fall. Thus, I decided to participate in the running drill that was up next prescribing to the silly concept of “just walk it off.” My coach was at a loss of what to do; so, she let me take my health into my own hands. We started the run and I couldn't really feel my knee, and when it was my turn to sprint I couldn't really move my knee either. I was physically unable to sprint. Seeing that my attempt at pretending I was fine had failed, I decided to turn around and head back to where my coach was starting to look anxious. The second I twisted my body, I was on the ground again. My knee had simply given out without warning. That should have been my first clue that my ACL was injured, since the ACL is the part of the knee enabling you to turn corners, but my judgment was clouded, and I didn't recognize it.

I proceeded to limp home promising my teammates that I would go to the doctor as soon as possible. A week later I was still unable to walk right and unable to turn corners without plummeting toward the ground; so, I went to the DU Health Center. The health center is a wonderful resource, but not for sports injuries. The doctor lazily diagnosed me with a lateral meniscus tear and told me to just wait it out. Not knowing anything about knees, I took her word for it and limped home. Flash-forward another week and my pain had actually worsened. My coach insisted that I go see a ‘real’ doctor and since this whole limping around campus thing was beginning to get old, I obliged. The doctor literally took a thirty second look at my knee and said, “So, your ACL is torn, but let us see what else you’ve done to your knee.”

I don’t think I’ve ever cried so readily. It dramatically felt like my world had been shattered, because it was April and I was leaving for my New Zealand study abroad experience in only 3 months. I had plans. Plans to play soccer, plans to backpack around the Southern Alps, plans to run away from any wild sheep I might anger… Tearing my ACL, having surgery, and not being allowed to do any of the things I had planned for much of the 6 to 9-month recovery were not part of the equation. I was angry at the situation and angry at myself for injuring my knee in a situation that was, “not even worth it”, but in the end injuries are not something we can account for or control. It doesn't matter what you were doing while tearing your ACL, it simply sucks. So, after the initial shock was overcome, acceptance of the situation was the first step in recovering from it; thus, I scheduled my surgery for the closest available date and started to plan for my slightly altered study abroad session.

Stay tuned to hear more about the surgery process and my eventual road to recovery!