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How Tearing my ACL Turned My Life Upside Down

I still remember the day the doctor came into the exam room and delivered the hardest news I’ve ever received: My ACL and meniscus had been torn, and my soccer career as I knew it had come to an end.

Soccer has been my passion for as long as I can remember. My dad played soccer most of his life as a goalie, and I would accompany my two brothers to their games every weekend to cheer them on from the bleachers. At 3 years old, I was finally able to hold myself up and began dribbling the soccer ball and playing alongside friends in recreational soccer. My family called me “Ronaldinha,” a play on name created after the infamous Brazilian soccer player Ronaldinho. Later on, I played travel soccer where I journeyed throughout Florida and sometimes went out of state to places like North Carolina. I was the kind of girl that could never make plans with friends because I had practice three times a week and games all weekend long. When we weren’t playing soccer, we were watching it at home. Watching the world cup and my role model Cristiano Ronaldo were always some of my fondest memories.

This passion and love for the sport came shattering down when I got injured. Life after surgery had been difficult. I transitioned from running back and forth on a field for joyful hours to being stuck lying in bed aching in pain. The lifestyle change had been hard for me and affected my mental health. My usual medium to alleviate stress, interact with friends, maintain an active lifestyle and engage in my community had been taken away from me. I felt helpless and became dependent on others to complete simple tasks like getting dressed. Six months of recovery turned into two years after incurring another injury to my meniscus.

I had gone through three knee surgeries, two of which were due to another laceration to my meniscus, and one occurred a little less than a year ago. You can say that my left knee is my Achilles heel. Tearing my meniscus wasn’t as bad as tearing my ACL in terms of pain and mobility, but it still limited which activities I could participate in. Luckily, I’ve had a supportive and caring team behind me that has helped me through my journey. A team of doctors, physical therapists, nurses and my family have all helped me regain my strength.

My biggest challenge had been strengthening the quadriceps muscle. Due to a lack of physical activity after surgery, my quadricep muscle had atrophied, making it harder to gain back full range of motion in my knee. To this day, I still struggle to maintain that strength, and I suffer some pain from time to time. However, I am beyond grateful for my access to proper healthcare and am ecstatic to finally have my mobility.

I hadn’t played soccer since high school, due to the recurring injury and moving to college, but the main factor holding me back was fear: the fear of playing and tearing my ACL once again. I can’t possibly go through yet another surgery and another eight months to a year of going through physical therapy barely able to complete a squat. Not being able to go to the gym or participate in friendly sports games like volleyball or kickball due to my injury has been the biggest hardship of injuring my knee. Each time I got injured I had to miss out on many activities and events because I physically wasn’t able to perform those activities or else I’d injure myself. 

Now that I have finally healed from my third surgery, I have slowly but surely gotten back to a more active routine in hopes of overcoming my fear of injury and getting back to playing the sport I love. With a proper warm-up and awareness of my limitations, I have started lifting heavier weights at the gym and started playing less demanding sports to prepare my body to play soccer. Before I jump into a scrimmage, I have plans to finally buy some new equipment, such as shin guards and cleats, to go dribble and practice kicking a ball around over the weekend. It’s an exciting yet nerve-wracking endeavor, but I can’t let fear stop me from doing what I love. 

This is a reminder to anyone that your injury, illness or any other obstacle in your life is only temporary, and you will find a way out. It may take longer than anticipated, but the most important thing to remember is to keep fighting because the hardest thing to endure is not failing but giving up. My injury may have put me on the sidelines for a while, but it has also shown me strength and resilience and has inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare. It’s a bit cheesy, but I want to leave you with a quote from a Rocky Balboa movie that I now live by because of my journey: “…It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Racheal Jones is a senior at the University of Florida studying Sociology. She's completed research on family violence and is currently working on a new research project. She loves Marvel movies, sapphic fantasy novels and Taylor Swift. Outside of school, she's learning how to roller skate, take care of her plants and rock climb.
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