I really was so grateful that the situation didn’t get worse than it did. I was hopeful that I would still have a shot at a collegiate career. Of course I felt sorry for myself, but in the back of my head I was gassing myself up for the sickest athletic comeback in history. I had SO much hope for the future and I was overall in good spirits. But this was when I began to struggle with my mental health, and primarily, my relationship with food.
For the next 8 months, I was a monster. I rehabbed and lifted and ran and did everything I could so that come August 1, I would be passing that fitness test at American. Muscle-wise, I was beginning to look like an athlete again. Food, to me, was fuel. And that was my only relationship with it. If the food I was eating wasn’t making me stronger or faster, the guilt I would feel would be immense. Despite all of it, I got cleared that following June to play soccer again, which was all I wanted.
I know what you’re thinking. This is going to be some crazy, amazing, emotional comeback story where I tell you how many goals I scored after overcoming all of these trials, where I tell you I carried American University Women’s Soccer to the Patriot League Championship, where I tell you I fought through the pain and had the most rewarding Division 1 experience. This is none of that.
I got to AU, and by some crazy twist of fate I passed the Man U run-test (by the end of it I had quite literally pissed my pants from exhaustion). My knee was in incredible pain from two-a days. I rehabbed my knee in between sessions. I popped Advil religiously, struggled with stairs, and kept questioning my abilities as an athlete. But honestly, I thought this was the pain I was supposed to feel coming back from an ACL surgery (and 3 washouts?). I just really had nothing to compare it to.
I played in three collegiate non-conference games, but something still felt wrong. I asked for an MRI, and what I feared was true. The ACL literally was dissolved by the infection. The only reason my knee was stable was from the scar tissue holding it together. Internally, my bones were just sliding around and smashing into each other. No wonder it hurt! It was already time for my second ACL reconstruction. Bring on surgery #5. I was nearing a mental breakdown.
I can’t begin to describe how absurd the collegiate surgery recovery process is, but I could write a whole second piece about that. Long story short, I was getting pushed to return to play in 5 months (9 months to a year is usually recommended??). Five other girls on my team were ALSO coming back from ACL reconstructions at the same time as me (Concerning, no?). If it weren’t for them, I probably would have given up completely.
We made the most out of our situation, and compensated with horrible, dark humor, that only the “hab gals” would understand. My best friend, teammate, and soul sister, Dara and I had our ACL surgeries one month apart. We scheduled our rehab together and our locker room mental breakdowns together. We laughed, cried, and cried some more through our 3 hour long sessions in that godforsaken training room. Misery really did love company. But the relationship I built with her is one of the most special things I gained from the whole experience, and recovering together and knowing someone really knew how I felt, was what made the whole experience somewhat bearable. Dara was the first real friend I made at American, and she will be my best friend for life.
Despite my horrible mental state, I was getting through it because of my teammates and that sliver of hope of having a redeeming soccer career in the near future. I put my head down and blindly obeyed my trainers and coaches in the recovery process. I let them ignore me when I told them I was in pain. 4 months post-op I was integrated into non-contact practice. I felt stronger than ever and was ripping shots upper 90 like it was riding a bike. I was also lifting more than I ever had in my life. Too much it seemed.
At 5 months post-op, I was instructed to max out my back squat in off-season lift. I couldn’t get back up. In a panic, I shot back up, hyperextended my knee to the side with all of the weight under me. Pop. ACL torn again.