October 27th, 2012, a day I will never forget; it changed my approach to life.
Receiving a message from a young player I once coached at ODU, seeking advice on overcome an ACL injury, brought me back to one of the defining moments in my soccer career thus far.
As an 18 year old, in my sophomore season as an ODU Men’s Soccer player, where I was finally starting to grow into my game as an athlete, I hit a roadblock. The team had traveled to play at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, my home state. We were having a great season having a record of 11-2-2 and being ranked top 10 in the country.
A cold night in New York, I was sitting on the bench for most of the game. Hofstra scored early off a rebound, although we had the better team and more talented players, it was always difficult to play away from home in the CAA. We were chasing the game in the second half. At the 78th minute, my chance to enter the game in front of my family sitting in the crowd, patently awaiting to see me on the field. It was then I remembered my dad’s voice echoing in my head, “son it’s important to warm up before you go into any game.” The opportunity to go into the game and show my capabilities and how I could help my team, I did not hesitate and got ready without properly warming up. I went into the game to help my team find the tying goal and eventually the winning goal. Neither of those came and at about the 85’ minute I received the ball and turned, I saw I had a defender in front of me in a 1 v 1 situation. I took the defender on with a scissor move and 1 second later I was down on the ground. I swore I got hit from the side and fouled and that’s all I really cared about, I wanted to get the ball back and play quickly because time was against my team.
Something was different here. As I was falling, I had heard a loud pop. I could not get-up, I was in so much pain. Our athletic trainer, Cam Powden, came onto the field, and I remember him asking me a series of routine questions and doing a couple of physical tests on my knee. Once I complaint that I had heard a loud pop, Cam’s expression told me it was an injury that would prevent me to continue playing. I could barely walk off the field, and my knee are proceeded to swell.
As if absorbing the loss wasn’t bad enough, I was on crutches, unable to walk on my own power with a swollen knee. Not knowing what exactly was happening, I had to wait to see the doctor for an MRI. To make the situation more interesting, we were nine hours away from school, when Hurricane Sandy expected to hit the east coast within a matter of hours. My knee was very swollen and throbbing. On the bus, riding back to school, and after saying goodbye to my family at the field, I could not grasp the severity of what occurred and worried that the pain I felt could signify something serious. I had never experienced an injury in all my short/young years playing the sport.
When we arrived at ODU Campus, everything around the school was closed and deserted. The word was for everyone to stay indoors and prepare for the severe weather heading our way. I was lucky to have teammates and a couple of friends who looked after me during the first couple of days. When the weekend passed I was able to get to the hospital and have an MRI scan of my left knee. The next day, I took the images of my knee into the athletic training facility where the doctor confirmed I had torn my left Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL.
At the time, I didn’t even know anything about the ACL or its function in the body and what happens if you tear it. The only thing I did know is that my knee did not feel normal. The only thing I was interested in was what I needed to do to recover and how long it would take to be back on the field and play again. The doctor began to explain the different ACL repair surgeries that are required and fully recover.
Making sense of what happened
I decided to do my own research and found a lot of good information on the internet.
Ligaments tough, flexible and fibrous bands of connective tissue that connect two bones, cartilages that joint together. The difference between a muscle and a ligament is blood flow. Muscles do not hold things together like ligaments they contract and help the body move. Muscles require a lot of oxygen to contract continuously. When a muscle is torn, it can heal itself with treatment and time because it has an excellent blood supply. Tendons and ligaments have a very poor blood supply meaning that they do not have any blood vessels that travel through them, which is what makes them very strong and resistant to stretch. This is also why they do not heal quickly, because they lack a direct blood supply.
I immersed myself with positive thoughts. I looked up and studied all the soccer players who had this injury and how they recovered. I discovered my favorite player growing up had 2 ACL surgeries in his career and was still one of the best players of all time. RONALDO Luis Nazario de Lima (R9 or Brazilian Ronaldo). This was definitely a huge source of inspiration. I focused on tackle my injury, repairing the damage, rehabbing and coming back better, stronger and faster.
In my Freshman year, a teammate tore his ACL. Attended by the school doctor, his surgery and after care was something I carefully looked at. Having opted to replace his patella with cadaver skin, I saw him struggling during the rehab and subsequent recovery. He struggled to get back to feeling normal and 100% again. After witnessing his ordeal, I decided to look for my own doctor, one whom I would be comfortable and confident with, and who has worked with athletes. I drove home to New Jersey where I met with a Dr. Robert More, at Hunterdon Orthopedics. Dr. More had a great record with athletes and performed hundredths of patella tendon graft. The choice was easy. Cadaver graft is where the replacement ACL is taken from a deceased person and put in as your new one. The patella tendon graft is where a piece of your own patella tendon is taken and used as your new ACL.
It was at this point where I decided that I would win this challenge. I decided to pay closer attention to my body. Everything I consumed, how much, workout, rest, and sleeping pattern, most importantly, my thoughts and mental attitude. I cared an awful lot about myself before this incident, but I magnified my priority as to come back a better player, athlete and person.
My surgery took place at Hunterdon Medical Center, my New Jersey residence local medical facility, on November 13, 2012, two days before my 19th birthday. I began recovery the day after the surgery, on my birthday. I did very well from the beginning, exceeding all goals and expectations during my rehab. The first 3 months were very slow because of the time required to work on the range of motion and strength so I could begin walking normally. After the three months, the test finally revealed, I was ready to start running. I paid close attention to my diet especially during these months because my activity level was nowhere near the two hours training plus every day.
Especially for an athlete, when muscles aren’t exercised, they will atrophy. I lost 10 pounds of muscle from my injured leg. My quadriceps and hamstrings were gone. It took of weights and bike workouts to start rebuilding my leg strength on a daily bases. Learning to work both legs unilaterally as to both sides of my body.
Successes since my injury
After five long and hard months, with some ups and downs, I finally got back on the soccer field and able to do non-contact training with the team. The second I stepped on the field with the team, it was as though I had no recollection of ever being injured. After 6 months I was cleared to do full contact training and was ready for preseason. In August of 2013 I made my return to the field in a competitive game.
Through hard work, I can say that I accomplished one of my childhood goals of becoming a professional soccer player. I finished my career at Old Dominion University as the C-USA Tournament MVP and a C-USA Champion. It was the first C-USA championship in school history for any sport. A sweet ending after all my hard work throughout the four soccer seasons and 3 ½ academic years. Thank God, I have no issues with my knee. I make sure I continue to maintain my strength and do a variety of exercises, warm ups, ect, to stay strong and healthy and to prevent injuries.
You can do it
To those who have suffered or are recovering from an ACL tear, DO NOT WORRY, YOU CAN COME BACK A BETTER ATHLETE! The rehab will be grueling and tough. If you dedicate yourself to coming back stronger, I’m here to say, you can accomplish the goal.