“You can’t play” are the most dreaded words in sports. And those words are often the result of sports injuries. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association reported that there are 12,500 collegiate injuries per year. Whether an accident or not, injuries resulting from sports or exercising are very common – and sometimes inevitable. However, there are several pragmatic steps you can take to prevent an injury, from drinking enough fluids to stretching to wearing proper gear.
Little injuries along the way can restrict an athlete from competing, but some injuries cannot be fixed with a simple home remedy. While there are countless injuries an athlete can undergo, almost 80 percent of all sports injuries can be found in the three most common categories of injuries: ankle sprains, shoulder injuries and knee injuries. In fact, knee injuries alone make up 55 percent of all sports injuries.
The most common knee injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL can be injured in a variety of simple ways, such as changing direction rapidly, stopping suddenly, landing from a jump incorrectly or by direct contact.
The most famous ACL injury is Derek Rose’s – the one that stopped his career for a whole year. But some ACL injuries hit closer to home and have happened to athletes at DePaul. Three girls on the DePaul women’s soccer team, Megan Pyrz, Kimberly Denne and Bianca Perry tore their ACLs this past season in August.
“The defender intercepted the pass I made, so as I was running forward, I stepped to cut and turn around to get back on defense and as soon as did, I heard and felt a loud pop in my knee and I went down. I just lay there; I didn’t cry or say anything else. I knew exactly what happened and knew my soccer career had just ended,” Denne said. “I got up, walked around, jogged around, but my knee felt like spaghetti. I knew exactly what happened and I felt like I was dreaming; I didn’t want to believe it.”
Although Denne admits tearing her ACL made it hard for her to remain positive and hopeful, there was something bright that came out of her injury.
“My injury has been a blessing in disguise. It has opened my eyes more to how much I value and thrive in a team setting and (it) has ignited my passion to coach,” Denne said. “My injury, these teammates, and all three of my coaches are the reason I have changed career paths and now want to be a head coach of a collegiate team.”
Alexa Gallagher, a junior who was on the DePaul Women’s Basketball Team stopped playing because of her repeated knee injuries in high school and in college. “I tore my ACL just shooting around on a basketball court the summer going into my sophomore year of high school. I just planted my leg funny and it tore,” Gallagher said. Like Denne, Gallagher said tearing her ACL taught her something.
“It was really hard going through surgery and having to sit out and just watch my team play, but it made me appreciate being able to play basketball that much more. It actually made me into a much better basketball player since I became faster and stronger both mentally and physically during my physical therapy.”
Gallagher suffered from an ACL tear in high school as well as a meniscus tear in her knee in college. From all of her injuries relating to her knee, Gallagher underwent five surgeries and decided it was time to stop.
Although ACL cases are more predominant in men, studies show females are more at risk than men. A study from the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) showed female soccer players have more than two times the risk of tearing their ACL than males. Similarly, female basketball players have four times the risk than male basketball players.
Tearing your ACL can make you feel hopeless, but it soon becomes clear at the point of recovery that tearing your ACL in fact makes you hopeful; hopeful because you know you have the strength to overcome anything. Many athletes who have torn their ACL, like Denne and Gallagher, say it was hardest on them mentally to deal with their injury. However, they also stress that they felt stronger than they have ever felt – even before they tore it.
From the writer:
I too tore my ACL playing soccer. I made a quick movement when I was sprinting to get to the ball and planted my foot the wrong way. I remember laying on the doctors table squeezing my mom’s hand as the doctor drew fluid out of my knee to determine if my injury was indeed an ACL tear. The silence in the room answered the question. Immediately, I started sobbing and rocking on the table.
I was in a locked brace from my hip to my ankle and given crutches for support. Everything that defined me was taken away in one pop of the knee. I hated my knee and I hated this injury.
Fast forward to five months post-operation and I can say tearing my ACL was one of the best things to happen to me. It opened my eyes not only to pain, but also to overcoming pain. I truly thank my ACL tear for putting my body in a vulnerable state and forcing me to become “mentally tough”.