With the end of high school nearing, I was excited for the next chapter in my life to begin. The decision on what university to attend was based on two factors: (1) Did the school offer my academic program and (2) did they have a rugby team?! I then had a list of schools that offered both. In the end, my final decision on the school to attend was based on their rugby team. I did more research on their rugby program than I did on the academic program I wanted to study.
After completing my first season on the varsity team where I was named an All-Star and team MVP, I got seriously injured for the first time in my sports career. I wasn’t too surprised because I’ve been playing a wide variety of sports since I was 4 and I’ve never been injured. I knew it was bound to happen eventually, especially since I played a lot of contact sports.
In the final weeks of March at our team’s spring training camp, I tore my ACL during the scrimmage. I didn’t realize I had torn it. I was planning on returning to the scrimmage once I got it checked by the medical staff. I wasn’t in any pain, so I didn’t think it was a severe injury. I knew I’d bounce back from it like I always do and be playing again soon. Later in the summer, I got a call from our team doctor solidifying something no athlete wants to hear. My MRI results came back and it was confirmed that I had a torn ACL. It wasn’t a matter of “IF” I needed surgery, it was a matter of “WHEN” it was going to happen. I delayed surgery until the end of summer because I loved playing rugby way too much. I wanted to be able to play a couple more games throughout the summer before the surgery, because I knew that I would miss an entire year of playing.
Before the start of my second year, I came back up to Ottawa to have surgery two days before fall training camp started for the team. That season was tough, not physically, but mentally. I would show up at 6:40am every morning in the fall, but since I couldn’t move much with my crutches post surgery, I would sit on the side lines in the cold. I would attend team meetings at night after long days of classes to talk about game strategy and team goals even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to implement them. There was very little motivation to stay committed when there was no hope of being able to play this season.
As much as the injury affected me emotionally, mentally, and physically, there were a few shining lights that developed after my injury. Being on a varsity team, we were able to have access to our own Athletic therapist. Our therapist was at every game and practice, and would treat me in the Varsity Athletic therapy clinic. I think this is what helped me a lot with coping with my injury. We would keep each other company on the sidelines every practice, where we could just talk and joke around (not when the coach was around though!). Through the season, I would get treatment 2-3 times a week, even when the team was on the road. The role an Athletic therapist plays in an athlete’s life is much larger than just repairing them physically. They take into consideration the mental aspect, the athlete’s personality, the importance of training and games all while having to limit their athletes when needed. I ended up spending more time with my Athletic therapist then with my closest friends, while sharing just as much of my life with her as I do with them. The second shining light was working with the team’s Strength and conditioning coach. Rebuilding the strength that I had lost while being injured was a key part in the path of returning to play and preventing future injuries. Working with a Strength and Conditioning coach that had, with what I’d call, “an open door at all times” policy was great! I could work out at 7am, which was not a scheduled time for athletes, to ensure I got my workout in, or I could drop in between classes. I was committed because I wanted to convince him that I was ready for the next phase of the program. During my recovery period, I also had access to the team’s mental skills coach, but I was never able to find time in my busy schedule to utilize this service.
After a little over 7 months post surgery, I was able to return to rugby which I was very happy for! I was able to start playing again for the first time since the summer at the team’s spring training camp. This was the same camp that I had injured my knee the year before. I had meetings with the surgeon, the team doctor, the athletic therapist, and the coach, all to ensure I was ready to return. When my coach brought up whether or not I was mentally ready to return to play, I kind of laughed. It had been a year, of course I was ready to return to play! Throughout the entire season I never was discouraged about my injury and not being able to play. At times, through my recovery process, I may have gotten frustrated that I couldn’t perform a task because of my injury, but I never dwelled upon it. Lacing up my cleats and putting on the jersey again is what I had lived for. Being able to play again was a lot of fun, and I was happy to be back. Unfortunately, this positive feeling didn’t last very long, and something that I never thought could happen, became a reality. Just a short three months later in the summer, I re-tore my ACL as well as my meniscus.
That summer it seemed like deja-vu, I got the same phone call from the team doctor telling me I’d need surgery again. I would miss fall training camp and the season again as I waited to be operated on. It was going to be the same routine again. The only difference was, this time, it was much harder, much, much harder. I was angry, not at anyone, just at the situation. Missing this year’s season was more difficult than last year’s. My motivation had run out. I would skip those 6:40am practices. I rarely went to the team meetings at night. Even going to the gym was sporadic. I felt that I wasn’t truly part of the team anymore. As an athlete dealing with an injury and watching from the sidelines, you end up missing out on a lot. I had missed the emotions your fellow teammates go through during a game, the inner competition and camaraderie developed in the drills at practices, even the laughs and chit-chat in the change room. As an injured member of the team, you miss it all.
I had my second ACL surgery after the season was done. A few days after my surgery, I was told that I had to be on crutches and in a zimmer splint for four weeks. The zimmer splint is a cast for my knee which keeps it completely straight. This made it difficult to walk without crutches. I questioned why this was the case this time, when I didn’t have to last recovery process. It was more than twice as long than the first time. This was when I started to doubt why I was trying so hard to return to play, and whether or not it was really worth it. I started having a hard time getting out of bed. I stopped going to classes. I stopped going to the gym. I just seemed to stop caring about a lot of things that I used to hold close to my heart.
Then, a couple weeks later I was laying in bed, streaming my younger sister’s gold medal rugby game. She is a rookie on that team, but despite being young, ended up being the captain of the team. It was a hard fought game, where it was tied after regulation and extra time. The winner would be decided on penalty kicks. I then got to watch as my sister won the OCAA gold medal game with her right foot as she kicked her team to victory on penalty kicks. They had won the championships for the first time in program history. This moment was when I knew why I had to get back on the field. These were the moment athletes dream about; carrying your team to victory. There is no better feeling than knowing you were able to make a difference on the field.
During my recovery process, there were even more struggles I had to deal with. I would have people question why I wanted to continue playing rugby after my second surgery. I had people insist that it’s not worth getting injured again, that I won’t be able to walk when I’m older, that I should be thinking about my future; in my career and in my personal life. Every time I had this conversation, I would not agree with what they were telling me. Playing rugby is one of my passions, so why would I stop playing the sport that I love? Playing a sport does not define who I am, but rugby has helped to shape the person I am today. It has pushed me to my limits, brought out my leadership qualities, allowed me to work as a team, and show everyone what I am capable of doing. All the dedicated hours of training by myself, and with my team, can be displayed on the rugby pitch.
As I continue with the second ACL recovery process, I am looking forward to my fourth year at school, and second season of playing rugby. I’m hoping that this upcoming season can make up for the last two that I have missed. I have only been able to play seven games as a Carleton Raven, and am so eager to get back and make a positive impact. I will not let my injury define me, or prevent me from playing the sport that I love. The journey dealing with a major injury is tough, especially doing it twice, but it has allowed me to see the positives that have come out of it. It has let me to grow as an athlete, and as a person by bringing me to my limits- mentally, physically, and emotionally.
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