I’ll never forget the moment my collegiate lacrosse career came to a painful and abrupt end.
It was a cold March day during my senior year as my school, Sewanee, was playing an early conference game against Oglethorpe.
I got the ball at X and had my defender hung up in front of the goal. I made a cut left, a cut right, and one more cut back to the left. That turned out to be one cut too many for my right knee, which gave out.
The moment was a transcendent one, a half second that felt like a full minute. A progression of thoughts raced through my mind, starting with "that’s not supposed to happen" and ending on "this is the end of my lacrosse career."
As anyone who has torn an ACL knows, the months of rehab that followed were a trying experience. I had been fortunate to avoid serious injury throughout most of my lacrosse career, so the recovery process was relatively foreign to me. Additionally, I didn’t have the prospect of returning for next year’s season as motivation.
There were plenty of times in the early stages of rehab where I felt frustrated and dejected. However, as I progressed, it became clear that two decades of lacrosse had given me the necessary tools to attack the rehab process at full speed, both physically and mentally. One highlight was ditching my crutches at the last second as I hobbled across the stage to receive my college diploma.
Through lacrosse, I had developed a set of habits and general work ethic that helped turn abject frustration into determination and an ability to take pleasure and pride in the rehabilitation process, like regaining motion in my knee, or walking for the first time.
The team aspect of lacrosse also instilled in me that it is perfectly okay to look to others for help. From the athletic trainers at Sewanee, to the doctors, and friends and family, I had much help, support, and coaching guiding me from start to finish.
Flash forward to a year after my surgery. I had been running and playing games of pickup basketball for the past six months, but had yet to return to full lacrosse action. I had been itching to get back on the field and finally had the opportunity with the beginning of summer pickup. It took a few possessions to get back in the rhythm, but by the end of the day, I had gotten a full-on lacrosse experience that reminded me just how much I loved the game that has been a constant throughout my life.
One of the lessons lacrosse taught me, a message that I first heard in my earliest playing days in youth leagues, was that of giving back to the game of lacrosse. This message is as old as the game itself, originating in the Native American belief of playing lacrosse for ‘the Creator.’
While my ACL tear brought a sudden close to my collegiate career, I now know that it would in no way mean the end of my involvement in lacrosse. While my peak playing days may be behind me, the opportunity to give back to the game has just begun.
Those opportunities seem to be more plentiful than ever. Organizations like Harlem Lacrosse and Lacrosse the Nations are bringing the game of lacrosse, and the strong set of values that have been interwoven with the game, into an expanding range of communities, both in the United States, and across the globe. I have done some coaching in my own community, and look forward to becoming more involved.
Lacrosse has taught me so much and has given me countless opportunities and experiences, along with lifelong friends. As difficult as the recovery from tearing an ACL was, I grew significantly from having gone through it, as did my appreciation for the game and all it has done for me.
If it hadn’t been for the values instilled in me by the teammates, mentors, and coaches that I encountered through two decades of playing lacrosse, then I wouldn’t have had the drive and motivation to attack rehab the way that I did, and the enthusiasm to continue with the sport both on and off the field now.