People may wonder why I want to revisit some of the most painful periods of my life on this website. One of my hopes in creating this website is that young athletes, fans of beach volleyball, will come to it to learn about how I have become the person I am today. Much of what makes me who I am today are the experiences I have gone through – good and bad. While injuries can seem devastating in the moment they occur, much can be learned from them and they can help us develop and grow as a person. I believe the human body and mind are much stronger than what most people give them credit to be. Read on if you want to learn about some of the obstacles I have overcome in my journey to become the person I am today.
My most significant injury came at the end of my sophomore year of college. We were losing in the NCAA tournament round of 16 at Stanford University to Oral Roberts. We had lost games one and two and were down 12-4 in game 3. I came into the middle of the court to hit a ball out of the middle and then was moving back outside when I slipped on the wet floor and my right leg went out from under me. I landed full force on my inward buckling knee. I tore my ACL and MCL completely apart. My leg was left dangling with not much keeping it together.
My doctor wanted to wait for one month before surgery so that my MCL could start to repair itself and I could get some strength and mobility back in my leg. I had to be immobilized for 10 days from hip to ankle in a cast. After the cast was removed, I had to work on getting some mobility back into my stiffened knee.
When I went in for surgery, my doctor used the middle third of my right patellar tendon as the graft for my new ACL in my left knee. He also had to make 20 lateral incisions into my MCL to make it bleed so that it would heal itself. The surgery went very well and when I woke up in the recovery room I was already doing rehab exercises! My leg was in a mobility machine that kept it flexing and straightening.
The first few days of rehab were the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Besides being extremely painful, you simply can’t do much. My lifestyle had to change. Now my biggest challenge was getting up with my walker and making it to the bathroom. I did not even have one good leg to hop on. Both of my knees had been cut open and I now had 4 inch scars on them both. I remember one of the most challenging things I had to do was sit at the edge of my bed and let my legs dangle over the side. This was terrifying to me because I was sure that my stitches were going to tear open in addition to it being extremely painful. Several times I was right on the edge of passing out because the pain was so intense.
Thankfully the first 2 weeks are by far the worst. I was walking around at that point and making good gains with my mobility. I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where rehabbing was my top priority (besides my classes, of course!) Several hours each day were devoted to getting back into top shape. There were 5 of us athletes at Notre Dame whom all had ACL reconstructions within a week of each other. We were a good support group for each other as we would have competitions with who could get the most flexion or the most extension. It was the athlete in us all that kept us competing even through something like rehabilitation.
At 3 weeks post-operation, I was able to start playing mini games of one-on-one basketball. My vertical was non-existent, but the lateral moving and getting over the fear of hurting me again was the big aim. This helped tremendously because once I stepped back on the volleyball court, I was not afraid. However, I would stop practice if there was water or sweat on the floor and wipe it up. Thankfully, all the hard work paid off and I recovered to 100% in a little over 4 months. The timing of the injury could not have been better (if there is such a thing as good timing!) I missed the last 3 points of the season and was able to make a return at 100% for the next year. However, the good fortune didn’t last long.
We were about half way through our season when I injured myself again. I am not really sure how it happened because there wasn’t any one painful movement or situation that really made me think that I hurt myself. But, this time it was a piece of cartilage that had broken off in my left knee. Somehow the cartilage wedged itself between the tibia and the meniscus and worked its way from the front of my knee to the back. It left two deep grooves in my tibia. Since the bone was damaged, the recovery was long. There was no rehab to do, except take it easy and let the bone heal. This meant about 16 weeks of NOTHING. I had to limit walking and all impact on my knee so that it would heal quickly. This injury was probably the most frustrating to me because there was nothing I could do about it. I had to sit out the remainder of the season (which was only half way through).
Watching from the sidelines was very difficult knowing that there is nothing you can do to help your team. However, being forced into the situation brought about a new maturity for me. I learned so much about myself and my body. That knowledge continues to help me overcome obstacles on the volleyball court and in everyday life. The mental challenge of getting through serious injuries has helped me to realize that my mind is my biggest ally. My body will respond to whatever my mind tells it to do. I wanted to test my mind and body by pushing them to the limits. While doing so I realized that there are no limits. The only limits are the ones you set for yourself.