In the following piece, I have outlined the experiences of ten local athletes who have suffered from ACL injury. These individuals are just a sampling of a much larger population in our community, and unfortunately, there are many other stories like these. To learn more about the specifics of ACL injury, as well as its prevalence in females, you can find the other portion of this article in the Winter 2018 issue of Mouth of the River.
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During the end of her sophomore year at Waterville Valley Academy, Grace Henderson (‘19) was skiing in Mammoth, California, attempting a cork 720°, which is like a backflip 720°. Having recently returned from an injury, her legs were not at their peak strength. She “went too fast into the jump and over rotated, landing back seat” on her skis, and her knee gave out. It was determined to be her ACL.
Henderson, a skilled freestyle skier, spends much of her time on the slopes, practicing. She was a potential candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but this injury has caused her to miss out on that opportunity, at least this time around.
“I see all the things I could be doing, and all the things I miss out on,” Henderson said. “But I know that I have a long career ahead of me, and at least three more Olympic cycles, so I just need to keep my head up and look towards the future.”
Charlotte Clarke (‘18) was at a soccer training session in July of 2013, the summer before her eighth grade year. She and another girl were practicing a drill when she stepped back to one side in an attempt to defend, and her knee “popped and did not go back [into place].”
Later that month, she was at a friend’s house when she leapt from a rock and landed on the same leg. It popped again and buckled beneath her.
One week later, the MRI results came back conclusive. At only thirteen years old, one of the most difficult aspects of the recovery process was that she felt alone. “I was young and scared, and heartbroken because no one my age had gone through [the same thing].”
As a result of her injury, Clarke was not able to participate in her usual three seasons of sports during her eighth grade year.
Gabby Spang (‘17) was running alongside a forward from the opposing team during the last ten seconds of a summer league soccer game. She planted her foot, the opposing team player shoved her, and Spang’s knee popped.
The doctors told her that she had torn her ACL. Spang was out for both her soccer and basketball seasons junior year, as well as fall and winter seasons for her club soccer team, missing a crucial time for college recruitment.
“It was really hard for me to let go of a dream I had since I was eight,” she said of losing the opportunity to be recruited by several D1 schools. “By the time I was back [playing], they had already filled their teams.”
Desiree LaPanne (‘15) was playing indoor soccer in January of 2014. She was taking the ball to net when she attempted to take on a defender. LaPanne took a step, landing hard on her right leg. It “popped,” and she fell to the ground. “It felt as though the top half of my leg was not connected to the bottom — as though something between it was missing,” she said.
Her MRI results showed a torn ACL.
Over the course of recovery, LaPanne missed several months of work as well as spring club soccer. “The hardest part of the whole thing was being isolated from the world I knew and loved,” LaPanne said. “I have since learned not to take the little things for granted.”
Jessica Mulligan (‘18) was playing in the second game of her junior year soccer season. She was taking the ball down the sideline when she was hit from the side by an opposing team player. As she went to brace herself, she hyperextended her knee, and it popped.
She had torn her ACL and sustained three meniscal tears.
Mulligan’s injury was unique in that post-surgery, she experienced a blood clot which set her back recovery-wise, leaving her in a wheelchair for almost two weeks. She missed the rest of her junior year soccer season.
“I realized this injury will impact the rest of my life,” Mulligan said. “I can do my best to treat the symptoms, but the pain is something I will need to learn to live with.”
Hannah Jane Wilson
Hannah Jane Wilson (‘18) was competing in a ski race at Crotched Mountain in February of her junior year. She was “one third of the way down the trail, going in for a left turn around the gate, when [she] hit a funky patch of snow.” She lost her balance and fell, spinning in a 180° and “twisting” her knee on the way down. Forty five minutes later, she was loaded into a sled by the first aid team and learned that she had torn her ACL.
Wilson was previously rowing crew seven days a week during the spring and summer, but had to give that up when she began her recovery process. “Giving that up was awful,” she said. “I watched the team I had grown with, the team with all of my closest friends, row together, continuing on without me.”
Grace Tauriello (‘15) was playing in the second game of her junior year soccer season. While taking a shot, she landed on her left leg when it was fully extended, and it twisted inside. She heard a pop and started to stand up, but her knee collapsed.
The trainer was called onto the field, where he performed a physical test. Its results were positive. She had torn her ACL.
Tauriello went in for surgery one month later, and received a hamstring graft. Coming back to soccer, she had to adjust to living vicariously through her teammates from the bench. “I missed the entire season,” she said. “And we only get four [seasons] on that varsity field. It took me a while to wrap my head around that.”
Xiana Twombly (‘18) was playing in cold, rainy soccer game in October of 2017 during her senior year. She turned to change direction, and her left leg, now hyperextended, slipped on the wet grass and twisted. She heard a pop and fell to the ground.
Later that week, she received her MRI results.
Faced with two track seasons ahead of her, Twombly opted to schedule her surgery as soon as possible.
As Twombly seeks to compete at the collegiate level, she has come to understand that she may not be able to do all of the things she did before. “I was originally planning to long jump [in college]; now, I won’t be able to,” she says.
Despite the challenges, Twombly is determined to overcome the adversity. “Things will happen that are out of my control,” she said. “I have to do the best I can to deal with them.”
Claire Genes (‘17) was playing in a soccer game mid-way through her senior season. She stepped with her left foot to dribble around a defender, but when she planted, her leg twisted and made a sound she had never heard before. She fell to the ground, and was taken off the field. The next day, she went in for an MRI and the results eventually came back that she had torn her ACL.
She missed the rest of her senior soccer season.
“The toughest parts were missing out on playing in the [state championship], not having fans cheering my name under the lights, and watching my teammates at practice while I was on crutches,” Genes said. “It’s indescribable how much happiness the sport of soccer gave me.”
I was running down the court, playing in a basketball game during my eighth grade year. I pivoted sharply, and it felt as though my entire body turned except for my knee. I froze, then took another step, trying to shake it off. My leg buckled beneath my body, and I hobbled to the sideline in tears.
Three and a half years later, I sat in the doctor’s office as they pulled up the results from my MRI.
“You’ve torn your ACL.”
I sat, stunned, not believing what I was hearing. After all that time, it hadn’t been a loose patella ligament, like the doctors had originally thought. Like I had gone to physical therapy for. Like I had worn a brace for. I had torn my ACL during that basketball game in eighth grade, and now they were telling me that I needed surgery, two months before the start of my senior soccer season.
However, I knew that I was not alone. I knew other athletes, strong females, who had experienced the same thing. I had people to look up to, people who I knew would support me. And now, I have the ability to be that support group for others.
Recovery was challenging, and it took me a long time to begin to feel confident and strong in my body. But I worked hard, remained optimistic, and was able to get back into the pool for my final season of high school swimming. Each day I grow stronger, and I am continuously grateful for those who have helped me along the way.