By Neville Caulfield
“After my first surgery it was a little frustrating but I knew I was going back to swimming so I was pretty hopeful. After I found out my legs weren’t going to be able to be fixed, it was really, really hard,” said Tessa Oakes, a senior on the swim team at Oyster River High School.
Annually, high school athletes all around the world suffer 2 million injuries, 30,000 hospitalizations and 500,000 doctor visits according to a study conducted by the Southwest Athletic Trainers Association. Many of these athletes walk off the field, the track, or the pool deck with a feeling of dread in their stomachs, not knowing what they did or how long it may be before they run, swim, or play again. For many athletes, their sport is a huge part of their lives, and not being able to play means more than just not going to practice.
“I was tumbling on floor and over rotated my full (back layout with a full twist), so when I hit the ground my foot stayed in place but the rest of my leg kept twisting. I tore my ACL, MCL, and Meniscus,” said Emma Larson (‘16), who is a gymnast, cheerleader, and diver on the ORHS swim and dive team.
Before entering a game, match, or meet, most athletes don’t anticipate getting injured. No one knew that a last-minute slide tackle from the other team would blow out your ACL, or that another player would go for the same header and knock you unconscious, or that after a buzzer-beater layup you’d land on the side of your ankle and tear two lateral ligaments. They come in all shapes and sizes, and in an enormous range of severity. Injuries often just ask for a week of relaxation and icing, but can also take players out for entire seasons, and even for life.
“It was incredibly hard not to play, and it felt like part of me was taken from me. It’s by far the worst feeling an athlete can ever face,” said Sierra Carpenter (‘17). While it feels awful not being able to play in games, a serious injury can also affect your future. “I had a fairly bright future for swimming; I was talking to coaches and was improving pretty quickly, so obviously my whole college experience without swimming is going to be a lot different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” said Oakes. Along with affecting your athletic life, sports related injuries can take a toll on other aspects of an athlete’s life.
After being unable to play due to a slight MCL (a large ligament on the inside of the knee) tear and recurring knee injuries, Carpenter has felt the effect of not being able to play. “I felt very ‘off’ when I was injured. I couldn’t think straight, I was worried, sad, stressed, and ached to get my foot on a ball,” said Carpenter. Based on a study conducted by the California Department of Education, sports have been proven to have a variety of profoundly positive effects on kids, including greater confidence and self-esteem, reduced stress and risk of depression, overcoming obstacles, improved teamwork and leadership skills, and academic success.
“When I started competing, I had no idea that it would become such a big part of who I am, something that I only realized once I wasn’t able to play,” said Jewelia Durant, who plays soccer, and lacrosse for ORHS and also dives on the school’s team. When an athlete is taken out of play, they are not only taken away from their friends and their sport, but everything that their sport does for them off the field. In addition to their injury preventing them from playing their sport, it also affects basic everyday activities such as the ability to drive, carry a backpack, and even walk.
Getting a serious injury not only affects the athlete, but everyone else on the team as well. In typical sports, a team’s communication is critical, and playing with new people in positions that you’re used to someone else being in can shake up the dynamic of a play. “In soccer there are 22 players on the field at one time, but the effect of one key player missing can be profound on the rest of the team. If a player in a certain position is injured it can significantly change the shape (formation) and tactics that a team uses,” said Steve Pettit, ORHS Girls Varsity Soccer Coach.
In more individual sports like swimming, skiing, and running, the score still counts together as a team, and one person out could mean the difference between a state title and eighth place. “Having other teammates injured is very hard because you work as a team. It’s heartbreaking seeing someone you care about get injured because you know how horrible they are feeling and what they are going through. It feels like a part of you (and the team) is missing, and you want to do everything you can to do to help them recover quickly,” said Carpenter.
Although injuries can ruin a season or even longer, with enough rest and time off, recovery is always on the horizon. Once a sport is a part of your life, it will never leave it, it is important to keep that in mind and be patient, resisting the urge to get back on the field before full recovery, and risking being injured even further.