How to Cope: Reflections on Tearing my ACL

by | September 19, 2017, 8:00am 3

My high school coach announces that practice today will be optional. I consider not going. I’m not really in the mood. We heard this morning that a classmate had committed suicide. At a high school with only 300 students, nobody finished class that day unaffected by the tragedy. I decide to go to practice after all—seems like a better option than going home alone.  

My coach scraps the practice plan for the day. We play shtick instead. And for one glorious and rare moment on a March day in Seattle, the sun shines down on us. For the first time that day it feels okay to smile.

* * *

I wake up at 2am to the sound of tear gas canisters booming in the valley below my apartment. Halfway across the world from home, I look out onto the deserted street as a lone military vehicle roles by. The tear gas is yet another reminder of the rising tide of violence between Palestinians and Israelis throughout Jerusalem. I anxiously pace the length of my room. I pick up the disc sitting on my shelf and instinctually shift between backhand and forehand grips. This circular, 175-gram piece of plastic feels familiar. It feels like home. My heart starts beating a little slower.

* * *

I’m doing my best not to cry because there’s nothing worse than crying over boys. But heartbreak is hard and this one hurts a little extra. My teammate squeezes my hand and asks if I want to throw. I step on the field to the sound of our warm-up music. How Far I’ll Go from the Moanna soundtrack—of course. I smile at my teammate. Some things are simply greater than boys.

* * *

I’m sitting on the field in excruciating pain. I look down at my rapidly swelling knee. And I know that this is it. Running around a frisbee field, a round piece of plastic, my teammates. Not even they can fix this for me.

* * *

How do you cope when your coping mechanism is no longer a reality?

The truth is I don’t know the answer to that question. It has been 136 days since I tore my ACL. It has been 61 days since I had surgery. And I still don’t know the answer.

I want to say I have approached PT with the same vigor I always applied to frisbee practice, weightlifting and track workouts. I want to say that I have continued to watch games and gone to tournaments. I also want to say I’ve picked up a disc and tossed it around with friends.

But if I’m being honest, PT makes me sad. I usually only make it through watching the first half of a game without crying. And I haven’t touched a disc in months.  

If I’m lucky, it will be another 153 days before I play ultimate again. If I’m being realistic, it will probably be more like 196 days. And I imagine at the end of those 196 days, I still won’t have an answer to my question.

So I cannot tell you how to cope. But perhaps I can tell you something else.

Perhaps I can tell you about the strength of my teammates who came back to play after suffering far greater injuries. Perhaps I can tell you that I now recognize and understand their strength, their courage, and their love of the game.   

Perhaps I can tell you about the sacrifices my teammates made to be there for me. To drive me to my appointments. To sit with me when I felt sad. To feed me when I couldn’t walk. To give me advice on how to manage crutches. To show up off the field.

Or perhaps I can tell you about the love of my teammates. Teammates who call me on the phone to check in on my recovery long after surgery. Teammates who remind me they care. Teammates I haven’t seen in years. Teammates that live on the other end of the country or on the other side of the world.  

So perhaps I have lost my coping mechanism, but in the process, I have gained something else. I have come to understand the worth of my teammates whose value cannot be measured by the number of assists they throw or the number of Ds they get. Whose worth has not been, and never will be, defined by their abilities as an athlete. And in the process of learning the worth my teammates, I have learned the worth of myself.

* * *

I’m on the sideline at Nationals with my crutches doing my best to hold it together and captain my team. We’re losing to Texas in pre-quarters. A player standing next to me from Texas asks what happened to my leg and I tell her it’s my ACL. She says “join the club” and points to a finger-length scar running down her knee. She tells me “it will make you a better person.”

She could not have been more right about that.

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at] skydmagazine.com.

  • maddog

    Beautifully written!

  • Danie

    In tears. Thank you for this. Resonated like you couldn’t believe.

  • Molly Elson

    Claire, thanks for sharing. Tearing mine changed my life for the better by showing me what it’s like to be a patient – I’m now finishing up my second month of med school. 3.5 years after surgery, I’m back on the field and better than ever; maintain perspective and trust that you’ll revert to the mean with time – most things do :-)