by Lauren Lustgarten
There are about 250,000 to 300,000 ACL injuries per year, and the majority of those injuries are happening to athletes. “You always hear about athletes tearing their ACLs, but you never think it is going to be you,“ said member of the Central Connecticut State University Women’s Lacrosse team, senior Ali Hooker.
On March 12, 2016, on Arute Field against Iona College, Hooker became one of those statistics. She landed the wrong way while going to cage, resulting in a completely-torn left ACL and a half-torn left meniscus.
“I have never went down in a game before, so I knew it was a serious injury as soon as I hit the ground. To validate it, I even heard the famous ‘pop,'” said Hooker.
The thoughts racing through an athletes’ mind when they go down in a game are all over the place. For Hooker, she had no doubt that her life was about to change.
“I heard the pop and I just knew. At that moment, all I kept thinking was that my season was over when it had just begun,” said Hooker. “As soon as the trainer told me he thought it was my ACL, I immediately asked ‘well, can I still play on it?’”
That question quickly got shot down the next day when Hooker saw her doctor, who confirmed that she did tear her ACL and had a partially torn meniscus, which refrains athletes from playing without surgery.
For some athletes, they only care about how their injury is going to affect them and how they are going to handle it. While that was a thought in Hooker’s mind, she also thought much about her team.
“I was nervous for them. I knew I was needed out there and for some reason I didn’t feel bad for myself, I felt bad for my team that I couldn’t be out on that field with them anymore,” said Hooker.
She explains her experience of watching her eventually 3-13 team struggle out on the field as frustrating and miserable. “Not being able to do anything other than try to coach my teammates and talk to them off the field was really hard. Every aspect of this injury is horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” said Hooker.
Post-surgery is the hardest time for athletes. While that is the time to start rehabbing and get stronger to get back on the field, it is also a mind game. Hooker started physical therapy the day after her surgery to try to get her flexion and extension back in her knee. From then on, she attended physical therapy four times a week for three hours each session. The normal recovery time for an ACL tear is six to 12 months. It is expected that athletes start to lose motivation.
“Right after surgery, I was hopeful. My mindset was that I needed to do everything I could to get stronger and get back better than ever for myself and my team,” said Hooker. “Around five months out of surgery, I lost steam and motivation. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I still went to all of my physical therapy sessions and I still worked hard, but I still felt at five months along, I was not going anywhere. I knew I still had months to go, so it became increasingly harder to go through those motions everyday.”
Hooker fought through and nine months after surgery, after almost one year of telling herself “It will be worth it in the end,” she was back. “I just had to keep saying that I didn’t go through 10 months of not being able to play the sport I love for nothing.”
Hooker’s first game back was on Feb. 18, against Quinnipiac University. For someone who usually never got nervous for games, she was terrified. “I felt good and I felt excited, but boy, was I anxious,” said Hooker. “I ended up playing better than I thought I would as I was convinced my nerves were going to consume me. I also always hear stories about athletes coming back and tearing their ACLs again, so I thought that I was going to be cautious and timid with my playing. But, once that whistle blew, I knew I had to make my mark again.”
So she did. By the second game, Hooker took back her spot as a starter and three games into the season, she has one goal and three assists. She feels that trusting the process and trusting that she did everything for a reason really is going to set the tone for the rest of the season.
“My advice to any athlete that may go through an injury like this, is to simply never give up and push yourself. It’s not supposed to be easy.” Hooker’s surgeon always told her something that has gotten her through: “It’s 10 percent what your surgeon does and 90 percent the work you put in after.”
Hooker wants athletes who may find themselves in her position to realize it is just another roadblock and you can and will overcome it.
“This injury will not only make you a stronger athlete, but also a stronger person. It has taught me to make the most of a bad situation and as backwards as it sounds, if this has to happen to you, this injury does have the ability to change you for the better if you let it.”