There is a special kind of female athlete who is so dedicated that her sport becomes her life. Because research shows that girls and women are prone to higher rates of injuries and other health complications, these female athletes require a level of dedication not only to their sports, but also to their long-term health. And by pairing the two, they prevail.
For Krista Pinciaro, soccer player at Medfield High School, dedication to the sport came naturally. But when she tore her medial meniscus and re-tore her lateral meniscus (after tearing both her meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) years before), she knew her senior-year soccer season was at stake.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” says Krista. “Soccer isn’t just a sport to me, it’s my everything. It made me feel like I belonged to something, and it made me succeed academically because I knew I had to in order to keep playing. My teammates and my coaches were all like members of my family. Not playing was devastating for me.”
But Krista, like many female athletes, was no stranger to injury. “Girls are more likely to tear an ACL than boys, and they’re also more likely to tear their lateral meniscus first, and then injure their medial meniscus later,” explains Martha Murray, MD, co-director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Female Athlete Program, who performed all three of Krista’s surgeries. “So Krista was a textbook case, unfortunately.”
She recovered well from both previous injuries, but Krista returned to the game aggressively, getting reinjured both times. She soon realized that if she wanted to go from recovery to victory this time, she would need a different kind of dedication—not just to her sport, but also to the long-term health of her knee. “With such devoted athletes, the key is balance,” explains Murray. “You want them to be able to reap all the benefits that come with playing sports, but to also minimize the risk of injury by optimizing their physical condition before they return.”
Murray didn’t let Krista lose hope. “I could tell that Dr. Murray was genuinely sad for me, but she was a rock that kept me going. It was like she was on my team too,” Krista remembers.
For more on ACL injury and treatment, watch this video.
In order to follow the comprehensive plan, Krista took the rest of her junior year off and focused on getting completely better. She spent that season watching and cheering for her teammates and learned new things about the game by observing, but being on the sidelines made her want to get back in the game even more. “I’d leave those games and go straight to my trainer to start working. I wanted to play so badly, but I knew I had to be patient. I kept telling myself, there’s no way I’m ever hurting myself again.”
A year passed as Krista’s patience continued, following her rehab plan each day, and letting her knee’s comfort level guide her. After working for nearly a year, it was finally time for a return. Now as a senior, she approached the field hesitantly at first. But she quickly got back into the groove of being with her team, and she noticed a difference in her legs that she had never felt before.
“They were so strong, it was amazing. It felt like all of my hard work paid off and I could play with total confidence.”
And she did. Krista and her team won every single game that season, including the state championship—at which Krista scored the winning goal. “It was like it was supposed to happen that way,” she says, of the capstone of her high school soccer career. “Over the years, I had obstacles, but I just kept going back to soccer, no matter what. I think everything happens for a reason.”
It’s that kind of dedication that defines a female athlete. “You can’t keep Krista down; it’s not possible, I’ve tried,” says Murray. “She is extremely determined and motivated and I can’t wait to see what she decides to do with her life. She is a force to be reckoned with.”
To make an appointment with a sports medicine expert at Boston Children’s Female Athlete Program, call 617-355-3501. Visit bchil.org/femaleathlete to download our helpful guides on issues like the Female Athletes and ACL Injuries, Optimal Nutrition for Female Athletes and the Female Athlete Triad.