The secret to a successful ACL injury recovery

By Andrea Marx

Marx_andrea_Lacrosse_2It was a simple jump stop. It was an athletic move on the basketball court that I had performed countless times. But on July 19, 2010, the summer before my junior year of high school, a simple jump stop brought my athletic career to a screeching halt.

How could it happen to me? Since freshman year, I was a competitive three-varsity athlete in field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. I had set athletic goals that I wanted to accomplish before high school graduation.

  • I wanted to be a three-varsity captain senior year.
  • I wanted to win the league title in field hockey.
  • I wanted to be league MVP in field hockey.
  • I wanted to take my lacrosse, basketball and field hockey teams to the end-of-the-year tournaments.
  • I wanted to receive offers to play at the collegiate level.

My ACL tear

Marx_andrea_Basketball_2These goals slipped out of my reach when my orthopedic surgeon, Mininder Kocher, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Hospital, told me that I had torn my ACL. I needed surgery. Recovery would take at least six months.

I was devastated.  I went from playing every single second in every game to sitting on the bench. I went from being the leader on the field to the cheerleader on the sideline. My parents, friends, teammates, and coaches were constantly encouraging me and asking what they could do to help. The one thing that I wanted most—the one thing that would put a smile on my face—they couldn’t give me: I wanted to be back on the field and court.

Acknowledging that my athletic goals were temporarily out of reach was difficult. But they were still attainable. I would have to dig deep into my own willpower and determination to return to play.  My high school basketball coach shared a quote with me that will forever remain embedded in my mind: “What defines us is how well we rise after falling.” I could be negative and feel sorry for myself, or accept my situation and rise to the challenge.

Over a six-month time frame, I continued to be a full-time student, went to physical therapy three times a week and attended every field hockey and basketball practice and game. If I couldn’t be a leader on the field I was going to be a leader on the sideline. There were times when I wanted to give up.

But I didn’t.

Marx_Andrea_Field_Hockey_2During my post–surgery checkups, Dr. Kocher instilled in me the confidence I needed to keep moving forward. Each visit he would announce, “Andrea, your strength and range of motion have increased exponentially. You are on the road to returning to play as a stronger and quicker athlete.”  His positivity in acknowledging my improvements since my last visit provided me with the determination that I was progressing toward my final goal—to play again.

Recovering from an ACL injury is emotionally challenging and draining, but it is worth the wait if you put in the time and effort.

Six months after I tore my ACL, I was sitting on the sideline during the last basketball game of the season. I had returned to playing at practice but was unsure if my coach would put me in the last game of the season. There were five minutes left in the game when my coach called my name. I thought that she was asking me for a statistic. She asked me if I was ready to go in. I started choking up. I had worked so hard the past couple of months and now was my time to shine.

As I stepped onto the court, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered. I spotted my parents in the bleachers—my dad whistling, my mom crying. My biggest supporters, who were there for me every step of the way, were there to see my return to the basketball court.

The following year, my senior year of high school, I was a three-sport varsity captain. I was named Tri-Valley League MVP, Boston Globe All-Scholastic in field hockey and Dover-Sherborn High School team MVP in field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. My field hockey team won the Tri-Valley League title, and each team continued play in the end-of-the-year tournament. I am currently a junior at Wake Forest University and am the rising president of the women’s club basketball team.

Never give up.

To learn more about how Boston Children’s Sports Medicine Division treats Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, please visit this website.