Accept the pass, turn, build up speed. These were things that came naturally after thousands of hours of training. What had practically become second nature would soon become impossible. Performing those simple tasks that I had already done a dozen times that day would end up being my final act on the football pitch for the season. The ball found my right foot, flicked ahead easily, my Adidas f50 Ballon D'Or boots shone as I glided ahead to collect the ball. Then suddenly it all changed, a tug on my side, a kick that nobody had delivered, and finally with a final step a painful, audible POP!
Crumbling to the ground in absolute agony, looking up to the sky wondering “Why me?” For a moment I was in disbelief before the pain hit. It came in a waves and overwhelmed my other senses. Pounding the ground with my fists and pulling up grass in frustration did not assuage the pain, but it did provide an outlet. Finally after a few moments, I rolled into a sitting position and allowed my leg to be assessed by the medical student who I deemed qualified enough to examine it. By this time a circle had formed around me, I could sense their shared disappointment. The medical student determined that it had not been seriously injured, but I knew better, I had felt it, I had heard it.
No amount of training can prepare you for the overwhelming disappointment of injury. Walking into the doctor's office a few days later I was prepared for the worst. Yet there is always a part that refuses to accept the truth, hopeful that your injury is minor and that you will be fine in a matter of days. After a half hour in an MRI tube, several assessments from a world class doctor, and a battery of x-rays the diagnosis was complete. Complete ACL rupture. When you hear the words on ESPN or Sky Sports they do not carry the same weight, you hear the athlete will be out 6-9 months, but you don't sense their frustration. Hearing those words on the doctor's table was absolutely devastating.
Following those fateful words, the doctor described how a month from that day, they would systematically cripple my right leg in order to rebuild it. One month later my right knee would become a Frankenstein monster made up of metal, screws, an anchor, and my own patellar tendon. It sounded absurd, but it was the only way back onto the field.
In the month preceding the operation, I walked around in a gloomy haze. Food had not been as flavorful, my relationships suffered, I was far from my usual self. I had entirely too much free time to stew on my current predicament. As the day grew closer, I began to question whether the surgery was necessary. I was moving around alright on my own, maybe I could give up the sport I love in favor of some safer alternative, but in my heart I knew I would not be satisfied until I returned to where I belong.
Walking into the hospital with my father by my side, I had mentally prepared myself for the worst pain I have ever experienced. As I answered the same 10 questions repeatedly, spelling my name and giving my birth date to a dozen people that morning. I grew nervous as the impending procedure grew closer. Being wheeled from room to room in an uncomfortable metal bed, in absurd garments that had been shared by unknowable others, I felt unusual. Strangers peered at my naked body behind surgical masks while I unconsciously dreamed of having my teeth pulled out. The intravenous drugs had worked their magic and I awoke wordlessly in another room, in another section of the hospital with my right leg heavily bandaged within the black brace I had been given. I had to be reminded by the attending nurse to breathe.
After receiving instructions on how to care for my leg, which I listened to in a drugged stupor, I was released into the care of my father. I stared down at the black brace that would become equal parts armor and prison. As we drove across the picturesque state of Pennsylvania, I drifted into and out of heavily drugged, dreamless sleep. The journey to a complete recover had begun. The first steps had been with crutches and the shoulder of my father, soon enough they will be on my own.