ACL tears in sports: From despair to new beginnings

By TylerRaikar

Anterior cruciate ligament tears, or ACL tears, are commonly heard injuries that affect multiple student-athletes physically, but moreover mentally.

ACL tears are already understood by many as being serious enough to cause months of recovery; however, the unseen truth of its mental toll taken on student-athletes, and how they still find light within their set-back, is inspiring and treasurable.

Girls suffer a greater risk of tearing their ACL compared to boys, and this chance is doubled with involvement of high-contact sports. Over the past ten years, several studies have been conducted to decipher exactly why that is.

Head Athletic Trainer Melissa Bruhsahan says, “It’s not a two-plus-two-equals-four answer: hormonal issues can increase a female’s probability of ACL tears. A woman’s menstrual cycle has a great impact, too.” The anatomy of a female also affects their likelihood of injury: “Women have a greater Q angle, a measurement of the hips down to the knees. Because female hips are wider to bear childbirth, it put the knees at a different angle and changes the dynamtic of the knee joints.”

Senior multi-sports athlete Chigozie Okafor still recalls the feelings of shock after tearing her ACL in seventh grade during a recreational game of flag football.

One wrong move in an effort to score her team their fourth point resulted in a buckled knee resisting any weight upon it. “I was shocked I tore my ACL because hospitals were telling me I just hyperextended my knee.” Prior to the injury, Okafor was an asset for her soccer team and participated in track and field.

Self-identity struggles during the road to recovery are unimaginable for those who never endured a forced halt to the sport they love. After an ACL tear, there is an extensive rehab that lasts roughly six months.

During this time period, the mental road to recovery causes players fear of returning back to their beloved sport. Feelings of failure and deprivation from the sports they loved are perpetual.

But what’s even more fascinating and underscored is the athlete’s bounce-back to their sport. Okafor remains thankful today for how much she has advanced as an athlete, and even as a person. Tearing her ACL not only strengthened her injured leg more than her healthy one, but it also gifted her the realization of how much track and field means to her. “The constant running in PT grew on me. It helped me realize this is what I love to do.” She now has plans on pursuing track and field in college.

The drive and passion needed to overcome the fear of reinjury and/or self-doubt is greater than the costs to pay for the ACL surgery. But with this comes good news: every athlete is capable of holding that amount of drive and passion.

There is no doubt that an ACL tear is traumatic. However, perseverance and character-building attributes are taught to those affected and results with them coming out as a stronger athlete and person.

“If I could come back from an ACL tear and still be on the same level, I know I can even do more,” Okafor said. Tearing an ACL is not the end of an athlete’s career; it is rather an obstacle that leads to new beginnings and signi cant character growth.

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