Road to recovery: Torn ACL is a devastating injury (Sam Conti)

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Road to recovery: Torn ACL is a devastating injury

By

Steve Barlow

Sam Conti is a junior at Nonnewaug High who tore the ACL in her left knee Dec. 26. In a monthly series, Conti, the sports editor for the Nonnewaug Chief Advocate journalism program, will describe her journey through recovery and return to competition.


By SAM CONTI

For many athletes, sports are more than just a game. It’s who they are, what drives them to work hardest and what makes them happiest. I know for me this holds true with every sport I play: soccer, basketball and tennis.

When an athlete gets injured, recovery is often a long, hard journey, emotionally and physically. Not being able to play your sport is devastating and changes your outlook on everything.

When I went down and heard three pops in my left knee, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. All I could think about was basketball and sports, which are my whole life. I began playing sports at the age of 4, so for the past 12 years sports are all I’ve lived, breathed and thought. Finding out that I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and my lateral meniscus cartilage felt as though my whole life had shattered into pieces in a matter of seconds.

I wouldn’t be able to do the one thing I love more than anything else in life — playing sports — so I knew this was going to be a catastrophic change. A torn ACL isn’t something that can be fixed quickly. It usually requires surgery, and the recovery takes nine to 12 months. For an athlete, especially a multisport athlete, that timeline can be terrifying and depressing.

Being a junior in high school means that college is right around the corner. Tearing my ACL in the middle of my junior year not only means the rest of my basketball season is over, but also my exposure to college coaches will be limited because I won’t be playing until next fall. Since I want to play in college, this is a bitter pill to swallow.

At the same time, not being able to play with my team this season is heartbreaking. Having to sit and watch from the sidelines isn’t easy. It stinks not being able to help my team on the floor. But I know I still have two jobs to do: help coach my teammates and prepare for surgery.

My surgeon, Dr. Michelle Mariani, gave me the rundown on everything that I needed to accomplish before surgery. After the injury, my knee was swollen and I couldn’t straighten it. She said that before my surgery, which is scheduled for Tuesday, I needed to get back my range of motion to increase my chances for a successful procedure and quicker recovery.

So over the past month, I’ve spent countless hours with Nonnewaug athletic trainer Sean McGee to prepare my leg for surgery. The process is known as prehabilitation.
“What they focus on first is the range of motion, then strength,” McGee said. “Having a good range of motion and good strength is very good for prehab. Your body is kind of already used to these exercises prior to surgery, and since you will be doing these exercises after surgery, your muscle memory should work pretty well. It will also help prevent muscle atrophy.”

Through prehab, I’ve worked to be able to fully extend and straighten my leg. I can even bear weight and walk on it with little to no pain, which seems crazy to me. I often think, “Why do I even need surgery? I’m fine.” I know many other athletes have felt similarly when they’ve torn their ACLs.

But I knew that if I were going to get through this, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I was injured, embrace the surgery and commit to working hard in the upcoming months. Talking to other athletes who have gone, or are going, through this process has been helpful. My trainer is one of them. McGee suffered a season-ending, life-changing injury as a high school junior. He broke his leg and underwent an experimental surgery that still leaves him with lingering side effects. McGee’s injury, from which he rehabbed by himself, was what inspired him to become an athletic trainer.

“I did not want other athletes to go through that alone like I did,” McGee said.
Working with McGee has been valuable and insightful. He emphasizes the importance of not just focusing on getting my knee stronger, but also strengthening other aspects of my body.

“It is also important to work on other features of things that are not injured,” McGee said. “For instance, [working on] your upper body and your core to maintain a good physique and strong health will improve you even more and keep you in shape.”

McGee stressed how imperative it is for athletes going through something like this to keep a positive outlook. “The right mental attitude is very important,” he said. “It’s amazing what your mind can do with a positive attitude. There has been scientific evidence that shows you could speed up your healing process by being positive when going through something like this. Mind over matter — that’s what I really believe in.”