By: Michael Ney, Sports Editor
Even in the prime of youth, humans are not indestructible. Injuries are the ugly but far too common evil of sports. These accidents can range from a small pulled muscle to a major broken bone or torn ligament. They wreak havoc on athletes’ bodies as well as their social, academic, and personal lives.
Despite efforts to reduce the frequency of injuries by altering the rules and engineering better equipment to protect players, completely eradicating injuries is impossible, especially in aggressive contact sports.
Last year’s senior and now freshman at UC Davis, Grant Henderson, served as a primary example of this unfortunate phenomenon, tearing his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) twice in football games.
Henderson was, and still is, an extremely strong and athletic individual. During his senior year, he was a captain and star player on both the varsity football team and varsity baseball team. Henderson now plays catcher and outfield for the varsity baseball team at UC Davis.
After tearing the ACL in his left knee during a football game his junior year, Henderson hoped he would rebound the following season so he could pursue his dream of playing varsity football at UC Davis, on top of his varsity baseball career at the institution.
Unfortunately, Henderson was tackled by two defenders during another Acalanes game and the blow caused his knee to pop. Doctors later diagnosed Henderson with another torn ACL in the same leg.
“I was in shock when the doctor gave me the news and refused to believe him,” Henderson said. “I got three other opinions which were all the same.”
A daunting feeling sets in when an athlete hears that kind of news. The mere idea of not being able to experience the thrill of playing a beloved sport is one that can ruin athletes’ mentalities.
The injured athlete, stuck on the sidelines, has been demoted to the status of spectator. The camaraderie and brotherhood that develops between teammates while they play together is taken away from the injured athlete. He or she is left feeling impotent and helpless.
“I had played baseball my entire life and I had it ripped away from me for an entire year,” junior Matt Clark said. “It was hard to deal with not playing baseball. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Losing a player to injury affects not only the individual athlete, but the team as a whole. Such a loss forces a team to quickly piece together a new way to function to accommodate the missing part. However, losing a teammate often motivates the team to win.
“[Grant Henderson] was a huge loss for our team, but it made us want to go out and win for him and that’s what we did,” senior quarterback Casey Harrington said.
Through the injury process, teams become even more closely knit, supporting the injured teammate in every way possible.
“My teammates we very supportive and very helpful,” said junior Carly Porep, who tore her ACL as a sophomore during her final game on the Lady Dons JV Basketball team. “They were very positive about the situation.”
In addition to physically affecting the player, injuries often alter the athlete’s psychology, changing the way he or she plays after recovery. It’s tough for athletes to get back to the level at which they were performing before the incident.
“Freshman year I was really confident and I played a lot because I was on a school and club team,” said senior Kate Anderson who fractured her kneecap and tore her patellar tendon in lacrosse practice at the end of her freshman year.
She later re-injured her knee in soccer during the winter and was forced to sit out of lacrosse her entire sophomore year.
“When I went back to playing this past season (junior year), it took a long time for me to play 100 percent without being scared that I would injure my knee again,” said Anderson.
After injuring a certain part of the body, it takes a lot of time for the individual to trust it again and play without holding back.
“Pre season conditioning or lack of preseason conditioning is the most consistent contributor to early season injury, simply because there are a number of athletes showing up for their season unprepared physically,” said Sports Medicine and Physical Education teacher, as well as Acalanes trainer Chris Clark. “It just depends on how seriously they take their sport. Nagging injuries early on are likely because of a lack of strength and conditioning going in. I’ve certainly seen that as a trend among all the sports.”
Last year, Clark noticed around 60 concussions within the student body, two-thirds of which were Acalanes sports related.
Each and every sport has its specific pros and cons, some more than others. Impact sports usually take a bigger toll on players than non-contact sports, and most year-round sports have high risk of injury, especially for younger athletes.
According to STOPsportsinjuries.com (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention), a website that focuses on educating the public about ways to protect young athletes of ages eighteen and under, athletes who participate in year-round sports are much more susceptible to overuse injuries because their bodies aren’t fully developed. Their slogan is “Keeping Kids in the Game for Life”.
Even though year-round sports provide means for athletes to enjoy their favorite sport as well as improve their skill set consistently, studies show that year-rounders aren’t necessarily beneficial.
After an athlete incurs a sports injury, the injured player has to undergo a unique recovery process that is tailored to the specific injury and person. These recovery processes require a lot of vested time, sacrifice, and discipline in order for them to be effective.
The injured athlete can be motivated by the understanding that the work he or she puts in during the recovery period, whether it be surgery or physical therapy, will pay off in the future.
“My only advice is start working as soon as possible because as soon as you start doing the work you are moving in a positive direction,” Henderson said. “I worked out everyday to stay fit and keep the muscles around my knee strong.”
In some cases, recovery programs hinder student-athletes’ abilities to perform academically. Some injuries force athletes to miss entire weeks of school. A cast on the dominant hand can drastically diminish an injured athlete’s ability to keep up in class. Teachers deserve credit for going out of their way to accommodate the needs of students suffering from serious injuries.
“I was very stressed with school and my knee,” said Porep, who missed a straight week of school recovering from her ACL surgery. “My teachers were very understanding of my absence. They gave me extra time to do the work and also helped me with the concepts I didn’t understand.”
In some cases, the athlete never returns to his or her sport, even after all the rehabilitation work invested in recovery. Depending on the severity or amount of injuries incurred, many doctors strongly recommend this path in order to protect the individual’s health in the long run. Once an athlete is injured, the part of the body that was affected is highly susceptible to reinjury.
“I came back from the first one and played harder than ever,” said Henderson. “But the second one made it so I could never play football again.”
Athletes who are able to continue playing their sport after a significant injury should consider themselves fortunate. Many others would give almost anything to be able to get back out on the field or court.
“Although I’m not yet recovered since my injury I’m still pleased with my recovery,” Porep said. “The hard work pays off.”