by Eva Midura, Staff Writer, February 2022
In 2020, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital found that over the course of a decade, the number of Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears has tripled in Americans under the age of 18 relative to other orthopedic problems. This increase in ACL injuries is evident in our school community, and particularly prominent due to the large number of student athletes on campus.
This year there have been six students who suffered ACL tears while participating in athletics, five of whom were in Class I. There are many potential theories behind this rise in ACL injuries, and Director of Sports Medicine, Gwen Chiaranda, says, “there is a wide range of what could be contributing factors. It is a combination of things, intrinsic–occurring to the person’s internal makeup and physiology–and extrinsic–due to an outside factor. Examples of which included increased specialization in sport and decreased time off”. COVID-19’s impact on sports and athletes’ physical development. In the past couple of years, many athletes were forced to take time off from the challenging training schedules they had been accustomed to as a result of restrictions caused by the pandemic. Most training facilities, club and high school athletics, and gyms were shut down.
When restrictions were lifted, athletes returned to rigorous play, and the time off could possibly have left their bodies more susceptible to injuries because of the limited training. “Between conditioning and skating, I usually spend almost three hours a day, six or seven days of the week, practicing and training for hockey,” Kaley MacDonald (Class I) said. Overuse of certain muscle groups and year-round specialization in a sport, especially after a period in which athletes have not been operating at full capacity, may weaken ligaments.
The recovery period for ACL tears can last between six and nine months, and involves surgery and physical therapy. “Recovery right after the surgery was not as bad as I expected. However, now I am 13 weeks post surgery, and it is getting pretty discouraging, as I don’t feel my knee gaining any strength,” Cam Charron (Class I), a player on the Boys Varsity Football team, said.
Taking such an extended break from sports can be extremely challenging both mentally and physically for athletes. Head Coach of Girls Varsity Soccer Beth Reilly suffered multiple ACL tears in her high school career and commented that they were devastating psychologically. She added, “[The] tedium of physical therapy, the sitting out, the crutches stage, and surgery stage was very difficult.”
The mental aspect of this injury is often worse than the physical, particularly for players who tear their ACL during their senior seasons. “It is really difficult being injured your senior season because you wait throughout your entire high school career to be the oldest and the leader, and it’s the season you often remember most,” MacDonald, who has been on the Girls Varsity Hockey team since seventh grade and sustained an ACL tear during the first game of her senior season, said.
Not being able to physically be out on the ice or the field during games and practices with the rest of your team can be isolating for injured players, and that separation is one of the hardest parts. Charron added, “I felt I let my team down by being a captain and not being able to play alongside them this season.”
Despite this, Eliza Gardiner (Class II), added, “I learned how to better support my teammates off the field and be happy about their victories,” a viewpoint that one can truly appreciate when coaching and supporting on the sidelines. “At first I was really reluctant to hold a large role on the team, as being at the rink was painful and emotional, but then I realized the part that was actually killing me was not being around the people on the team, and that it’s better to surround myself with them than struggle through this obstacle alone,” MacDonald said. Not competing during practices or games can limit involvement with the team, but one of the special parts of Nobles athletics is how close and tight-knit every team is at Nobles. Spending time at team dinners and bus rides with your friends and teammates can make up for that lost time during competition.
Contrarily, however, Reilly said, “For some people, going to practices and continuing to be part of the team can be really painful or awkward or even just inefficient.” Many athletes turn to focusing on extracurriculars for which they didn’t previously have time, like student government or the mainstage productions, and it can be a positive experience participating in something outside of your comfort zone.
When asked about advice for students struggling with this injury, Reilly talked about the lessons she learned during her time off the field. She said,“When I ultimately was able to return and play in college, I had a gratitude and a different kind of combination of humility and appreciation that I probably wouldn’t have had before.” She added, “Joy and appreciation was a direct result of the struggle.”
New perspectives can oftentimes only be gained after dealing with challenging and disruptive circumstances. “I have an even stronger passion for the game […] being sidelined was one of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with, but it taught me to be patient as well as grateful,” Gardiner said.