I’m running down the field full speed and break down to make a tackle. I do everything the same as I’ve always done since I was eight years old: I chop my feet, sink my hips, put my eyes on the ball carriers belt, ready to finish through with my head on the outside. However, as I slow down, my left knee gives out from under me. I felt like I was a house of cards and someone had flicked out the entire base. I collapsed to the turf in agonizing pain. I’m rolling around, screaming every four letter word in the book. This is the third game in a row this has happened. “What the hell is wrong with me?” I think. My teammates help me to the side line and 5 minutes later I feel strong enough to re-enter the game and finish, but something still doesn’t feel right.
I woke up the next morning and when I got out of bed it felt like my knee was separate from my body. I’d been sore before, yet never anything quite like this. The trainers and doctors tell me to get an MRI, “just to be safe.” Apparently somewhere down the line “just to be safe” turned into “you have a torn ACL.” I’ll never forget the moment I found out. It was a normal Tuesday like any other practice, and I got called over to talk to my head coach and trainer. As I walk over, I can tell I’m about to get bad news. They both look glum and confused. Paul, the trainer, explains the situation and my mind and body go numb. They take me out of practice and as I’m sitting on the sideline watching the rest of practice, countless teammates are jokingly saying “dude what’s wrong? Stop being so soft and practice.” All I can think is, “if only you knew.”
The thing about football is that it’s a culture where you are judged completely on toughness and grit. Some people don’t understand that culture. They can’t comprehend why we as athletes go through so much adversity merely for a game. These people don’t understand that being a part of a team is something bigger than yourself. When I found out I had a torn ACL, it didn’t even seem as if I had an option whether to play or not. I could run, I could cut (sort of), and I could definitely still hit; the only thing that made sense to me was to keep playing. I got fitted for a brace the next day and was playing in a game that Friday. I played 5 more games after that.
So where does that leave me now? I’m 6 weeks removed from ACL reconstruction surgery, my lacrosse season is ruined, and I was in nonstop pain for about 2 weeks. . . would I change a thing? Hell no, and I’ll tell you why.
Many of my teammates have been playing alongside me since I was in second grade. Think about that for a second. For the past 10 years, I have spent every fall with the same 10 or so guys. Almost all of my childhood memories were made by exhilarating victories and crushing defeats on the field. So why wouldn’t I play? All I wanted was one last season with the boys who had grown into men with me. I didn’t want to let them down. As captain, I was their leader and they depended on me. The hardest thing to do in life is let someone down who depends on you.
The fact of the matter is that I was part of a team, so I would do anything for my teammates. I made sacrifices for them, because I knew they would do the same for me. Every night I used lay awake in my bed wondering which play would be my last one. These thoughts didn’t put fear in me, they motivated me. They motivated me to embrace all the little things about the game I love. More than ever, I loved practice, I loved hitting, I loved the butterflies in my stomach on game day. I appreciated every play, every snap because I never knew when my knee would give out and I would have to hang up my cleats forever.
I am not looking for sympathy by writing this article, nor am I trying to glorify myself. All I want is to tell my story, because I know it’s an unusual one. Through sports, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about life. This lesson is simple: no matter what you do in your life, do it with all you’ve got. You never know when something will be taken from you, so live every moment like you’re not guaranteed the next one. If you live like this and appreciate the little things you’ve got, everything else will figure itself out.
Edited by Brett Middleton