By Shaye Fitzpatrick Illinois Alumna and Current Goalie at Duke University
Playing sporta at the collegiate level comes with a lot of perks, but it also takes a toll on your body. To compete at the highest level, you have to practice at the highest level, and almost 90% of the time results in injury. For many college athletes, getting injured is the end of the world, but it doesn’t have to be. Sports injuries happen, but knowing what to do when they happen is key.
After my first year of college, lacrosse was cut short by COVID, and I couldn’t wait to get back to campus and start playing again. I had more time to train in the summer than before and took full advantage of it, but something started to feel off. I had always had a little bit of hip trouble, but this was different every time I moved my leg through a full range of motion.
Never Hide an Injury
At first, I didn’t tell anyone, I just pushed through until it was two weeks before I was supposed to go back to campus, and my parents caught on. Shortly after the MRI, praying whatever showed up wouldn’t affect my chances of playing in the fall, but they did. I was devastated the surgery and rehab stood in my way of getting back on the field for at least another five months. The surgery was painful, but what was even more painful was watching my teammates play and wondering if I would ever be the same. It’s natural to be upset and worried when you get injured, but you can’t let those feelings linger. I was forced to get out of my comfort zone, focusing on the things I could control, and five months later, I was back on the field.
Recovering from an injury is different for every athlete, but there are a few key elements that helped me immensely. The first and probably the most important is to listen to your body. Over 50% of injured athletes continue playing through injuries, which almost always makes the injury worse and can lengthen the amount of time an athlete is rehabbing.
Listen To Your Body
Listening to your body is also key when going through rehab. It is completely normal to have bad days when you are recovering from an injury, communicate with your trainers, and be patient with yourself it’s all part of the process. Second, injuries can be isolating, but don’t be afraid to lean on your teammates and trainer for support. There is always someone who will understand what you are going through. Third, stay engaged. It’s not easy to stand on the sidelines. Find something that can help you and your teammates. It’s really hard for me to stand in one place for long periods, so to help myself stay engaged, I offered to take stats for my coach.
Practice & Keep Up
I also used my time at practice to familiarize myself with different defensive sets so I wouldn’t have a lot of catching up to do when I was cleared to play. My specific injury limited my ability to do activities involving my legs, so another way I used practice time was to work on my hand speed. The final piece of the puzzle for me was understanding and accepting my temporary change in role. During my months in rehab, I was reminded by my team that no matter what role on the team, I was still important.
It’s a hard concept to grasp when you are not physically able to score goals or make saves, but cheering on your teammates, helping at practice, and getting yourself healthy is just as important. Playing sports at a collegiate level like everything has it’s ups and downs, make the best of it and listen to your body! Again, sports injuries happen, but knowing what to do when they happen is key.