World Games Limbo

Photo Copyright © 2013 Micah Tapman/CBMT Creative

A week after finding out that I had been selected for the US National Team, I tore my ACL in a scrimmage against some local high schoolers. I was heartbroken. How bad? Well, I wrote my high school entrance essay about playing for the US National Team at the World Games–it’s been my lifelong dream. 13 years of work and dreams gone bad.

The minute I did it, I knew I wasn’t going to be playing in Colombia. I had to say it to myself out loud before I could actually believe it. Mustering the courage to call the coaches, email the team and make my injury public was the final nail in the coffin. Boom. Goodbye World Games.

Despite my lack of ACL I could walk normally, and even jump a little, so instead of opting to get surgery right away I became fixated on playing in a practice or scrimmage— on finding a way to be a part of the team on the field. Realistically, I had no idea if that was actually possible. I talked to four orthopedists, three physical therapists, and sought out as many people who had played on torn ACLs as I could. No one agreed on anything. Some said I could strengthen enough to not need an ACL. Some said I should never step on the ultimate field without one. Some said the risks of playing were tremendous, while others said they were minimal. I took about three months to come to the decision to try to play–I decided to take the risks, give it a whirl, and roll the dice. The upsides were too great to pass up.

I knew I wouldn’t be the player I am when I’m healthy. I knew I wouldn’t be the playmaker I’ve been for my club team, that I’d have to adjust my mindset and be offensively-focused, that I wouldn’t be a major on-field contributor, that I wouldn’t be relied on in big games. And that all of that would be a distraction from performing and might make me even worse. And yet I couldn’t give up ultimate, my most-loved means of expression, not without trying everything possible. I couldn’t leave any stone unturned. No way.

While I  flip-flopped with the decision daily, I was in a difficult limbo with my attempt to be an engaged but injured member of Team USA. I knew I would have to carefully walk the line between giving myself space and compassion to (potentially…) mourn the loss of a huge part of my self without bringing my teammates down or being a distraction. Having torn my other ACL mid-season in 2011, I knew this would be a formidable challenge.

Going into every practice weekend I would find myself torn between excitement and dread. I looked forward to seeing my incredible, inspiring teammates, couldn’t wait to help them improve as an on-field unit, and loved being a part of pushing us to win gold. But I also dreaded the emotional and mental fortitude those contributions required. Every practice weekend and moment around the team was a glaring reminder of my injury and of my dream deferred.

Those weekends were a blur of remembering the sets during scrimmages, learning people’s wonderful quirks, talking to someone on D, picking up cones, paying extra attention to directions from Dutchy and Matty so I could reiterate for an exhausted teammate in a time of need, socializing, filling water bottles, building new connections, and trying my best to help unify and motivate our team in any way I could. I would come home exhausted, worn down, having smiled and laughed and loved a lot but also really, really needing to just curl up in bed and cry.

After three months of PT, I got to play 14 points (and eat 5 chicken dinners) at Poultry Days. Though it doesn’t sound like much, it was an incredible accomplishment for me. I got to step on the field, be called in a play, get to that handler position, swing the disc, hold the force for my team, flash a lane to clog our opponent’s O, get a block. It was a great feeling, and that experience planted the seed that maybe I could still play my club season without an ACL, and maybe I could play more with Team USA. So I set my heart on practicing with Team USA at the US Open and on competing in the tournament with Riot.

And I did. After months on the sideline it was awesome to finally be on the field with both my Riot and Team USA teammates. The USA v. Colombia scrimmage that weekend in Raleigh was the keystone piece for my USA experience. Before the game Dutchy told me “you’ve been playing great. I’m just going to play you even with everyone else.” Getting that kind of trust coming from him was incredible. Being on equal footing with everyone else on the team against a real opponent and finding success was a real triumph.

Even though I was back on the field, I wasn’t the Rohre I was before I tore my ACL. I was trying to learn to play with a completely different body. I could still break marks and had my throws and field vision, but my ability to get open one-on-one was completely different. Oh, and my defense was, to be euphemistic, limited.

At the US Open in our (Riot) semis game against Scandal, I was covering an in cut, determined to get a block in a game that wasn’t going well for us. I was on my girl’s back hip, and when she turned to the IO space and I planted to go with her, my leg gave out beneath me. To everyone else it looked like I just tripped, but I had the sensation of tearing my ACL all over again. At the time I didn’t know it, but that misstep cost me 50% of my meniscus. That moment was total heartbreak all over again. I was back to square one. The work I’d put into trying to partially live out my dream was down the drain. I decided I’d be getting surgery as soon as I got back to Seattle. My operation was July 19, and though it was more complicated and painful because of the meniscus tear, I’m finally on a good track towards recovery.

The last six months have been a lesson in dealing with unexpected challenges. You don’t always get to choose the problems life throws your way. My friend Surge has this quote hanging in her room: “if you want to know your character, pay attention when things aren’t going your way.” I’ve read it often since April, and have been paying attention. I’ve wallowed and cried, I’ve laughed and smiled, I’ve had triumphs and setbacks. You know, I’ve been living. And I’ve learned a lot about who I am when things aren’t going my way. It wasn’t (and isn’t) always pretty. I didn’t choose this injury, but I do choose how I face the challenges it brings. And that makes the last six months time well spent on becoming who I am and want to be.

Maybe I’ll regret my decision to play on a torn ACL in 30 years—I’m not sure. I had no idea the consequences were going to be as emotionally and physically traumatic as they were, and I have no idea what they’ll be will be when I’m 50 and arthritic. But my attempt, the good and the bad, is a part of me now. Being on Team USA is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I would never let the chance to play and connect with some of our sport’s greatest people pass me by.

Issue No. 2 | World Games

October 2, 2013

Related Links

Resource Links