Sarah Parker is a 23 year old soccer player from Vancouver, Canada. Sarah played at the University of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, where in the final season of her university career she suffered a serious knee injury. Sarah tells her story below on the importance of mindset and connection during the recovery process. Upon her return to sport, she is hoping to pursue a professional career in England, Australia, Denmark or Germany.
Sarah Parker's ACL Recovery Journey
The way that my university soccer career ended was not the way I expected. It all started when I was finishing my 3rd year of eligibility and Covid happened. I didn’t look at everything shutting down as time off soccer - I looked at it as time to focus on the things I needed to improve on in the gym and on the field. It was a blessing in disguise; this was very beneficial to my mental health.
I was training five times a week at the field and four days a week in the weight room. Keeping my mindset focused and my routine the same was a key part in keeping me upbeat with a positive mindset throughout Covid. When the time would come to get back to playing games, I would be the best version of myself physically and mentally.
As Covid continued, I was doing whatever I could do to keep playing and improving. Playing soccer and being in the weight room has always played a huge role in my mental health. At this time, I ended up getting the opportunity to go to play semi-professionally in Chicago, Illinois. With my 4th year previously being cancelled due to Covid, I saw this as a great opportunity to follow my dreams and to grow as a player on and off the field.
I felt that I was the best version of myself mentally and physically while I was in Illinois. Each day I felt like I was achieving goals - I was back to playing the game I love and it couldn’t get any better than that. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worst halfway through my time down in Illinois and I was faced with another challenge…
My knee gave out during a game, and there was a loud pop. In that instant I thought to myself “Why does this always happen? Things are never allowed to be good; something always has to go wrong”. After seeing a physiotherapist and getting an x-ray, I knew the best thing for me to do was to fly back and see my physio at home. Knee injuries were not new to me - I tore my meniscus three years ago. As soon as the decision was made for me to fly home, I changed my mindset to “I am flying home to get this fixed and to start my rehab, to be able to play again”. My mindset never changes “I am doing this, so I can play again” and this helps my mental health by staying focused on a goal, and that goal never changes.
Torn ACL & Returning to Soccer
When I was back in Canada I did a month of physio and got back to running and changing direction, but when I finally got an MRI it showed I had a torn ACL. This really messed with my head - I couldn’t understand how I could have a torn ACL and be able to do all the things that I was doing in the gym and at the field. When I saw the words “Completely Torn ACL” my heart sunk and I broke into tears; I could not believe what I had just read - none of it made sense.
After hearing that news, I had many people reassure me of how many people have had this surgery and got back to playing. Talking to people and reading the stories of athletes, from amateur to professional, who have torn their ACL and got back to playing put my mind at ease. I focused my mindset that this was fixable and I have a great support system in place. I saw two surgeons to get their opinions on whether or not to get surgery and we all made the decision not to, which was the best thing to do at that time.
September came and I was slowly getting back into training sessions. Being around my team at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) and keeping my routine the same as if I was playing was key to keeping a positive mindset. My teammates were always encouraging me if I was doing my own exercises on the side of the practice and when I was finally joining in. As well as this, the athletic trainers, the student trainers and the athletic therapists at UFV were always doing whatever they could to get an understanding of my injury and the best way they could help me. My hopes were high of getting to play my senior year. Everything was going so great in the gym, at physiotherapy and on the field, until my knee decided to give out again, one week before I was to be cleared to play.
This was heart wrenching for me because again I was doing everything right and everything I could. Yet, sometimes things happen that are out of our control and we need to accept and come to peace with that. For as long as I can remember, I have always told myself “Control the Controllable's” and this applies to anything. I was back to square one, but I could control my mindset and once again I told myself “I am doing this to get back to playing”.
Physiotherapy & Mindset for ACL Recovery
Going to physiotherapy has always been the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I have been with my physio for almost 4 years. Building a relationship with your team, whether physio’s, athletic trainers or surgeons, is so important. These people are a part of the support system that you will lean on throughout your injury. Putting yourself in environments that surround you with positivity and encouragement is key to keeping a positive mindset and healthy mentality throughout your injury. I always told myself “Control the Controllable's” and that for everything that happens outside of our control, there is always a positive and something to be learnt. People may say I’m crazy when I say this, but every time I’ve gotten injured I learnt so much more about myself mentally and physically than I ever could have if not injured. Through this mindset I have never looked at an injury as a completely negative thing. I am now 2 months post my ACL surgery. I have run into a number of challenges like blood clots, the “stiff knee” and not being able to see my surgeon for my check-up because of Covid. Some really important things I have learnt is that sometimes you won’t have an answer for why things happen and you won’t be able to control everything that happens to you, but you can control your mindset. You may be making the smallest bit of progress but remember, it’s still progress!
The Importance of Connection during ACL Recovery
Throughout my ACL rehab I have found it very helpful connecting with people who are going through the same injury as you, whether you know them or not. For example, a teammate and I talk to each other every week about what we did at physio, and what our knee’s look and feel like. I have found that this helps both of us mentally, because we realise progress in others that we may not notice ourselves. Where people share their stories and experiences throughout their rehab, I have found it very beneficial for my mental health to be able to reach out to them, or have them reach out to me. We can all lean on each other while going through rehab. Always know that you are never alone and to reach out, because there is always someone going through it too, thinking just like you.
Thank you Sarah for sharing this powerful piece and important advice for others going through the process. We wish you the best of luck in your recovery journey!