Friday, January 25, 2013

ACL Diary: The Sequel

This morning, as I do every morning, I stepped outside barefooted to collect the newspaper. I read the front page headlines and then opened the Sports section—again, something I do every morning—to check the high school soccer scores and stats. The only game in which I was truly interested was the one I had already witnessed and knew the outcome.

January 25, 2013 AZ Daily Star 
I read the cold, hard stats without emotion:

The brief statistics didn’t come close to relaying the true story of that game. There was no accompanying article, and even if there were, no reporter but I could tell it in a way that might capture the essence of what happened from our perspective.

It was a big game—Senior Night for Sabino’s five seniors with lots of balloons and flowers and posters and smiles for the camera. And it was the last game of the regular season, a rematch with a rival played two weeks ago that ended in a 1-1 tie before overtime saw yet another victory for the state champions three-years running, the Cat Foothills Falcons.

Senior Night Swag
Sabino went into last night’s game missing three key players, one with a head-injury, one with a broken back, and one with a cold. Nevertheless, Coach Lowry switched around a few positions, and the girls played strong in the first half with both respectable shots-on-goal and spectacular saves by junior goalkeeper, Sylvanna Islas. It was 0-0 at the half.

And then late in the second half, senior Willow Cozzens, my darling daughter, twisted her knee and went down in a heap. There was a slight gasp from the stands and I couldn’t help but call out, “No! No! No!” I momentarily tried to shield my eyes from watching her once again reel in pain; however, her coach called my name and waved me to the field. I ran to them at once, knowing in my heart that I was about to face another ACL injury.

I had seen it before. And it was the same.

Her trainer and I helped Willow off the field and as we approached her teammates, their big-eyed expressions and looks of sorrow and concern broke my heart. “No, no, no,” I said again, “Keep going! Be strong and keep playing strong!”

I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the game; however, I did hear and understand that Cat Foothills scored (in the 74th minute according to the paper). Willow’s dad and I made our way around the track but we couldn’t return to the stands. We tried to stay calm and wrap our minds around what had just happened, and it was like wading through a massive haze. Everything in what had been a noisy stadium seemed really quiet.

One-by-one parents approached us and one-by-one we relayed the bad news. Her club coach, her friends, her fans, other parents that love her like a daughter the same way I love their girls, shared our disappointment.

This morning we wonder, was it a stunned and quieted crowd or was it just that haze that shielded us from reality? Did Willow’s injury take the heart out of our team or was it just another Catalina Foothills victory?

Who can say? The loss most likely won’t keep us out of the state tournament; however, it will certainly affect our seeding and we await that posting.

Willow in action prior to injury
We have an appointment with her surgeon on Monday and I’m dreading it.  Willow heard/felt the telltale “pop,” which pretty much guarantees the road ahead to replacement surgery and physical therapy. But this time we know her soccer career is over.

It’s okay. Of course she’s disappointed to miss the state tournament and finish out her final year in club, but she didn’t plan to play soccer at the University of Wisconsin. It will have to be enough that she fought her way back after surgery on the right knee, and that the whole experience helped to build a solid character and both a sense of achievement and humility. We are as proud of her as we can be.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but think about two things her surgeon said to us during the course of her last procedure and recovery. One was regarding his work on her right knee using the hamstring replacement method, “She’ll have a far better chance of tearing her left ACL than she will re-tearing her right with this replacement.” (I wanted to tell him to “shut up!” at the time, and now I could just punch him for being so prophetic!). Secondly, when he ultimately cleared her to play soccer again after five months of intensive physical therapy he said, “Willow, I never want to see you again.”

Well, sorry to disobey doctor’s orders, but Dr. Tucker, we’ll see you on Monday.