Strong Enough to Thrive

By Sam Apuzzo, Boston College ’19  @samapuzzo12

There was twelve minutes and thirty seconds left in second half, the score was 12-7. We were on our way to beating one of biggest powerhouses in the ACC, Syracuse. Being a freshman at the time, it was the first game I felt like I actually belonged out there on the field. It was the most intense collegiate game I had played up until that point and everything was going right for me – I was scoring, causing turnovers & even winning some draws against the legendary Kayla Treanor. I was floating on a cloud… until the unforeseeable happened. We had just called a timeout; our plan was to run the clock for as long as possible (this was before the possession clock was introduced) and keep the ball in our possession. The whistle blew and somehow, I found myself with the ball running away from defenders, and all I could hear was my head coach Acacia screaming “Stay away of the corners!!!” So naturally I ran right to the corner where I was not supposed to be. The double team was coming to pressure me, I cut off of my right foot and then my left food, and then *POP* I hit the ground.

             Photo courtesy of Boston College Athletics.

I immediately knew that I had torn my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), the feeling was like no other. I had a number of friends that had torn their ACL’s, but I never thought I would be the player to tear mine. So, when it actually happened, I initially had a hard time accepting it. It wasn’t till my coach Acacia called me the night after I had received my MRI results that I finally accepted what had happen and began to move forward. I’ll never forget what she said to me: “Sam, you now have 24 hours to feel sorry for yourself and be sad, but after those 24 hours you need to kick into gear and focus on the next steps to get healthy.” And that is exactly what I did.

To me, mental strength means being bold and tough when things aren’t going your way and pushing through adversity. Whether you are willing to put in the extra work when you are tired or push yourself to try something new knowing there’s a chance of failure. Before I tore my ACL I never had considered myself a “mentally tough” person, however I slowly came to realize otherwise. Post-op is where my mental strength really got tested. I physically didn’t have time to mope round and constantly think “why me?” because the first day out of surgery I was already sitting in the Boston College sports medicine facility starting my first step of physical therapy.

Throughout the entire rehab process for my knee it was necessary to be mentally tough. I needed to push myself every step of the way. From the beginning, which was simply bending my knee, then progressing to walking and eventually running and cutting —there was nothing easy about it. Every exercise was difficult and painful and there were multiple days that I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I needed to push myself through it if I ever wanted to play and move the same way I did before I got hurt. During each rehab session, the only thing that ran through my mind was my teammates, how badly I wanted to be out there playing with them, and how selfish it would be of myself to not give it my all to get healthy. I owed it to my team to put in the work. They had been by my side and helped me through this entire journey, so giving up or not trying was not an option in my eyes.

Physical therapy isn’t only part of the process where you need to be mentally tough. The mental pain caused by the temporary loss of my sport was way more devastating than the actual tearing of my ligament. There I was, a quiet and shy freshman who just lost half of her first-year season and was forced to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines. For me, this was the most difficult part. Not being able to be out there running around with my team absolutely broke my heart. Like most people who are sidelined, I feared I would miss out on things and lose my recently formed connection with my teammates. But instead, my mental strength once again prevailed. I decided that I could either be sad on the sidelines or be helpful. I had to make the best of what I had, so I learned, observed, and took in everything I could during every practice, game, and film session. Although it was not ideal, being fastened to the sideline gave me a new perspective of the game. I was able to see an overview of the field, noticing what did and didn’t work—it gave me an opportunity to be useful and still be a part of the team by helping my teammates see what I saw.

Along with helping my team out, my understanding and IQ for the game skyrocketed during this time. I was noticing things that I would have never noticed while playing, like the different sliding patterns of the defense or specific weaknesses of certain goalies. And like I said, this isn’t necessarily what I wanted to be doing, but I took the cards that I was dealt and ran with it. During a time where I physically couldn’t improve my skills, I choose to improve my mental skills.

Tearing my ACL was one of the hardest things I have gone through as a lacrosse player, but it was also one of the most eye-opening experiences. I was once told that these challenging types of injuries only happen to those people who can handle them, those strong enough to not only overcome, but thrive after the injury—and to this day I think that’s true. Now that I am a rising senior looking back on my freshman year that got cut short, I feel appreciative. Although at the time I can’t say I felt that way, now I truly feel like the experience changed me for the better. I am not only stronger physically and mentally, but it has taught me to push through pain and hard times while making the best of things, and it also taught me how to be a good teammate and friend.

2 thoughts on “Strong Enough to Thrive

  1. Well said… Thank You for sharing your thoughts. This article also is a testament to your mental strength. Good luck on your senior campaign.


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