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Comeback Kid

Kevin Murphy | Salisbury Lacrosse

As a kid, I was obsessed with basketball, but in the eighth grade, something changed for me. I loved hoops, but the first time I saw my brother play lacrosse, the physicality and speed of the game drew me in. But more than anything, I saw how much my brother loved lacrosse, so I decided to give it a try. I After my freshman year of high school, my coach told me that I had a good chance of playing in college; I took the idea and ran with it. 

I started focusing on lacrosse and playing for a club team over the summer, going to tournaments all over the country to play against the best competition. After a couple of years of recruiting, I decided I was going to play at Salisbury University. At the time, Salisbury had won eleven National Championships; I was fortunate enough to be a part of the twelfth team to win a title in 2017. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But this isn’t about that.

But let’s rewind a little bit here. During my freshman year I played behind 4 All Americans. Two of these incredible players had graduated, and it was my time to take a role on a talented defensive unit. I worked hard all summer, lifting and playing lacrosse, and continued to do so through the fall and winter. In the end, my work was recognized when I was awarded a starting spot. I had some ups and downs in my play throughout the season, but towards the end of March and through April, I was beginning to play very well. I felt as I was in the best shape of my life and playing the best lacrosse I ever had. 

We were playing York College in the conference finals. It was a huge game, we were both ranked in the Top 10 in the country, and we had previously lost to them in the regular season. We were there for revenge, and looking to end our regular season on a high note. We started the game a little slow, but eventually took control and were leading at half. I was beginning to settle into the game and was feeling good. The third quarter rolled around and I was guarding my man when I went to change directions and heard a “POP” and immediately felt a warm pain shoot down the outside of my knee.

I hopped off the field and immediately fell onto the ground and yelled every swear word I could think of. I knew I was hurt, but I didn’t want to admit it, especially not to myself. Our athletic trainer gave it a look and did the usual testing and immediately went and grabbed two bags of ice and wrapped them on my knee; when I saw the hurried pace, I knew I was in trouble. After the game he looked at it again and told me that an ACL tear was on the table, I had an awful feeling that it was true.

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 I tried to remain positive and hopeful; we went on the win the game, but during the bus ride home I sat in pain. Of course, I was very excited to win, but I couldn’t help but to be worried about my leg. The whole ride home, the POP from earlier played over and over in my head, I couldn’t turn my music up loud enough to drown out the noise. 

The next morning, I checked in with Matt, our trainer, again. He told me to lay on the table and lift up my injured left leg; I tried the best I could, but it would not move. Three days later I got an MRI on my left knee. During halftime of our first NCAA playoff game we received my results and they were reviewed by our team doctor. He confirmed that I had torn my ACL and also my lateral meniscus. 

I was devastated. I had never been hurt before in my life; I’d never even sat out so much as a game in high school, and was a big fan of just “taping it up and playing.” I remember when the doctor told me that the recovery from these injuries usually takes nine months. It was just so difficult for me to process the fact that I’d have to be away from the sport I loved for such a time. My brain was spinning, I didn’t know what to do. My season was over, I asked our Matt no less than a hundred times if I could try and play. I knew I couldn’t, but I had to ask. Predictably, he said no- probably in my best interests anyway. 

I decided that the best way to handle the situation was to continue to prepare for the upcoming games as if I was playing. I watched film and read all the scouting reports, I wanted to be able to help in any way possible. It also helped me feel as if I was still in the game and it kept my brain off of the obvious. Sure, I was bummed out to not be playing, but I tried to keep my spirits high and support the team. 

We made it all the way to the National Championship, where we lost by two goals. After the game, I was really down on it, I wanted to go into the summer on a positive note. Coming home for the summer, the helpless feeling of not being able to aid my team in an important game that we lost by such a close margin really crept up on me. And on top of that, I had to have surgery. I met with my doctor and we scheduled my surgery date, three weeks from that appointment. I was nervous and anxious to just get the surgery over with. 

On June 26th, I had my surgery, wherein they reconstructed my ACL and trimmed out my lateral meniscus. The first two weeks after surgery were awful- I was in pain, and I was upset. I sat in our family room with my hood up and barely moved from the chair and my new best friend, an ice machine. I was miserable! I would countdown the hours until I deemed it socially acceptable to go to sleep; the sooner a day ended, the closer I was to that finish line. 

More than anything, I was upset and frustrated, and when I am either of those things I like to go for a run or shoot lacrosse balls as hard as I can. In this personal hell, I could do neither. I didn’t feel like myself at all, I was irritated, and if I’m being honest, miserable to be around. Towards the end of the second week, right before my follow up appointment my mom gave me the best advice I had received so far. She told me that it was unfortunate that I got hurt, but it was time to stop dwelling on the fact that it happened and start focusing on getting better. 

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I needed to hear it.

I got my stitches out, and the next day, I went to my first postoperative physical therapy session. It was slow, boring, and painful, but I was ecstatic to be on the road to recovery. I had a great physical therapist, and looked forward to working with him all summer. It was challenging work and I loved it; I was at least ten minutes early to every session because I was so eager to get better. It became my obsession, like, I was always doing exercises at home and trying to get better in any way possible. I went through the summer and hit all my goals and was ahead of schedule; with a summer’s worth of rehabbing behind me, I went back to school confident and ready to get to work with Matt and the rest of Salisbury’s athletic training staff. 

As soon as I got back to school, I began  spending two or three hours every dayin the training room. I was fully committed to getting better as soon as possible. Even though I was excited to be progressing in my rehab, I was still a little upset because I did not go to team workouts and I had to go and watch all of our offseason practices. I felt distant from the team even though I was a captain. My teammates and coaches did a great job making me feel like a member of the team and reminding me that they could not wait to have me back. It drove me to work harder and be more focused on my rehab. 

The one goal that remained the same was to play in the first game on February 3rd. I was told it was not possible, but I was willing to put in the work to prove everyone wrong. Continuing to work harder and harder, at Christmas break I went to what I hoped was my final doctor’s appointment, and boy, did I get a gift that day.

 On December 27, almost six months after my surgery I was cleared to return to sports and exercise without restrictions. After months of hard work and hundreds of hours of exercises, I was cleared Those words lifted the weight from my shoulders, and all I could think about was the season…

I was still very nervous to return to play. I was nervous to get hit, I was nervous to make a cut, and most of all I was nervous to perform. I kept thinking to myself, “I don’t want to be the kid who everyone felt bad for, I don’t want to be the kid that could have been great but got hurt.” I was determined to not let this injury define me.

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I continued to work closely with our athletic trainer and was cleared to practice on the first day of official spring practice. On February 3rd, I started the first game. The whistle blew and all my fears, irrational or not, went away. My mind was clear and I played the game I loved again. 

All in all, I made a very fast and smooth recovery, but I couldn’t have done it alone. I would like to thank all those who helped me. I would like to thank my family, Mom, Dad, Erin, Patrick, Jack, and Grace. You guys were there every step of the way, and Patrick, thanks for always talking lacrosse with me and showing me what it meant to come back stronger from an injury. 

I would also like to thank Dr. Cole and his amazing staff at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush. I want to thank Brad and Jan at Athletico; you guys made a long and painful experience as fun and exciting as you could. Thanks to my coaches and teammates for always keeping me in the loop and reminding me what I am working for.

 Finally, I would like to thank our athletic trainer, Matt. You have been there every step, spent countless hours with, and have put up with me even when I wouldn’t shut up or complained endlessly. You are a huge reason I recovered with speed and ease. 

I want this piece to serve as motivation to those who have suffered a similar injury or any injury. I am not going to lie, it’s going to suck. It will hurt; you’ll be mad, sad, frustrated, and sometimes feel alone. The best thing I learned was that it is going to get better. I learned that it is important to stay positive and keep working. Do not let your injuries or scars define you. They are just reminders that you got knocked down and got up and got better. Do not be afraid to lean on others and ask for help. There is no shame in that. Just remember that it will get better and it will make you a stronger person. Keep your head up and keep moving forward. 

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