My name is Benna Berger, I am a senior at Friends Central School, and I play lacrosse. Today, I want to tell you about a year in my life defined by injury, resilience, and fortitude. A year in which I thought I’d lost it all, only to realize that there was so much more left to find.
This is my story.
From the time I was old enough to walk, athletics have been a major component of my life. My mother and father used sports as a vehicle to teach me the importance of hard work and dedication, sharing their values through their own passions. As I grew older, I witnessed my parents challenge themselves and push their limits in order to achieve greatness; for my mother, it was bodybuilding that brought a sense of accomplishment, while it was soccer and wrestling that drove him to be his best.
Growing up, I played many sports; I was initially drawn to soccer and basketball, but over time, lacrosse emerged as my true calling. I can say without a doubt in my mind that playing lacrosse has shaped me as a person more than almost anything else. It is a humbling game, and one that has taught me many important lessons, both about life and about myself. But more than anything, lacrosse has taught me how to grow and shine in the face of adversity.
I learned that in a split second, when I thought it was all over.
My hard work and dedication to the sport throughout my youth paid off when I earned a spot on the varsity team as a freshman. It’s been said that freshmen don’t generally make varsity, but I wasn’t interested in generalities; I was only interested in being the best player I could possibly be. Against the perceived odds, I started every game, and played a real role in our team’s success. After working tirelessly throughout the year, we found ourselves in the state tournament at the end of the regular season. Feeling the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I thought to myself, “How can this be the last game of the season?” The only thing I wanted to do was give every ounce of effort I could possibly muster, and leave it all out there. The atmosphere was electric, and it was more intense than I could have imagined, but I knew that I was born ready for this moment. And with the wind in my wings, I ran out onto the field, not knowing that I wouldn’t even be able to walk it off.
One cut. One play. A torn meniscus. And my career was put on hold.
I won’t lie. I thought about quitting. The same sport that had brought me happiness and a sense of real accomplishment had brought it all crashing down, and left me in a cloud of depression and uncertainty. I was overwhelmed. But it only took a few minutes for me to decide that I couldn’t walk away from the game I’ve loved for years.
Facing the prospect of recovering from a torn meniscus was daunting; I knew that I was looking at surgery, months of rehabilitation, and the possibility that I might never regain the same form. I reminded myself that as a freshman, I still had three more seasons to showcase myself for college recruiters. I reminded myself that my injury had occurred in the last game of the year, and that I might not even miss any real playing time. But the most painful part of all was watching from the sidelines. The idea of having to sit and watch my teammates and best friends go on without me was more than I could bear. So with summer just around the corner, I made it my mission to attack rehab like I attacked that last game of the season; with vigor and might, and the refusal to give anything less than my best.
The summer came and went, and through it all, I worked every day to get back to where I was. When it came time to head back to school, I was feeling a lot more positive about my future. I had put great amounts of time and energy into rehabilitation, and I was ready to get back on the field and compete. My doctor had given me the green light to start training again, but I knew something was off when I felt the pain in my knee come back during preseason soccer training. In fact, this time the pain was worse than before.
I was told to sit out the soccer season to allow my knee to fully rest. I was disappointed that I was missing out on playing and team bonding, but I knew that this was a sacrifice I had to make to get my lacrosse career back on track. When January rolled around, I attended a lacrosse recruiting clinic in Florida. Though it was exciting to be back on the field, that something was off; my knee just didn’t feel right. When I got home, my knee began to throb and swell, and I knew I had to see a specialist. Anxious and afraid, I could barely hold myself together when I heard the doctor tell me the news.
There would be no sophomore season for me.
I had torn the same meniscus for a second time. The words just didn’t seem true, they just couldn’t be. I went through the season standing on the side line watching my team bond, succeed, and have fun, and I just didn’t think I had it in me to go through another year like this. All I wanted was to be on the field with my friends, contributing to my team’s success and doing what I love. But the more I thought about quitting, the more I realized that it isn’t who I am. I am not a quitter. Even in the depths of my despair, I knew that lacrosse had given me far more than it had ever taken, and without it, I simply would not be the person I am today. So once again, I decided that I was not finished, and I spent that spring working even harder than I ever had. That summer, I made my long-anticipated return to the field.
And it was everything I dreamed of.
This injury changed me. It changed me as an athlete and a competitor, but it also changed me as a person. This injury taught me that a life lived in full means facing adversity and persevering through it all. We need to understand that we cannot change the cards we are dealt with, but that we can change the way we react to them. Life often throws us curveballs, but that isn’t the end. Instead of accepting these difficulties as inevitable and letting them stand in the way of pursuing our dreams, we must confront our reality and learn how to deal with it. Because as much as we can try and map out the future, the unexpected has a way of happening.
Having been through these grueling processes, I have a few words I’d like to share. My advice is not just for those who are going through injury, but for anyone who plays a sport. Rather than spending all of your time thinking ahead, be present in the moment. You never know when your sport might be taken from you in the blink of an eye. It could all end tomorrow. And to all of you injured athletes… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I feel your pain. We feel your pain. It may seem as though everything you’ve known has come to a screeching halt, but it does get better. Use your support system; your parents, friends, coaches, and trainers are here to help you get through these rough patches and back to peak form. They’re here to pick you up when you’re feeling down, and to guide you to the finish line.
With that said, listen to your doctors, too! Medical professionals do what they do for a reason, and coming from someone who was operated on twice, listening to my specialists was key in getting me back to where I am. And last, but certainly not least, this is not the end. It never is.
Sometimes you have to lose it all just to find what you’re really made of.