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Taken for Granted

Alyssa Neuberger | Darmouth Soccer

I have loved playing soccer for as long as I can remember.

I started playing soccer at the age of five; both of my parents played collegiate level soccer and coached all of my soccer teams. After a few years of playing soccer, I moved to a higher-level team in an academy league to continue improving my skills, and that took me all the way to a spot on the varsity women’s soccer team at Dartmouth College. While I was passionate about the sport itself, I loved being part of a team even more; I loved being part of something greater than myself. It was really the people, including my teammates, trainers, and coaches, that developed my passion and made me fall in love with the game.

I have been fortunate that I have suffered very few injuries during my soccer career. In high school, I did not miss a single game due to an injury. With hindsight, I took my health and body for granted. This all changed my sophomore year in college when I developed a stress fracture in my L5, a vertebrae in the lumbar spine (lower back), in August. I first noticed the pain in my first game of the season. While the pain felt nearly unbearable, I did not talk to the team trainer for a few days because I thought that it would go away quickly. After the pain lingered for a few weeks, I talked with the team trainer and we decided to get an X-ray. Since the X-ray missed the fracture, my injury was initially diagnosed as a SI-joint strain, and I began physical therapy to help relieve the pain. I continued to play soccer throughout the season despite the pain.

When the season ended, we began off-season training, which largely consists of skill work and conditioning. One day, while running a timed mile, I noticed a tingling sensation in my leg. At first, I did not think much of this sensation, but it progressively got worst within a few days. I began tripping over my feet because my leg was becoming numb. At this point, my trainer sent me in for a CAT scan, which revealed the stress fracture that was causing temporary nerve damage in my legs.

After identifying the stress fracture, I had to wear a back brace for 3 months, which restricted my motion so that I did not further the injury. After this, I had to complete 2 additional months of physical therapy, which included re-strengthening my core/back muscles and stretching. After these 5 months, I began jogging and slowly progressed to sprinting.

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Having an injury is difficult especially when you are least expecting it. Instead of being on the field with my teammates during practices and games, I was watching from the sidelines. It gave me a different perspective: watching my teammates work together to achieve their goals reminded me why I love the game in the first place. I also realized that the best teamwork seems to come from players who are working independently toward one goal together.

I had 3 pieces of advice for athletes. First, I would advise athletes to take care of their bodies. My injury progressed to the point of temporary nerve damage because I continued to play and condition despite the pain. My second piece of advice is to never let what somebody else says distract you from achieving your goals. Last, I offer this advice, words that have stuck with me through the years.

“Never let success go to your head and to never let failure go to your heart.”

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