A place that every athlete knows, maybe a little too well. It’s the place where everything is easy. The skill it takes to catch a ball, dodge a defender or find an opening to shoot; it all comes naturally. It’s the place where it seems like nothing bad can ever happen. Until it does.
The place where it all starts for me is a good old sausage sizzle at Bunnings. Now, I know that that’s a weird and foreign thing to hear, but, before I go on, let me tell you that I’m Australian. Arguably the greatest sausages you will ever eat will come from a Bunnings sausage sizzle, but they are also great because they let different local groups come and use their equipment and sell sausages to raise money for their organization. That’s what I was doing when I received the call from my coach that I had been selected in the u19 Australian Lacrosse team and would be heading to Germany to play for my country in the 2011 World Cup.
I was 14 only years old. For a year I spent all of my time playing Lacrosse, lifting, running or sleeping. I wasn’t interested and barely had the time to do anything else. At night, I would get home from practice and fall asleep trying to finish my homework. But I wouldn’t have changed a second of it. My selection to that team allowed me to travel outside of Australia for the first time, compete on the world stage against players that would go on to play in the first women’s pro-league and become well-known names in the world of lacrosse, as well as opening my eyes to the endless opportunities Lacrosse could give me. But most of all, it gave me the desire to do it all again. To endure the endless muscle burning, fiery lungs and pools of sweat just in order to step out onto a World Cup field again. To see my family in the stands screaming their lungs out as they announce, “Number 3, Rebecca Lane.”
After that experience, there was no changing my mind. My whole life had been molded around Lacrosse and I was left wanting more. I would even sleep with my Lacrosse stick, so I could dream up some cool new moves. Okay, that’s a lie, but you get the idea. All I wanted to do was play Lacrosse and luckily, I still had plenty of opportunities to do that. In 2012 I was chosen as a co-captain for the u18 Victorian Lacrosse team. On this team, I was able to play with one of my sisters, my cousin and a bunch of girls I had played with for years. The skill we had was undeniable and our connection was obvious. But, as a captain, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had with my Australian team. I poured everything I had into my new role. I bought funny costumes that would go to a person each day that did something hilariously dumb. I helped organize team dinners, awards, even trick plays to throw into games when it came to it. Everything was on track to making it the BEST Victorian team to ever take the field.
Finally, it was game day. Our first game was against our rivals in South Australia. They always had highly skilled players, so we knew it was going to be a battle. As the umpire was setting up the first center draw of the game, I set myself up on the attacking midfield side, ready to burst in. You know the feeling you get when you know exactly what is going to happen before it does? For some reason I just knew that I was getting that first ball, no matter what. As the umpire backpedaled away, the whistle blew, and I stepped in front of my player with my stick extended and felt the ball shoot into it like a magnet. I quickly turned and burst into a sprint towards the cage, leaving my defender trailing behind me. As I got closer to the goal there was only one player between me and the goal. I decided to go for it. I veered left to drag the defender with me, then cut back right ready to take the shot. But, as I pushed off my left foot, I felt the ground rush up and hit me as I fell.
Now, here is where the bubble comes in. It had never crossed my mind that anything bad could ever happen to me. This is coming from someone who had watched her sister tear her ACL, had teammates tear their ACLs which ended their seasons and hearing about multiple professional athletes experiencing the same thing. Lacrosse, up to this point, had always been fun and easy and a way for me to represent my country and travel the world.
When the ambulance arrived to do initial tests before taking me to the hospital, they told me they suspected it was an ACL tear. I was so far in my own bubble that all I wondered was if I was going to be able to play the next day, not comprehending that something like that could actually happen to me.
The first 2 months of my recovery after surgery was fueled by my determination to get back to full health and be able to play again. But, as so many of us know, it starts getting really repetitive really quickly. I had hit a wall as the progression from each exercise kept on getting smaller and smaller. I’m not proud of it, but it got to the point where I just stopped my rehab altogether. I had already missed the finals for that season, I had no more National team obligations and it was the first time in a long time where I felt like I had time to just relax and hang out with my friends. It ended up taking me around 14-16 months to get back into playing instead of the usual 9-12. The thing that brought that motivation back for me was the next u19 Australian team try outs.
I still had the vivid memories of my first u19 Australian team experience and I was hungry for more. Gradually, I began playing again for my club team and then everything fell into place again with the national team workouts and practices. Before I knew it, I was back, and it felt like nothing had ever happened. I was having fun, playing the best I had ever played and feeling good. I was in a good place to be selected and my experience already playing on that platform gave me a high chance of being named captain as well. The bubble was slowly forming around me again. In my mind, there was no way I could ever tear my ACL again. I had already done my time, so it wouldn’t be fair if it happened again. I started to sleep in and skip my morning workouts here and there. One workout surely wouldn’t make that much of a difference, and I was still performing on the field, so it wouldn’t matter. But it did add up, reaching its peak in the last game of my team’s regular season. Playing defense, I slid from my girl to help cover the ball carrier down low and stop a potential goal. With my left foot planted in the ground, her momentum couldn’t be stopped, and she collided straight into my knee. There was no blackout, screaming or stretcher this time so I was hopeful. It didn’t feel the same so of course in my mind there is no way it was another ACL. It couldn’t be.
My family jokes around that I took my sister’s turn. My oldest sister was the first to tear her ACL, then comes me, then my brother, so naturally, the next in line would be my other sister. But I guess I was feeling generous that day and saved her the burden of it all.
The day after the game I had it confirmed. It was a second ACL tear of my left knee. I crutched into school straight after the MRI and told my teachers, trying to organize all of the schoolwork and exams I would be missing due to surgery. During lunch I made the hardest call I’ve ever had to make. Up until that point I was pretty positive about it all. I knew that’s what the situation needed and playing the victim would do no good. I called my head coach and as soon as she answered I broke down crying. I couldn’t get a word out to tell her the results of my MRI. When I finally was able to tell her the news, I could hear that she was trying to be strong for me, having coached me on the previous National team and knowing how bad I wanted to play on that stage again. With the timing of my injury, I wouldn’t have been able to recover in time for the selection camp. I was uncertain of my place in the squad and my prospects for selection, especially since my previous rehab was so poor. But she assured me she knew I could do it. And that’s all I needed.
Just before Christmas of 2014, the selection of the final team was announced. I had made the cut. I would go on to work out in the mornings before work, then head to lacrosse practice after I finished my shifts. I spent every practice on the sidelines, either timing my teammates for their running sessions, giving advice on technique or pointing out opportunities to play more united. It got to be really tough for me only able to watch. I was nervous that there wouldn’t be enough time for me to adjust to playing with the team after being out for so long, so I was eager to fast forward all of my rehab. I ended up coming back at only 7 months.
As we travelled to Scotland for the World Cup I was filled with doubt. What if I wasn’t fit enough? What if my stick skills weren’t good enough? What if my ACL wasn’t strong enough yet and I tore it again? I’m telling you I thought of absolutely everything that might happen. But, as soon as I stepped out on the field, I knew that I wouldn’t hold back. This time around, I had worked too hard to let something as little as doubt hold me back. My parents had supported me through everything, paid for surgeries and flown across the world to watch me play. I didn’t want to let them down. I went on to be awarded two MVP honors playing against Czech Republic and England, and was named to the All-World team along with two of my teammates.
Lacrosse has now given me the opportunity to study and play in America. As I go into my final year at Saint Joseph’s University, I’m not without injury, doubt, homesickness and bad days. But, after having that bubble burst on me twice through my ACL recoveries I have become the type of athlete that knows what it takes to overcome adversity. But I haven’t mastered it. There are still times where I feel myself taking it for granted as I skip a rehab exercise or complain about being sore. I remind myself to focus and stay motivated as I recall the “wasted” time working on extension, hobbling to class on crutches, strapping on two boots or waking up every hour in the middle of the night to ice. I have done every one of these things and I’m sure I’ll have to do some of them again in the future. But, one thing that I have realized is that I would pretty much do anything to be able to step out on the field and play the game that has given me so much.
The game that I love.
Bec Lane, #3