When I came up with the idea of Tips From the Pros: Injuries and Recoveries, I figured that I'd just integrate all the responses into the articles and that would be it. But there were a couple of players who gave some incredibly long and detailed answers that were much too long to put every one into an article.
With that in mind, I decided to put together a couple of Q&As.
Washington Freedom goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris suffered back to back ACL injuries early on in her career at Carolina. There were times when she definitely knew she was going to be back and there were others when she wasn't sure whether she'd step on the field again.
But Harris has made it back, earning a call-up to the full US Women's National team last October (her first since an ACL injury in 2006) and leading the University of North Carolina to the 2009 NCAA Championship. She was drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Athletica and upon the Athletica folding, was signed by the Freedom.
In this interview, Harris shared how she was able to stay motivated through two potentially devastating injuries, the lessons she learned and just how patient she was able to be during the rehabilitation process.
You had two ACL injuries at the beginning of your (college) career at Carolina. How did they both happen?
One was just kind of cutting and the other one was jumping and being hit at the same time when I was landing.
How were you able to stay motivated during rehab, especially the second time around and how difficult was it to stay motivated, especially having your injuries so close together?
I mean clearly we’re all really motivated because we would have never gotten as far as we have. It’s kind of more taking a step back and realizing what’s important in your life and just trying to deal with adversity because most of us our whole life we’ve gotten everything we’ve ever wanted. We’ve made it, we’ve been really successful in what we do.
Sometimes, obviously no one wants to go through it, but getting a little bit of adversity in your life is good because you grow as a person. I think those two years is probably the most I’ve grown in my life. When things happen I take a step back and look at them differently now and I have more appreciation for what I’m doing and more appreciation for where I’ve come [from]. Not too many people my age can say that.
I’ve gone through quite a bit so it’s a learning experience for me. It’s a growth period and it’s just learning to deal with adversity and challenges that come your way because life isn’t this perfect journey. I mean there’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs. Obviously how you deal with them is how you grow as a person. I think it was good for me.
I started to work harder in school, I started to take my academics a lot more serious, and I just had great friends and a great support group and people I could lean on. I think that in itself is the most important thing.
What was the biggest challenge in coming back – was it physically or mentally?
Clearly it’s both. It’s not pleasant, it’s not fun and every day you’re either learning to walk again or learning to walk without a limp, learning to jog without a limp, learning to bend your knee, learning to do squats and lunges all over again. Just all your mechanics are different. I mean that’s a huge reality check when something like that happens. There’s no telling if you’re going to come back the same.
You’re constantly pushing yourself and I think both mentally and physically it takes a toll on you. But I think it’s just important to have a positive attitude because that’s gonna get you through. The more you’re negative, the more you’re down, the harder it’s going to be so I just tried to keep the best attitude I could. I had people who had done it before me and they were great to talk to anytime I was struggling.
There were days when I would just cry for an hour and a half straight while I was doing rehab. There were days where I’d push myself so hard I’d be like ‘I’m going to be back and better than I was before’. But clearly there’s always those up and down days, that happens with any type of injury.
At some point you feel sorry for yourself and then you get over it. Then you just keep pushing yourself until you get back. That’s ultimately what you’re working for.
How difficult was it to stay patient during rehab, especially the second time around?
I wouldn’t say I was patient the second time around. I came back a lot earlier. I knew what I was dealing with – I’d already done it. I knew how I could (kind of) test the limits a little bit more – I wasn’t so conservative. Just because I knew what I needed to do – I didn’t have to baby it and guess when should I do this? I just knew my body there, I knew what I needed to do to get back. It was just an easier process there.
What did you learn about yourself during rehab?
What did I learn about myself? (pauses) You know what I did learn? I did learn that there’s a bigger picture than just being the best at your sport. Once I hurt myself I ended up changing a lot in a better way. Just because it gave me a realization that at some point, this can end.
At any given second, at any point in time, something can happen whether it’s an injury, whether it’s a car accident, whether it’s some freak accident. I feel like if anything, I appreciate my time on the field now because I know at any moment it can be yanked away. I just have a whole new appreciation, not just for soccer but for life in general.
I graduated college with a 3.5 GPA when I came into college barely able to get in. I just started taking my life more serious, just in case something ever did happen. It was important for me to have something to fall back on and not just rely on my athletics to get me through everything because clearly at any point something could happen.
I took a lot away from that and tried to be a little more well rounded I’d say in all aspects of my life. So I would say that’s what I really took away from it.
Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up and if so, how did you get through it?
Yeah, I mean, I think everyone hits that point. Everyone gets to the point where they want to give up and they feel sorry for themself and you really question, "is this really what I want to do?" – this is miserable. But that’s just living. That’s in any situation.
You kind of have to hit rock bottom to really rise to the top. That’s just the way I feel about it. I mean, that’s what living is, right? You’ve got to feel that pain, you’ve got to feel that emotion – that’s when you know you’re alive.
What advice do you have for young athletes who are coming back from an injury, especially a repeat injury like you had?
Take it one step at a time. Keep your head up, try not to feel too sorry for yourself because you’re going to get through it. I would just say make sure you enjoy it whatever you’re doing. If you’re passionate about soccer, and something happens just work really hard to get back.
Try to stay positive, really, stay positive, stay happy and it’ll come eventually. It’ll work itself out.
Photo courtsey of US Soccer.