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.
Leslie Osborne played with FC Gold Pride for the inagural season in WPS but crossed coasts in the off-season when she joined the Boston Breakers.
Less than a year before the league was set to kick off, Osborne suffered a torn ACL. But, unlike any of the other players that I talked to while working on this series, Osborne also was forced to have her ankle on the same leg reconstructed - for the second time.
She was able to prove the doubters wrong when she returned to full strength before FC Gold Pride began the season last year and has been a mainstay in the Breakers lineup when she's been healthy this season.
An infected leg kept her off the field for much of June, but now, once again, she has persevered and is looking to help the Breakers make a run into the post-season.
In this Q&A she discussed both her ACL injury and both ankle injuries, the realization of missing the Olympics for a second time and how she was able to stay positive during her recovery.
You had an ACL tear and also some ankle damage after college. How did both of those injuries occur?
My senior year in college, my first ankle [injury] I just got taken out by a girl from California-Berkley. I knew I had severely hurt it but I wasn’t going to stop playing during the middle of my senior season so basically what I did was I continued to play on it for the rest of the season. And as I played on it, I ended up just tearing more and more stuff in my ankle.
So I actually played in the Final Four when I was a senior with pretty much no ligaments in my ankle. I remember not even being able to sprint, I was just jogging around because I had nothing in my ankle. I knew I was going to have surgery afterwards to completely reconstruct it so my coach was great and let me play but I was definitely nowhere close to 100%.
Right after the Final Four – the week after Final Four – I had my ankle completely reconstructed. So that was back in December 2004.
Then you also had the ACL tear going into the 2008 Olympics, correct?
I had gotten cut from the 2004 Olympics so the 2008 Olympics were pretty special to me. It was something I was really, really, really, really, really, looking forward to. So right after the team was picked, I was just at practice and marking one of my former teammates, Heather Mitts, and yeah, I tore my ACL. I heard the pop and I knew it was my ACL.
It turns out the doctor said I tore my ACL because all the ligaments in my ankle were loose. So I was compensating so much on my knee that that’s why I tore my ACL. So I had two surgeries done on my left leg – I had a reconstructed ankle and an ACL reconstruction on my left leg.
How hard was it for you to handle that you’d miss the Olympics, especially after 2004?
I think that everyone was really devastated for me. Heather O’Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley, my two best friends, spent the night with me that night and I think I felt sorry for myself and was pretty depressed for about two days. And after I found out for sure that it was torn, I decided to take a different outlook and perspective on it. I can honestly say that I really, really, really tried to be positive and have a great perspective on it.
I felt it was a little bit easier to go through it because Abby Wambach broke her leg maybe a month after I had my surgery so we lived in LA together, we went to rehab together. I think it helped to be around her and have her support me. We went through it together – which actually helped because we’d watch the games together, we’d hang out together and I think she really helped me.
Just kind of going through it with somebody – I mean she’s one of the best players in the world and for her to miss the Olympics was devastating. For me it was really tough but I think it just helped to be around her. I would just like to say that my attitude was just really positive and just took as much as I could from my recovery.
It was funny – I remember just a lot of people feeling sorry for me and being devastated for me and I appreciated it but I didn’t want to let that make me feel bad for myself. That’s kind of how it happened. I just worked my butt off in rehab and knew it was going to be a long 10 months of recovery and rehab but I knew that my goal was to come back and be a professional soccer player again.
How were you able to stay motivated during rehab?
It was tough for me. I was on crutches and in a cast for my ankle and a knee brace for 2 months so I couldn’t work out which was very hard for me. Funny story that I tell all the time: I would literally go on the beach and crutch through the sand and go for walks on my crutches to try to work out as much as I could. That for me was hard to not be active.
As soon as I got off the cast and crutches and I started to be able to do rehab for my ankle, I was just so motivated to come back and beat the odds of people saying that I was pretty much having a new left leg put in. I had to rebuild my calf, my quad, my hamstring, everything.
My left leg had shrunk so I was just so determined to come back from these injuries and just be able to play the sport that I loved and be able to beat the odds of people saying how hard it would be for me to come back and be the player I was. I don’t know, I guess I was just determined to come back, had a positive attitude and hoped that I could one day play soccer again. I think I took it for granted before I got hurt that time.
What was the biggest challenge in coming back – was it physically or mentally?
That’s a good question. I think mentally. Physically it took a very long time for me to come back because of my ankle and my knee. Rehab was longer than a normal ACL or a normal ankle reconstruction so I think physically, the amount of rehab I had to do to come back from an ACL and a new ankle was crazy. I spent 3 hours or more (a day) doing therapy and rehab and stuff.
But I think mentally it was challenging for me last year to step out on the field as a captain of the FC Gold Pride and step out on that field because I was so proud of myself to be able to come back and play in the league. I was so proud of coming back from my injuries but I had so much pressure and expectation from everybody else, that for me that was very difficult.
To come back and start the league off after coming back from such major injuries, I think that my expectation for myself was so high and I feel like everybody else had such a high expectation for me. That was mentally draining and it took about 2 months of that season for me to mentally give myself a break and physically understand what my body had gone through and to give myself a little bit of a break.
How difficult was it for you to stay patient during rehab?
I was actually pretty patient. I had heard from a lot of people who had tore their ACLs to take their rehab very slowly because if you come back too early, you can re-tear it. So I think that I was patient in the fact that I didn’t want to have to go through it again. My surgery was five hours long and the amount of pain that I had gone through to go through that stuff was pretty large so I didn’t want to go through it again.
I got some good advice from my former teammates as Shannon Boxx really helped me – she had torn her ACL and Heather Mitts giving me so much feedback and stuff that I knew I didn’t want to go through it again. I really had good support from my two physical therapists who helped me build the ladder to coming back and I think the support and encouragement and advice I had from them gave me the patience to know that in the long run it would be worth it.
If it takes the extra two months for me to be completely sure that I’m strong enough and healthy enough [it’s fine]. I knew that that was going to be the best thing for me. The longer and stronger and healthier I’ll be. So I actually think I was pretty patient [for those reasons].
What advice do you have for young players who are coming back from an injury, particularly one like yours with such awful timing in just missing the Olympics?
Things do happen for a reason but I think that injuries – especially at times like that – will only make you stronger. I believe that even if I am never able to play in the Olympics again, it made me stronger as a person and for me that’s extremely important.
If I can get through something like that and have a positive outlook and perspective on that, then I can get through a lot of things in my life. So if anything, I think that times like that make you a stronger person. And in the long run, it will help you become mentally stronger on and off the soccer field.
So just keep a positive attitude and a positive outlook – it’s only going to hold you back if you’re negative and feel sorry for yourself.