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ACL Club 2023: 1 of 250 000

ACL pre-hab: what it feels like and looks like

On November 18, 2023, I played an indoor Ultimate tournament on too little sleep, not enough warm-up, and a bit amped up after telling my team “Let’s play better”. I was sprinting down the field and the disc came out behind me. I think to myself, “I can get that”, plant my right foot to turn 180ยฐ and my knee buckles. No pop. I go down and I know it’s not good.

(Please never ever change direction like that.)

I joined 250,000 people in North America who tore their ACL that year, joining two teammates from Union and 6ixers.1 Arguably one of the most complex, longest, and most researched musculoskeletal injuries, and something many athletes have said is the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

Although I know people who tore their ACLs, I never knew what it felt like, physically and emotionally.

Physically, the acute event was more shock than true pain. I gasped when my knee buckled, and the first thoughts I had were, “Oh no, I won’t be able to play at Pan American championships and Team Canada Masters tryouts.” Once I calmed down, I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m not in pain. I’m just being dramatic”, and I tried to crawl off the field by myself.

I cancelled Sunday Volleyball, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday Ultimate, and surfing lessons. I hoped beyond hope that it was an LCL injury like the tournament athletic therapist thought, that it wasn’t a torn ACL and that my knee would bounce back like a miracle hamstring spasm that I thought was a hamstring tear. I hoped beyond hope I could get back on the field for the biggest peak events I had been looking forward to for so long.

My knee feels like a newborn baby, except my sleep is not bad and there are no diapers to change. I fuss to get the pillows just right for my baby. I’m consuming content for my baby daily – injury psychology, ACL research papers, various rehab methods to add to my daily protocol, and other people’s experiences. 

Someone asked me if I miss playing, and the biggest thing I miss right now is feeling strong. I miss being able to walk comfortably, run, sprint, jump and do things. I miss playing, but I miss being able so much more.

I imagined myself as a coach, talking to an athlete who had just been injured:

Your knee is hurt.

You might be having a lot of feelings – anxious, upset, frustrated, sad, disappointed.

Feelings are beautiful.
Your feelings are valid, you’re injured and it really sucks.

What you need to focus on next is taking care of your body, so you can get back to doing what you love ASAP.

Any thoughts that are not useful to your priorities should be let go – they are slowing you down & distracting you from your true end goal. Stay hyper-focused on your end goal to make the best of it.

This arduous musculoskeletal injury is physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.

It is over a year of recovery and tons of work to return to the level of activity you had before.

In the last three months, I learned to show myself ๐—š๐—ฅ๐—”๐—–๐—˜. Honouring the trauma my body sustained, and recognizing I can’t change what happened. I can only control what I do next.

I ๐—ฆ๐—›๐—ข๐—ช ๐—จ๐—ฃ daily. On days I don’t want to, when I’m tired, reminding myself I can do anything I can put my mind to, and learning ๐—œ ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ฏ๐—น๐—ฒ ๐—ผ๐—ณ ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—œ ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ.

So I ๐—ฃ๐—จ๐—ง ๐—œ๐—ก ๐—ง๐—›๐—˜ ๐—ช๐—ข๐—ฅ๐—ž, prioritizing rehab above all else, and even if I don’t see the results right away, I ๐—ง๐—ฅ๐—จ๐—ฆ๐—ง ๐—ง๐—›๐—˜ ๐—ฃ๐—ฅ๐—ข๐—–๐—˜๐—ฆ๐—ฆ.

I have a background in strength training, nutrition, and mental performance, yet I seriously struggle to navigate this injury: what to do and what not to do. I can’t imagine what others’ journeys felt like. I’m reminded ๐—œ๐—ง’๐—ฆ ๐—ข๐—ž๐—”๐—ฌ ๐—ง๐—ข ๐—”๐—ฆ๐—ž ๐—™๐—ข๐—ฅ ๐—›๐—˜๐—Ÿ๐—ฃ.

Finally, I’m building towards ๐—š๐—”๐— ๐—˜ ๐——๐—”๐—ฌ.

The kind of discipline and commitment I know is needed for elite sports.

I’m getting game-ready for surgery, and every step after that. All the way to return to play, taking the field again, and doing all the things I love. Not only Ultimate, but an active lifestyle of running, jumping, surfing, hiking, and so much more.

These are some things that have helped me along the way

A comprehensive resource for ACL pre-hab, post-op rehab, and no-op rehab and a highly cited, highly regarded research team.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24776712ย  โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

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