Preliminary final. Salisbury Inter versus Adelaide City. Two goals down, thirty minutes in. The ball’s being crossed in by one of the Adelaide City attackers, I’m tracking back towards our goal with a player on my right. The ball comes across the face of the goal. The keeper can’t get there. I make a decision that will change my life for the rest of my life - I decide to stop the goal. I lunge. My right foot makes contact, clearing the ball out of the six yard box and denying their player a chance to nearly seal the game. But my left leg? Stuck in the turf. And I hear it. I feel it. I know. The most dreaded three-letter acronym in an athlete’s vocabulary: ACL. I scream in anguish. Not because of the pain, but because of the reality. It’s my fucking knee. I’ve done my fucking knee…again.
Scans and a doctor’s appointment three days later confirmed what I already knew. What any athlete knows when they hear that pop. A completely ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. Twelve months on the sidelines. Rehab every day. And a constant psychological battle to one day hope to get back to playing at the level you once were. But mine isn’t as simple as that. It’s not just an acl to me; it’s my third. And this third one might just be the end of my playing career.
I keep asking myself, where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? How has this happened to me, not once, not twice, but three times? What is wrong with me? Was I never supposed to pursue soccer? Have I been trying to make something happen in my life that was never intended for me? And this is the universe’s sick fucking way of telling me? Or is this all a “test” – a test to see how much I want it. A test to change my fundamental beliefs about what it means to be successful and how to go about achieving it. Whatever it is, it’s fucked. And I don’t want any part of it.
Ask me how I’m feeling and I couldn’t tell you. I can’t answer that question without tears streaming down my face, the reality of my situation looming: I’m done. I will never play soccer again. I will never accomplish what I’ve devoted my entire life to accomplishing: playing professionally. And what’s worse, what I’m so fucking scared of, is that I’m scared I will be bitter and resentful about my life and my decisions for the rest of my life. But can you really blame me?
People’s condolences all whisper a similar theme: you don’t deserve this…you’ve worked so hard. And you know what? I did work fucking hard. I devoted myself to strength and conditioning. To injury prevention. To changing my mindset. To looking after my body with what I ate and drank. And guess what? None of it fucking mattered. Because I’m still in the situation I’m in, a third ruptured acl later, despite doing everything “science” says you should be doing.
I was so convinced at the start of last year that I had uncovered the reasoning behind repeat injuries – subconscious, self-limiting beliefs. So I ventured out to change it. And I did. I focused my attention on being healthy and changed my energy to replicate that of someone who doesn’t worry about injuries. And for two years, it seemed to work. So why now? Why again? Have I not learnt the lesson I needed to learn? Is the lesson I needed to learn to give it all up? Accept that some dreams can’t be achieved, no matter how badly you want them? No matter what bullshit Disney preaches to us about dreams coming true? Is that my lesson?
I’m distraught. Livid. Devastated. Heartbroken. Shattered. Whatever feeling you’d associate with someone having their dreams ripped from them, chances are I’m feeling it. But it’s more than that. I’m angry. So fucking angry. Angry at the world. Angry at the universe. Angry at my fucking self. Just last week I had asked the universe for a sign about what I should do regarding soccer – do I continue trying to pursue playing professionally or just let that dream go and play for fun? And how does she answer? With this. With a very real and pressing prospect of never playing soccer again. But maybe that’s what was meant for me all along. These struggles, adversities, setbacks – they were all intended for me because soccer was never my journey. My writing was. My pain was. To relate to those not who’ve made it – the success stories that everyone seems to fucking buy in the bookstore, but to write something that applies to the 90% of us who don’t “make it”. To offer feelings of validation and of normalcy through my words. The words that I’m not afraid to write, but that I feel so vividly. The jealousy of others. Of their achievements. Of their successes. The resentment towards coaches that have prevented me from achieving my goal. The regret for believing the bullshit fantasies of my childhood. The anger towards myself for being convinced hard work might actually pay off in the long run. Because it hasn’t. And realistically now, it probably never will.
So where to from here? Surgery, or no surgery? Soccer, or no soccer? Can I accept never achieving my lifelong dream? Or will this be the point in my life where instead of love and compassion for others, I’m filled with bitterness and resentment? Is there any point in repairing my knee? Or should I just say fuck it and retire?
I can’t go through this again. Not now. Not after the last one almost killed me, literally. And not after it almost broke my family. I know what the rehab requires. And I don’t want it. I don’t want my life to be bound by my fucking knee for the next year…again. No travel. No sport. Nothing but the emotionally taxing rehab. And then the fear. The fucking fear. How can I ever recover from this and not fear doing it again? A fear that is very much warranted. At what point do you stop? Do you listen to what the universe is loudly and clearly telling you – that you were never going to make it? It’s like a sick fucking cycle – I start playing at my peak, finally have people talking about me, and bam. Acl. Every. Fucking. Time. I had a good season, but so what? I still wasn’t noticed by the coaches who needed to notice and now this probably justifies their decision to overlook me.
All I keep replaying over and over in my mind is that decision I made – that decision to save a goal. And save it I did. But it cost me my knee and potentially my soccer career. So was it worth it? Absolutely not. Now I’m left wondering; what if I didn’t make that tackle? What if I just let her score? And why the fuck didn’t I?
I don’t have any answers right now. No words of wisdom. No hope for the future. All I have is my heart which has been broken more times by this sport than anything else in my life. And yet, I still choose it. I still choose it despite the pain. Despite the adversities. Despite the anguish. But perhaps now is the time I stop choosing it. Perhaps now I do give up. Perhaps this really is the third time lucky – lucky in the sense that there won’t be anymore. And lucky in the sense that I won’t ever have to feel this intensely sharp and debilitating heartbreak ever again. Instead, I’ll just be left with the nagging feeling of regret and wonderment of what could have been but never will. And perhaps that is the hardest lesson I ever have to learn. And perhaps that is my lesson now.