The moment everything can change for an athlete

Gianna Grieco in the surgery center before her first ACL reconstruction surgery

The stadium lights beamed in my eyes, the feeling of the turf pebbles rubbing against my skin, the utter silence lingering in the crowd, my teammates huddled over me, the trainer rushing over me blocking the beams of light. I lay there in pain and in that moment, so much changed. 

On Dec. 13, 2021, I played my last soccer game on Jupiter High’s field. I suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear and a partial medial collateral ligament tear. While at the time I thought it could have been a simple MCL sprain, I was unable to walk and my knee became extremely swollen. After holding out hope and expecting a very different answer from my surgeon, he informed me that I fully tore my ACL and needed surgery. On Jan. 11, 2022, I received a full ACL reconstruction procedure using my hamstring tendon. 

The next few weeks after the surgery was difficult. It was heartwarming having all the people I love and care for come to visit me, but my injury still prevented me from playing soccer for the next six months. 

I encountered two days of physical therapy a week for the next months. The hardest part was getting my range of motion back. When I could finally bend my knee after months, I began exercises to strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding my knee. At six months post-surgery, I was able to run, do agility and do plyometrics. 

On June 15, I was cleared to go to the soccer fields to begin light dribbling and passing. The very next day I went to the fields excited to play for the first time after my injury and months of mental and physical challenges. I had made such amazing progress over time, but the moment was short-lived during that 30-minute window of being on the freshly cut grass as I tore it again with one simple movement. 

On July 21, I had my second full ACL reconstruction surgery, this time not with my hamstring tendon, but with my patella tendon. 

It was hard to find a positive perspective in my situation, but I really tried to make a change this time around.

Surgery was harder and more painful, It got very hard when I had to go through gaining my range of motion back and I had physical therapy three times per week instead of 2. I was over it. I keep getting the question: “Are you going to play again?” My answer is the same for everyone: I don’t know.

Having to overcome such a major change was certainly difficult, but having heard the stories of other student-athletes who went through the same situation made my situation a little less tough.

Billy Bates, Jupiter High quarterback alumnus, tore his ACL and MCL in a high school football game in Sept. 2021. Bates explained he had to push himself a lot, but came back from his injury stronger in will and body stronger than he’s felt before. 

“Tearing my ACL was definitely a setback, but the increase in my effort in training hasn’t backed down since the start of my injury so overall it’s just given me more discipline and taught me how to push myself past my previous limits,” Bates said.

Melissa Mann, junior at Jupiter High, tore her ACL and meniscus playing in a travel soccer game. Mann is the first person to receive the new B.E.A.R procedure in Palm Beach County. For this specific procedure, surgeons take an ‘implant’ of your own blood and attach your ACL to the stub of your knee, where your ACL is supposed to attach to your ACL to its condition before the injury. The implant will dissolve within 3 months after the surgery and your ACL will be regrown. 

“Tearing my ACL really made me realize to be grateful for what I have because sometimes those early morning games or practices drained me, but after realizing I can not touch a ball for the next nine months, I would take that any day,” Melissa Mann, junior soccer player, said. 

Hannah Major, senior captain on the girls lacrosse team tore her ACL at a school game in Vero Beach. She explained how drastic the change was from being so active to being cautious with her movement.

“I felt like the recovery was more mental than physical. I had to tell myself that everything would work out in the end,” Major said.

Lily Shea, junior, tore her ACL playing for the girls flag football team at Royal Palm High School.

¨It made me realize that I took for granted being able to do common things like walking, running and going up and down the stairs,” Shea said.

Gavin Meyers, sophomore, described how his injury prevented him from being productive and being able to spend time with people.

¨It made me kind of depressed watching my friends hanging out, while I was at home in bed it was hard. I have kept working, going to physical therapy and getting better,¨ Meyers said. 

It is a very hard hand of adversity to deal with, but with the right support system and mindset, it is not an impossible task to overcome.