Down but not out



The final year. The final season. One last time for the athlete to make or break. Statistics aside the year can be full of gripping moments. One soccer season could hold ten matches for a team. Ten times an athlete takes to the field or court. Ten times to fight for a win. Ten chances to come toe to toe to possible injuries.

“I just remember dropping and screaming in pain,” says Ali Palmer.

Injuries can turn any career upside down.

Palmer was the sweeper for the women’s soccer team at Sheridan for two years from 2013 – ‘15. Her position as the sweeper forces her mostly to defend her net by “sweeping away” any moves that passes other defenders. Having played since the age of nine she was familiar with the balancing act of training, study and games.

Her position of having to stifle skilled opposing attackers often leaves her susceptible to injury—always hoping to come out on top.

But in one of her ten routine match-ups, it all goes downhill in ten minutes. Her first match of her second season landed her in the hospital.

“It was supposed to be my last year of soccer at Sheridan and ten minutes into the game—I just planted my foot and my knee gave out,” says Palmer.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are common to physically demanding sports such as soccer, football and basketball. In addition, a greater number of men reported serious injury requiring significant medical treatment compared to women. According to a study done by Statistics Canada, playing or training for a sport by far outweighs other forms of activity that lead to an injury.

When seconds felt like hours and time stood still, in one of Palmer’s most fearful moments the Bruins first line of defence against athlete injuries came to the rescue. “My athletic therapist ran on the field right away and I think if she didn’t then I would have gone into shock.”

Seneca Sting’s award-winning athletic sports therapist, Steve Kopas, says each season will have injuries, and the degree of seriousness can differ greatly.

“You see a gambit of everything, from sprained ankles to concussions to fractures to dislocations… no one real injury trumps [other injuries],” says Kopas.

Having seen and catered to a number of injuries in his career, Kopas says that there is much more than the surface when it comes to a physical injury. “I mean—when you have an injury like an ACL injury, they’re out for the season and often times…. part of the next season as well.”

“When I woke up the next day, my knee was three times its size,” says Palmer. After several visits to the doctor that the Bruin’s recommended she was soon on her way to the MRI. Palmer was then set to go to a surgeon.

“I was crushed when it happened and coming back to play but still have a torn ACL I went to see a sport’s psychiatrist—cause it was very scary,” says Palmer.

For many athletes this marked the end of their sports career. It’s more than just a hobby or a past time, more than meeting friends and playing alongside them, more than trainings and games. To Kopas, it is their identity on the line when they are unable to compete in their sport.

“You take that away from an athlete that identifies themselves as being a basketball player or whatever—and now they’re unable to do that it takes a toll on them mentally… when they [athletes] do have stress or anxieties or anything like that, they play their sport—now they can’t,” says Kopas.

Keeping athletes interested and contributing to their sport is best for when athletes are no longer able to play for their team. However, for some it is too late. Kopas says their approach to athletes with injuries varies but some do fall through the cracks. “Each person is different, some athletes don’t want anything to do with the sport once they’re injured. They don’t want to be there because it’s harder on them mentally showing up to practice and not being able to do anything.”

Palmer isn’t one of those athletes. “I was determined to come back and play one more year… I knew that was gonna be my last year of soccer and that’s not how I wanted to go out,” says Palmer.

Palmer graduated from Sheridan’s Early Childhood Education program during her season with the ACL injury. However, she came  back to don the Bruin’s jersey for one more year enrolling in the educational support program. With her on their side, the Bruins went on to win five out of their ten matches.