Somewhere out there, there is a woman who is about 30 and played goalie for her high school soccer team. Twelve years ago, at a tournament in Southern Illinois over Easter weekend, she collided with me. I was playing forward on the opposing soccer team and that crash snapped my tibia in half.
I remember getting a breakaway with the ball, tearing down the field, colliding with the goalie as she slid into my leg to grab the ball and then hearing a loud crack as I collapsed to the ground. My coach and teammates said my right shin looked like a valley, with the broken bones pointing towards the back of my calf, dangerously close to breaking through skin. I was rushed to the tiny hospital nearby -- over brick roads, mind you, which is an extra special treat when you have a broken leg.
From there, I took a 3-hour ambulance ride back to my hometown, which had a surgery center able to handle the injury. I underwent emergency surgery the next morning. To repair the break, the surgeon aggressively inserted a titanium rod through the middle of my broken bone (he said he bent a few tools trying to get the rod in.. thanks, I think?), along with two screws, one at the top near my knee and the other at the bottom above my ankle to hold everything in place. The goal was for the bone to gradually grow back together around the rod.
Recovery was long and painful. I was completely non-weight-bearing for what felt like ages and turned into a depressed sloth that laid on the couch, unable to lift my leg even the slightest bit off the couch. Painkillers didn't really help and the strongest ones made me too out of it to even function. I had to forgo a trip to my soon-to-be college to compete for a scholarship, fake-smiled my way through senior prom on crutches and limped slowly across the stage at graduation.
Yet, I was lucky. There have been others with tibia breaks that end up with a lower leg amputation. My doctor told me that I would eventually be back to normal. But contact sports like soccer were a risky gamble due to the fact that if I were to get kicked in a similar place again, the bone would not just break but shatter into pieces around the rod inside my leg.
As I slogged through physical therapy that summer, slowly working my back to "normal," I developed a new appreciation for simple activity.
When I was well enough, I focused on running, in a straight line, without anyone kicking at me.
In 2008, I completed my first half-marathon. In 2011, I finished my first full marathon. I've since completed countless races, 5 half-marathons, 2 more full marathons and 1 half-ironman.
There's truly not a day that goes by that I don't think about what happened that spring day. Whether aches in my leg when the weather shifts (yes, that really happens!), setting off alarms when I go through airport security or just seeing the scars on my right leg when I wear dresses or shorts, it's constantly on my mind.
The long-term effects of my injury remain to be seen, but for now, my rod reminds me that it's a privilege and a gift to be able to move freely. (And it's a great push to get going whenever I feel lazy!)
So girl, if you're out there: Thank you. Thank you for giving me a whole new appreciation for my body and for the simple ability to walk and run and jump. I never want to take it for granted.