The images are still vivid in my mind. The seconds to the end of the game ticked closer and closer to the final whistle. I made a diagonal run and someone passed the ball to me. It bounced once, twice, before getting to me and I was boxed in by two defenders. As I planted my left foot to change directions, a horrible sound erupted. Like a sky scraper being dynamited, my knee seemed to collapse in sections. The gripping Astroturf on the indoor soccer court had held my foot and my knee torqued farther than my ACL desired. Just like that, a sport I had played for 16 years was finished.
Sure, I had surgery. A strip of my patellar tendon was grafted and fashioned into a new ACL. "Don't worry, it'll be as good as new," were parting words from my surgeon. A year later and my second trip to the soccer field after surgery nulled those words. I had come within hairs from tearing the "new" tendon. My soccer shoes were boxed and mailed to my brother (Jeremie - I hope you put those shoes to good use...) and my days as a soccer player were done.
While living in Guinea, I wandered out onto a soccer field a few times to play with the high schoolers on their red clay court lined by mango trees. Each time, I felt fortunate to walk back off and never too comfortable playing. There are just too many other activities to do other than spending more time under the surgeon's blade.
This year, the beginning of the spring semester at my school brought the start of soccer season. I am coaching the middle school soccer team and will coach the high school students later in the year. So far, it has been a lot of fun. Given our small numbers, the team is a combination of boys and girls, those who have played for years and those who are just starting, Chinese language, French conversations and laughter. It's low key - we only practice twice a week - and the focus is having a good time while learning how to play. I'm enjoying the return to the pitch!