8 years of playing volleyball and it all came down to this season.
I remember driving up to Geneseo in August of 2016 and thinking it was so strange; I was about to begin my last preseason ever as a Geneseo Knight.
While this brought about a whirlwind of emotions, the strongest ones I felt were hunger and confidence. Never in my three years here had we even qualified for playoffs.
But that wasn’t going to be the case this year. Not this year. This was our year.
I worked hard that summer. Really hard. I religiously followed our workout program, set goals for myself, and became the strongest and most physically fit I had ever been in my whole life.
I will never forget being in my coach’s office and breaking down crying at the close of preseason when she asked me, “What do you want to accomplish this season?”
What did I want most? I wanted to succeed. I wanted to be the best leader I could be for my teammates, I wanted to work as hard as I possibly could, I wanted to make it to playoffs, I wanted to beat all the teams that we never had before, and I wanted a SUNYAC championship. Unfortunately, these goals of mine became a bit harder to accomplish a few days later when I tweaked my wrist.
I slipped on the sweaty gym floor during a scrimmage and landed on my right wrist. My hitting wrist. Although painful, I was able to play the rest of the game after getting it taped up by our head athletic trainer, Angelo Zegarelli. When the pain did not subside after a few days, Angelo scheduled an appointment for me to get an x-ray.
No way was my wrist broken. No way. I had goals to accomplish and nothing was getting in my way of that.
Nerves disappeared when the x-ray showed no sign of a break. Phew. Officially being in the clear, Angelo gave me a wrist brace to wear when I played so it wouldn’t bother me.
But it still did.
The pain got more and more intense with each passing day but I was too afraid to say anything because I didn’t want volleyball to be taken away from me for good.
I had a conversation with my coach about my concerns- my wrist was not getting any better and it was getting to a point where hitting, serving, and passing were too painful for me to do, even with the brace. She called Angelo and asked him to schedule another x-ray appointment for me. Although nervous for what the outcome of this x-ray might mean for my season, I was comforted when my coach told me that she too had once broken her wrist before and was able to play with the cast on.
I was hopeful.
The result of the second x-ray came in and I fractured my wrist. But not just any old part, a tricky part- one that takes months to heal in a cast and potentially requires surgery. I then had to make an appointment with a hand surgeon.
Stupid scaphoid. I still don’t even know how to say it right.
I returned to school after that appointment in tears. I was heartbroken. I immediately reported to my coaches office where she and Angelo were waiting for me.
“Do you think I’ll still be able to play, even with a cast on?” I asked.
“I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t look too good for you kiddo. I’m sorry,” said Angelo.
And just like that, my season was over.
Or so I thought.
Those next ten days leading up to my appointment with the hand surgeon consisted of shagging balls, cheering on teammates as loud as I could, taking diligent stats, offering advice when I could, filling up water bottles, and being the most supportive teammate I could from the sidelines.
It was difficult, but I still wanted to succeed. I wanted to win and I wanted to work hard, even though I wasn’t wearing kneepads and spandex like the rest of my teammates.
Finally, the day came. I had my appointment with the hand surgeon and he would tell me if I needed surgery, or if I would be casted and unable to play, or if I would be casted and cleared to play. My hands were so sweaty out of fear for hearing something I didn’t want to.
After waiting for what seemed like hours by myself in that waiting room, the doctor entered. He took one look at my x-ray and said “Wow, you’re lucky!”
I asked him what he meant by that, and he explained that the break in my bone was in an optimal place. No surgery, just a cast for 12 weeks.
And yes, I was cleared to play with it.
Tears started lining my cheeks faster than I could try and stop them. I was back in this. I was going to play with a cast on and no one could stop me. I facetimed my coach and Angelo to tell them the great news and so that Angelo could give the doctor instructions on how to cast my wrist for playing. I was so filled with gratitude, happiness, and motivation to join my teammates on the court again after what seemed like an eternity. I promised myself I was going to make the most of every practice, every lift, every bus ride, and treat every point of every game like it was my last. With this attitude in mind, my teammates and I made playoffs for the first time in 6 years.
But we didn’t stop there.
We played against a higher ranked team on their home court for the first round of playoffs. As a team, we decided that losing was not an option. It was not even a thought. It was not going to happen.
And it didn’t.
We advanced to semi finals and were set to play the first place team in our conference, who also happened to be the previous year’s conference champions. This was the game I had been waiting for for four years.
I wanted this game to be the greatest game of volleyball I ever played, regardless of the outcome. Since it might’ve been my last night as a Geneseo Knight, I promised myself and my teammates that I was going to leave it all out on the court.
We were down 1-2 in sets and the score was 25-25 in the fourth set. We were fighting as hard as we could.
All I remember is coming down from the net, my knee popping and crunching out of place, falling to the ground and hearing myself scream.
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
What just happened to me.
I was carried off the court and my knee was dangling from my leg. Surrounded by doctors, trainers, my coach, my mom and my athletic director, I knew it was pretty much safe to assume that I had just torn my ACL. While surrounded by all these people, I heard the announcer proclaim Brockport the winner of the match and the crowd go absolutely wild.
I was devastated.
My mom drove me back to Geneseo where Angelo was waiting for me in the athletic training room. He did a few different tests on my knee and told me that he was 100% positive I had torn my ACL, potentially with other additional damage. He told me I was going to need surgery and that he could recommend someone for me.
Even though I hated what he was telling me, I appreciated, and will always appreciate, that Angelo was brutally honest with me. That night, Angelo promised me that he would work with me every single day leading up to my surgery on strengthening my knee, and every day after that to get me back to 100%.
Little did I know in that moment that I had just gained a mentor, coach, support system and friend that I will have for life.
From that day forward, I went to the training room every day. At first it was nerve-racking and scary, but with the support of Angelo, as well as other student athletes who had torn their ACL, I started to look at my recovery with the same mentality I had during my volleyball season.
I wanted to succeed.
I was going to make this journey a positive one. I still wanted to be someone that my teammates could look up to, so I was determined to work hard. God forbid one of my teammates ever tears their ACL one day, I wanted them to be able to say “Well, Trish did it, so I can do it too.” I stayed optimistic by celebrating the little victories, like finally coming off of crutches, and praying a lot.
Pretty soon, going to the training room became the highlight of my day.
I enjoyed having someone who tolerated all of my questions and who wanted me to succeed just as much as I wanted to. I had constant support, encouragement, and reassurance that I was on the right track. While I can never thank my family, friends, teammates and coaches enough for their support and love, I will never know where to begin or even how to start thanking Angelo.
It may seem silly, thanking someone for doing their job. But Angelo did and still does so much more than that for student athletes on a daily basis.
Because ACL injuries require strengthening pre surgery, a 2.5 hour surgical procedure, and a six month rehab post surgery, many people will suffer mental challenges as a result of the length, and at times indescribable pain, that goes along with this injury’s rehab. But I can honestly say that I was optimistic and motivated throughout my journey because of my athletic trainer. When I look back at my season-playing with a broken wrist and tearing my ACL- Angelo was there for me through it all. Even when my season was over and I was still showing up to the training room every day, I was still a priority.
This journey, although causing me to be as physically weak as I’ve ever been, has made me mentally stronger than I ever could have imagined being. I appreciate my body and everything it has ever done for me. I have never valued walking and running as much as I do now.
I did this all with a positive mindset and I owe it to my athletic trainer.
Thank you, Angelo.