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Mutilated Mules

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Mutilated Mules
Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

During my sophomore year, I began to experience a pain in my shoulder every time I went to hit a volleyball. As a volleyball player, it didn’t help that I overused my shoulder in every practice. I tried to ignore the pain because I didn’t want to be told that I couldn’t play. Wrong idea. I noticed the pain not only when playing volleyball but whenever I was taking notes in class. Finally, during practice I took a swing on a ball and felt a pop in my shoulder. I immediately ran down to the trainers where they told me that I should have come down earlier but also that I might have to see a doctor. I spent an hour a day in the trainers office rehabbing my shoulder and trying to build the strength back up. When I met with the doctor they said that I had a tear in my labrum, which is the cartilage that holds the ball in the joint of your arm. 

During a sports season, there are endless possible injuries an athlete may get during a practice, games or while lifting weights during training. There are injuries that you can play through and finish the season like jamming your finger where all you need is to tape it to another finger to keep from harming it again. But there are other injuries that may need a little more nurturing. I later found out that I had various other injuries that were exacerbating the tear in my labrum. I am in the trainers before every practice and game along with three separate appointments for a more hands-on treatment with one of our five trainers because of the multiple injuries in my shoulder . 

Mickey Kober ‘20 destroyed his shoulder from continuously playing the game of football. Kober’s shoulder injury was worse than mine. His injury is what is called a SLAP tear; he experienced two tears in his labrum and as a vital player for the Mules defense he played through his injury. “One of my goals in college was to start every game all four years and to be there when my teammates need me every Saturday,” he explained. Football is a little different than other sports because the trainers work with players not only for games but for practices too. Kober pays a visit to the trainers before and after practices for an ice treatment of some sort and makes additional visits for treatment. “Coming off a shoulder surgery in January, I would also go down to the trainers on Sundays for treatment so I was in there six of the seven days a week,” he said.

The trainers are a vital piece of the college sports experience, they are with the athletes during treatments and they can become close after spending everyday together. Some trainers at Muhlenberg see 20 to 30 athletes daily for hands-on treatments including heat/ice and stim–an electrical pulse that attacks the pain receptors to break down pain and help with muscle spasms. Other treatment options include an ultrasound, which sends heat deep into the muscles, joints and ligaments or whirlpool therapy where cold water is used to aid pain and control swelling while the warm whirlpool is used for circulation and helps with the blood flow. These treatments can help athletes manage injuries without feeling weakened. And while athletes might still utilize them out of season, after the season is over they rely on strengthening exercises using weights and elastic bands. Athletes can spend up to an hour a session with the trainers trying to manage the pain or discomfort of an injury, whether you sign up everyday or once.

Any injury is terrible, but one that requires surgery and prevents you from playing is the worst.  Alex Franchino ‘21, a soccer player, tore her ACL during her pre-season ending her junior season before it began. With a long recovery ahead of her she had to decide if she was going to fight to get back for her senior season. “When I first tore it, I was in the trainers every day to help manage it,” she explained. “However, after the surgery I had to start over. I’m at six and a half months now and the recovery after surgery can be seven to nine months typically.” 

Injuries can often cause an athlete to question their ability to perform because it changes your way of play; when you get a good set and you want to get that big kill yet your shoulder has already taken more swings than it can handle you switch your approach to being strategic not powerful. Yes, being strategic is always important and your team may end up getting the point regardless of the play you made. However, when you see the ball land with the force of your own strength, it’s an amazing feeling. You become a different player after an injury which can cause an athlete to question if it’s worth it to keep playing.

I have battled with the decision to end my athletic career more than I’d like to admit, however there are some days when taking notes in class causes pain and the thought of practicing tears me down. In those moments, having a relationship with the trainers is helpful because I can let them know how I feel and they can vouch that I need to rest. “The best part of the job are the relationships with the athletes that occur when time is spent working together to get them back to doing the sport they love to play,” said Lindsay Porembo, a trainer at Muhlenberg. Having them genuinely care for us makes it easier when we need a day to recover because of the relationship they also have with the coaches. “In a lot of instances, we are able to best articulate injuries, treatments, and the overall plan of care for the student-athlete to the coaches. I think we have a unique relationship with both coaches and student-athletes because we are mutually beneficial to both. Aiding in injury prevention and recovery helps both parties be safe and successful in their sport,” said Sean Morse, another one of the trainers. Our trainers understand the pain we put through our bodies on a daily basis therefore they often become one of our biggest cheerleaders.  “I feel like we feel what you feel,” said Porembo “We get excited when you go back and do something well.” 

Walking down to the trainers and being able to sit down with the same person who is helping you through the pain, helps guide you back to the sport you’ve loved since you started playing and makes you realize you’re not alone; you can do it. There are always doubts when journeying back to health. “I was back and forth in the beginning, not sure if I’d be able to do it,” said Franchino “It was going to be a huge hill to climb but I decided I wanted to fight for it and I’ve been determined ever since.” And after enduring an injury she actually ended up feeling more confident. “Soccer has been a piece of my life since I can remember. I’ve always played. It’s part of who I am and now has so many other elements that are part of who I am that the sport helped shape me. It taught me what it was like to work really hard for what I want to work along with others, discipline training etc. And it showed me what a high you can get from that hard work paying off. I’m addicted to that high and I desperately want to get it back. I want to be able to sprint down a field again and kick a soaring ball into the box.”

It’s hard for non-athletes to understand why we’d walk around campus with an ice bag wrapped around our shoulder, knees or back. Playing through an injury is like when an author finally comes out of writer’s block and finishes the story they’ve had stewing in their mind for months. Athletes spend so much time practicing, watching film, working out in the weight room, and giving your all into the sport they fell in love with. 

Waking up on a Wednesday morning it hits me that it’s game day, and even better, it’s a home game. Going throughout my normal day I sit in class, taking notes and I feel my shoulder becoming tired. It’s only 11:36 and I still have to get through the rest of classes and then play tonight. Sitting with teammates for lunch we discuss our days and talk about our upcoming game, talking strategy and going over what we’ve been watching of the other team’s film. As I’m taking notes in my next class my shoulder starts to ache. My arm is uncomfortable and I have to shift positions. The day is finally over and it’s game time. I’m in the locker room with my team, listening to music and getting hyped for the game that’s approaching. Some of us make our way to the trainers to get heat to help warm up and loosen the muscles, and Porembo puts a fresh piece of KT Tape on my bicep. (KT Tape is used to support and relieve pain in muscles, joints, and/or ligaments.) It doesn’t work for some people but it’s been working for me. “How does it feel Alycia?” Morse asks, walking out of his office. “Sore. It feels really sore today.” I respond with a nervous laugh. I move to the wall and start the stretches they have instructed me to. 

The music in the gym is blaring and I’ve hit my atmosphere. You can tell the team is pumped and ready to go. I join our warmup and the pain in my shoulder disappears, that is until I start hitting lines. I prepare myself for what the night is going to entail. “Take it easy ‘lycia,” it’s my coach’s voice as she runs past me under the net to toss the balls. I watched the balls hit the platform of a passer to the hands of the setter, through the air and slammed into the ground by one of our hitters. I do as she says and only hit the ball at 60%. That’s one.

It’s game time and my shoulder isn’t even a thought in my head. The ref blows the whistle, and the ball flies across the net into the platform of our serve receivers, set by our setter, and it’s mine. I track the ball and start my approach, my arm swings back, and pulls up, my hand makes contact with the ball and it lands on the court right where I want it. I turn to celebrate with my team and I see them all with enthusiasm on their faces. My coaches are applauding and our families and friends are clapping their hands and smiling. And even though I’ve endured injuries and put my body through hours of treatment, I would never change it. It’s worth it. Every treatment, every rep, every push to be the best I can. Volleyball has brought a sense of confidence and self-pride. There’s nothing like stepping onto that court and giving it your all, but it’s even better knowing that I didn’t let my injuries stop me.

Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

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