Torn ACL takes three-sport athlete on a journey that challenged her strength both physically and mentally
Devastating injuries are an unfortunate reality in the sports world, whether it occurs to a world-class athlete, someone playing in a backyard game, or anywhere in-between.
But for many, the physical pain turns out to be the easy part of the process. It's the mental hurdle, the trust and the faith, that is the biggest test and for Palmyra-Macedon senior Abby Halsey, an anterior cruciate ligament tear did all of that.
The journey for Halsey began her junior year, on the soccer pitch.
“It was our first home game,” said Halsey. “I was battling a girl for the ball. She came around and my knocked my leg in from behind me. That's how I tore my ACL ... I knew right away what happened. I thought about all of my sports. I thought about college, because junior year is the main year for colleges to come watch. I definitely thought of my other seasons, I thought about basketball season.”
Red Raiders basketball coach Dave Gross was not there when the injury happened, but his heart went out when he got the news.
“It was a pretty devastating blow,” said Gross. “I know how great a kid she is, how hard she works, and how excited she was for basketball. I felt bad for her.”
Road to recovery
Some injuries can ruin a career. Not for Halsey, though. She's one of the fortunate athletes to have a strong support group for her rehabilitation, much of it from her family. And today, Halsey believes she's in a better place because of what she went through, starting with the long hours of physical therapy.
“I would go to PT almost every day, at least four times a week,” Halsey said. “It was frustrating for me, but I had a lot of support from my family, my teammates, and my coaches. Whenever I would be sitting at practice before PT, I would do some of my exercises. I really think think my coaches, helping me out, letting me do my exercises at practice and just being with the team really helped take my mind off everything that happened, so it kept me involved.”
Her therapists played a major role in her recovery as well.
“Even in PT, my therapists were amazing,” Halsey said. “They stuck with me whenever I was having hard times with something. They'd be like 'You want to get back to lacrosse, you want to be able to play for lacrosse? Then that's our goal, you've got to get in there.'
“They had also set up goals for me to play with some of my club teams for soccer. So I was able to practice a little bit with my club team.”
Alongside her at every step of the journey, including the very beginning when she was injured, was her family and specifically her mom, Stephanie.
“As soon as I went down, my mom actually knew right away,” said Halsey. “The last thing I remember when I went down was seeing this streak of blue running out. Me and my mom are very close. It wasn't just me that it affected, but it also affected my family.”
Stephanie was there for the game and knew immediately it wasn't good when she saw Abby fall to the turf.
“I knew it was her knee,” said Stephanie. “When you raise a child that's athletic and really passionate about sports, it's crushing because you know her whole world is going to change. I knew it was going to be emotional and a tough road for her.
“I think it was probably my lowest point as well, being her mom. A lot of tears were shed with her and without her, because I wanted to be strong for her. Just seeing her in that place for the first time was really difficult ... When you see your kid at the lowest point in her life, it brings you down too. You suffer right along with it. I think as a mom, you just want to do everything possible to make your child happy. Do whatever you can to get the job done.”
Her family sacrificed for her during the rehab process to help her get back on the field.
“They were like my coaches,” Abby said. “They stuck by my side when I couldn't do something at physical therapy. Then I knew that was one thing I had to work on at home. They would take time out of their day, like when they got home from work, and work on those things with me. It would be even simple stuff, like me lying on my back and raising my leg. That stuff was really difficult, all those simple things were so difficult for me to overcome and do ...
“They really helped me with my exercises, getting out of work early to bring me to my appointments when I couldn't drive. They were just awesome. They understood, they were there when I needed to talk to someone. I just knew they had my back 100 percent.”
Learning on the fly
Of course, Abby learned plenty while going through the rehab process. But the education wasn't hers alone.
“My main drive was to get her healthy again and get her spirits up and get her back doing what she loved the most, and that was playing sports,” Stephanie said. “I never realized the extent of this injury until you personally walk through it. To watch someone who was so strong to be so weak was really tough. It was not only getting her physically strong again, it was emotionally and mentally. It was quite a journey for a typical girl, I think.”
Her family was also responsible for an idea that helped her mentally through the process.
“We have a community center here,” said Abby. “I actually coached a kid's team, which really helped me a lot because I was being involved. I got to coach kids and let them get a feel for the information I knew. That was really cool and a great experience.”
A terrible injury can have a profound impact for better or for worse on a player regardless of age. The possibility of a profoundly negative impact could be even higher for a high school athlete. No chance of that with Halsey, though.
“I definitely wouldn't change anything with what happened,” said Abby. “I believe it made me stronger. The injury, it brought me to my lowest point. My confidence and everything went out the window. I thought I wasn't going be the same afterwards, and I was scared of that. That I wasn't going to be able to perform how I used to.
“But I took that fear and put it into dedication. Personally, I believe I'm back and better than I was before. I'm a wiser athlete because I had to take my junior year from a different perspective. I couldn't be a leader on the field, so I had to change that and be a leader from the bench and still be there for my teammates.”
Gross got to keep an eye on Halsey throughout the process when she was at the practices despite rehab.
“It showed how motivated and how hard of a worker she was to have to watch from the sideline but continue to do her rehab and PT,” Gross said. “It was impressive. I think at times it was hard for her to watch, but she became someone who was able to see the game from a different perspective and give tips to the players, to her teammates to pump them up and keep them moving forward.”
Time to test
Eventually, though, the day did come where she put her knee to the physical test. Three sports seasons had passed with her on the sideline and even though she was wiser from the different perspective, her first try on the basketball court remained an unknown.
“I was nervous,” Halsey said. “I thought about all the worst things that could happen before I went out. What if my knee gives out? What if this happens again? What if it's my other knee that gives out?
“But as soon as I got playing, I was having fun again. I got the taste of what it was like to play again, and I just rolled with it. As soon as I was playing, I was like 'This is actually happening!' and I let everything go. I wasn't nervous anymore, I didn't think about my injury and what could happen. I played my heart out.”
Her mom was thrilled to see her back out doing what Halsey loved doing as well.
“Prouder of her more than I was before the injury,” Stephanie said. “Because watching her go through the process of getting there, and seeing her back at it and doing what she loved, it was better than before. You're more appreciative and more grateful for the moments. Because when they're missed and then you're not watching that, you miss it. It's a void in your life. Having her back at it and happy, it's a very awesome feeling.”
When Gross saw Abby make the transition from the bench to even voluntary practices, he was not surprised but he was still happy.
“We did some spring after-school shootarounds,” Gross said. “She seemed to be really eager to get back in the gym. She participated, they were all voluntary, and she participated in all of them. She was kind of taking it slow at first, but she got her feet wet and was good to go ... Knowing her work ethic and everything, I expected her to be ready to get back and push herself as much as physically possible.
“It was a pretty cool moment. The first game we played was against the defending state champions … You could see that she was pretty excited to get out there. Ever since then, I was just happy that she was able to fight all the way back through and play well.”
It may be a cliché to say Halsey is wise beyond her years, but events like this can be a catalyst. She has left quite the impression on those around her through this grueling process.
And now, she is back where she belongs, doing what she loves to do.