The long road back

LW 5

Women’s tennis player Lucy Whelan’s journey back from rupturing ACL.

Injuries are part and parcel of playing sport at the college level. From all the crunching tackles in football and the consistent pounding of the body in tennis. Injuries are just second nature in sport.

It’s when they get a serious long-term injury that people really understand just how frustrating and mentally draining injuries are.

Sophomore women’s tennis player Lucy Whelan, of Aberdeen, Scotland knows all about the process of coming back from a serious injury that put a stop to her freshman campaign.

In a training session preparing for the bears second game of their 2018 season, Whelan ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. Whelan looks back now at the moment with very little recollection. “The whole thing seems like a blur to me now, but I just remember being lobbed at practice and having to stop suddenly due to the fence being closer than I was expecting,” the small but very competitive Whelan said. “As I stopped I twisted my knee at the same time and it gave way.”

The agony Whelan went through is something she hopes other people will never have to go through. “The pain was excruciating and I heard my knee pop straight away as I collided with the fence,” Whelan said. “It was definitely the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life and I was terrified as I had never been injured seriously before.”

The moment Whelan did her ACL is still in the mind of her teammates who could see the funny side now she’s back, but also remember how worried they were. “It was funny to see Coach carrying Lucy in his arms to the bench when she did her injury but at the same time I was really worried,” sophomore Sanne Janssen, of Maastricht, Netherlands said.

Whelan was still upbeat after the injury and hoped for a miracle. “I was still in shock and not really wanting to accept it. But I still had my hopes up that by some miracle it was nothing,” Whelan said. “When our athletic trainer Sarah Lightfoot told me I needed surgery I was shocked but deep down I knew it was coming.”

With any injury, the rehab process is a grind. “The worst part about the news was how long the recovery would take. I thought that the worst case would be three to four months but when he told me anywhere from six months to a year that’s when it hit home the hardest,” Whelan said. “I knew this would mean I would miss our entire season, plus the fall semester and limit everything I could do over summer, even on holiday.”

Overcoming hurdles is a major part of rehab. Even when all of us are enjoying our summer vacations, Whelan was spending hours on rehab. “Summer break was an important time for Lucy. She had to do hours of rehab and basically learn how to walk again, whilst getting back the range of motion,” Whelan’s Athletic Trainer Sarah Lightfoot said.

The rehab process was a long, scary process back to fitness for Whelan. “The first month and a half were the worst as I was unable to feel my leg, as the femoral nerve block (medically administered pain relief) they used didn’t wear off properly for a good few weeks so I couldn’t feel from halfway up my calf to my hip essentially,” Whelan said. “This scared me the most as I thought I would never be able to run or even play tennis again as this first part was taking so long.”

The progress she made is something that has really impressed Lightfoot. “It has gone very smoothly. ACL rehab is a long journey with many highs and lows,” Lightfoot said. “Like it is for most athletes, not being able to participate in the sport she loves while recovering was very tough for her.”

Finally, after being out for almost a year Whelan is back and firing for the Bears. To cap off her recovery process she was named in the SAC second team doubles preseason award along with her partner Marta Escanero. “That was a pleasant surprise and something I wasn’t expecting,” Whelan said. “It made me super happy and showed that all my tireless hours of work that no ones see was for nothing. I just can’t wait to get back onto the court for the Bears.”

You can catch Whelan and the Bears tennis team for their home matches, which are held at the YMCA.

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