Facing an Athlete’s Worst Nightmare: Victory Over a Torn ACL

Planting the right foot and changing directions — a move she had executed perfectly thousands of times before. But in the middle of a lacrosse game last May, Andover Girls Lacrosse Captain Nekele McCall ’14 collapsed to the ground in pain.

She had torn her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).

“In that moment, I knew it was pretty serious, and I wouldn’t be able to play for a while. I was so focused on how much it hurt,” said McCall.

Before her ACL tear, McCall had won numerous accolades as a lacrosse player and a tri-Varsity athlete. She had been selected as a high school All-American, New England Prep All-Star and a member of the Lower New England second team for the National Tournament. McCall was also a powerful force on Andover Girls Varsity Soccer and Andover Girls Varsity Basketball.

“She is a role model with her love for the game, desire for the team to be successful and her work ethic. On the field, she wins draws, assists, scores and plays defense. She does all she can to help the team,” wrote Andover Girls Lacrosse Coach Kate Dolan in an email to The Phillipian.

McCall’s ACL tear was a blow to Andover Girls Lacrosse 2013 season. McCall was forced to redirect her attention away from her team and towards the long recovery process.

“I couldn’t imagine not playing soccer or basketball because they had been such a big part of my life, and I had been on both teams since freshman year,” said McCall.

Before ACL surgery in early July, McCall went through extensive pre-surgery rehab to increase mobility and reduce swelling.

After surgery, it took McCall three days to walk again. She was in a brace and on crutches and had an expected recovery period of six to nine months.

“After the surgery, I could fit one hand around my thigh because I didn’t use it for three weeks. I had to do a lot of strengthening exercises to build it back up again,” said McCall.

McCall went on her first run in November, five months after surgery. In her final year at Andover, she was unable to play on the Andovers Girls Varsity Soccer and Andover Girls Varsity Basketball teams due to her injury.

Despite her torn ACL, McCall attended every soccer game and many practices to remain involved with the team.

“She has not complained [about forgoing] her Senior seasons. She has remained focused on preparing herself for the lacrosse season and beyond. True courage and perseverance are required in order to come back from an ACL injury, and [McCall] has shown a great deal of both,” said Dolan.

By March, McCall began preparing for her 2014 Andover Girls Lacrosse season.

“My biggest fear was coming back a different player after rehab. Maybe I would be a little slower and not as confident on my leg, and not be able to cut like I used to be able to,” said McCall.

While McCall was initially rusty after having not played lacrosse in a year, her technique and stick work skills returned quickly.

“In fact, she may be better because she is older and more experienced, and a result, she has a deeper understanding of draw controls, the tactical aspects of offense and defense and game situations,” said Dolan.

With the return of her athletic prowess, McCall looks to maintain the balance between being a captain, fulfilling her responsibility to her team and being mindful of her injury in the long term. McCall will play lacrosse at Harvard next year.

For now, McCall’s “ultimate goal is for the team to have the best season that we can.”