Mallory Maxwell, former libero for the Eastern Kentucky University volleyball team, was waiting in the left back to get her hands on a ball that had been pushed to deep corner. She jumped into the air to make the play, but when she came down her knee buckled, she dropped and it was immediately made aware that something was not right.
“It was the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Maxwell said, reminiscing on the practice that she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
ACL injuries are one of the most common injuries across a wide variety of sports, due to high demand of movement and stress put on the ligaments. Whenever an athlete goes down and is holding their knee most minds wander to this and Maxwell’s did just that.
“I just thought, my career is over because it just didn’t feel normal,” the Chicago, Illinois native stated. “I did make the play and get the point though.”
Upon first-look, she was told by trainers that she hadn’t torn anything just dislocated her knee cap. However, when Maxwell went to the doctor he confirmed nearly the worst-case scenario, especially for an athlete getting ready to enter their senior season, that she had torn her ACL.
Despite being on crutches, Maxwell was determined to start lifting to strengthen her quad, calf and hamstring before she had to have surgery. She knew that doing this would make her recovery quicker, thus getting her back on the court sooner so she could close her career with the girls she started it with.
Post-operation, Maxwell was more determined than ever to start rebuilding her muscle and improving her range of motion and within a week she started putting pressure of her leg by walking with crutches. She began doing heel slides almost obsessively. Doing sets of 30 every hour of every day at home.
“The support I received during the whole process helped me a lot mentally,” she stated. “The girls on the team and the coaching staff were there supporting me every step of the way. They knew it was going to be a really emotional time for me, and because I had a goal in mind they knew how hard the rehab process would be. Having a roommate who had torn her ACL multiple times and knew just what to do really helped as well.”
Mentally this injury was extremely difficult for the Colonel libero, especially after being told that she probably would not make it back in time to compete this season, but the internal storm that caused pushed her harder to make sure she could.
“So I said, okay well I’m going to prove them wrong and I’m coming back.” said Maxwell. The thought of not being able to make any more memories on the court with these girls she considers family was not a thought she was willing to accept. So, she put in the time, dedicated herself to her rehabilitation and was able to play in a very quick 4 months.
When Maxwell returned to the court, EKU went on to beat the number one seed, Austin Peay, and remain the only team to beat them in league play. Some could say that it’s luck, but for the team having the senior back was the push they needed to translate all their hard work and effort into winning as a team.
“I was really nervous that first game back,” explained Maxwell. “I felt like I had no clue how to play volleyball, I had to work really hard to focus on getting in a groove during the game. I felt like a freshman again.”
For the senior this is just the beginning of her last season, although statistically and otherwise she has jumped into the role of defensive specialist and made a huge impact, she still feels that she has so much more to give. As someone who expects a lot of themselves she has not really had that moment yet where she knows she is back.
“When the season came around for me the hardest part wasn’t the fear of re-injuring myself, the hardest part came when I would play and compare myself to where I was pre-injury to where I am now,” she said. “You have to be able to move on, and acknowledge that this is where you are and all you can do is keep looking forward, and keep working your hardest to be the best player you could be now, without comparing yourself to what you were before.”
Conversations with Head Coach Lori Duncan have helped Maxwell realize that if she could go back and change the way things happened she absolutely would not. “Everything I went through happened for a reason,” she explained, “As I go through process of playing again and I look back at all the hard work I put in, the struggles I went through with my injury were vital in making me the person I am right now. It’s nice to find out those things about yourself.”
Rachel Woody, reigning Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, tore her ACL and meniscus as soon as Maxwell came back.
“The doctors are telling me to use Mal’s recovery period as motivation,” Woody explained. “She is the first person I go to about anything to do with my ACL. She was the first person to text me after and she texts me every day to check on me.” The sophomore plans to use Maxwell’s quick recovery time as a competition, reassuring all Colonel fans that she will beat it.
“It’s nice to get my story out,” smiled Maxwell. “You don’t really talk about injuries like this. It’s more a conversation that you have with your coach or your parents, so it’s nice to share it with someone else. It’s important for people to be able to be able to talk about their injuries and see that even though its hard you can come back and you can finish strong.”
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