Fighting her way back

Every senior has big plans when it comes to their final year in high school. They think of everything they’ve accomplished over the four years both academically and athletically. The thoughts of playing their final season of sports is a special moment. Every senior wants to go out with a bang.

But, what if that was in jeopardy? What if playing your final season with your teammates and friends was on the brink of not happening? What would you do then?

That reality was on the mind of Lancaster High School soccer player Amber Conklin. Conklin was about to enter her final year with the Legends with goals, and plans. However, all those plans and goals where about to go up in smoke.

Conklin’s senior year on the pitch almost never happened. During a club soccer game in the spring Conklin hurt her knee in a non-contact kind of way. After going to the doctor she was diagnosed with a torn MCL, which is normally a three-week rehab.

No big deal.

However, after a few weeks, something wasn’t right. Conklin knew her body pretty well, and the knee just wasn’t responding. So, after going back to the doctor, Conklin, and her family, her fears came true when she was diagnosed with a torn ACL.

A devastating injury no doubt and one that will set anyone back. Just hearing the phrase torn ACL a person knows they will be in for a long and grueling rehab process.

“The injury was also non-contact therefore I didn’t think it was anything serious. When I was told it was only an MCL tear and would only take me away from soccer for three weeks I was optimistic, but being told I tore my ACL put me a state of disbelief. You here all too often of girls tearing their ACL’s but you never think it will happen to you, and then it does. After the shock subsided, I realized what this means,” explained Conklin. “I was going to take an extended break from soccer for the reconstruction surgery that wouldn’t happen until April. For months I had the scary thought in the back of the mind that I would never get back on the soccer field again. There was also the fear that I would miss my senior season on the varsity team I have played with for 4 years. I doubted that I would be able to be as strong a captain if I had to remain on the sidelines for the season.”

As Conklin found out being injured is not fun. Athletes can deal with the minor setbacks that happen during the season. But, the big injuries like a torn ACL is a different animal. Conklin knew she would have to go about the healing process on her own.

A long and tedious process that it is, Conklin had to get her mind ready to get through it. She knew she would be able to fight through the physical part – most athletes do. It’s the mental part of the process that’s grueling.

Day in and day out is all about rehab, and Conklin knew it. She had a goal to get back on the pitch and play with her teammates. She knew it was going to be tough grind every day to get the knee better just so she could play one game with her teammates.

That’s what kept her going, though. It was the fact that she had something to look forward too. She had goals in place and she wanted to reach them.

“When varsity preseason began, I was just beginning to run again. I attend every tryout and practice doing anything I could even if it was as simple as picking up cones,” stated Conklin. “Being around the team helped remind me of why I was doing this and what I was working towards. Keeping this determination was the only way I was going to recover fast enough to play in my senior season If I kept believing I could then I would get there.”

Even with her goals set to get on the pitch one last time during her senior season, Conklin knew it would be a tough task. A task that had her doubting herself. It doesn’t matter how strong of an athletes your are, or if you’re are a team captain.

The reality of maybe never playing soccer again, or not playing out her senior season, started to weight on her. She needed to have a pick me up – so to speak. And, that’s where her teammates came in.

In her team could have just let her trudge along by herself – but this was Lancaster. They are a team off the field as much as they are on it. Her teammates where there to pick her up when she would fall. They were there to root her on as she would be finishing her third day of a grueling rehab.

They were there to make her laugh and get her mind off the injury and focus on the long term goals of getting back on the pitch. They were there for comfort and support.

“On the days where I doubted my ability to make it back, my teammates were there supportive of me and would ask each day how much longer until I would be back playing,” said Conklin. “With this support behind me I wanted to show them I could do it.”

After five months of self-doubt and long rehabbing days, the day finally came when Conklin donned her red Lancaster kit and got back on the field. She admits the first time she ran out there, there were doubts. Every athlete has them as they wonder if the knee is going to hold up when they leg gets planned for the first time.

After a couple of shifts, it was the same old Conklin. She was running around making plays just like used to. There was nothing about her game that was different. She was aggressive and making plays. The only thing that may have been different was that smile.

You know the one. The one that didn’t leave her face from the time she stepped on the field until the game was over. On this day, it wasn’t about if the Legends one. It was about Conklin setting a goal and accomplishing it.
So, for one game, she was allowed to smile as much as she wanted.

“I didn’t know I could smile so big for so long until after I came off the field in that first game back. It was like five months of my life had been dedicated to making this moment happen and it was finally here,” she said. “The hardest part was over, and I felt so relieved, like if I could handle this then I could handle anything. I have a naturally competitive drive and work ethic, and being back to playing soccer I now feel like myself again.”

Conklin has always wanted her last season be one to remember. Whether that was Lancaster winning a section title, or just being able to have a successful year with her teammates, Conklin wanted the year to be special.

Being a senior captain, Conklin knows the younger players are looking up her. She knows the best way to keep the winning culture at Lancaster is by leading by example. Her teammates know what she went through. They also see her out there jogging and doing everything she can to make the team better.

Sure she didn’t play right from the start, but she was still setting a good example for the rest of the team. Conklin was instilling a winning confidence in a young team. She was showing them that there are no days off – even if you’re hurt.

“I have seen first hand a leader is successful when they lead by example. Therefore in practices I am always jogging, never walking and I am always working my hardest. I am always making sure the equipment is picked up and we are representing Lancaster in a good way when we visit other teams’ fields,” explained Conklin. “I think this season especially the example I show for my teammates is that hard work really does pay off when you have the determination and perseverance. I also demonstrate the importance of a positive attitude. Keeping my head up and staying positive got me back on the field. Any time I spent with my head down was time taken away from me playing soccer. My skills as team leader are constantly evolving.”

As for the future, who knows what lies ahead for Amber Conklin. She will be gradating in the fall and the heading off to Duquesne University, where she plans on obtaining her Doctorate in Pharmacy. As for soccer who knows. The injury wiped out the chance to be recruited – so club soccer it will be for the time being.

If there is one thing you can never do it’s count out Amber Conklin. So, maybe, just maybe, we will see her on a Division I pitch at some point.

“After graduation I plan to attend Duquesne University to obtain a Doctorate of Pharmacy. As for soccer I unfortunately missed my college recruiting season due to my ACL injury,” she said. “Therefore I will be playing club soccer during my freshman year of college, however I haven't ruled out the possibility of playing at the collegiate level one day.”

Either way, Amber Conklin has already proved to everyone that when she sets her goals she achieves them.