You hear athletes talking about how difficult it is coming back from one ACL tear. Now imagine having to try and come back from three in a four-year period. The mental strain of the injury is hard enough to come back from. Knowing that it may happen again is enough to drive a person up the wall.
Medialle College soccer player Marissa Campbell knows what it’s likes to have to come back from multiple ACL injuries. The midfielder first tore her knee up playing soccer for Niagara Catholic High School in 2013.
That was just the beginning for Campbell and her knee injuries. In 2016, Campbell tore her knee up again playing hoops during her senior season. Just as you thought it couldn't get worse for this very talented soccer player, Campbell once again ripped up her knee during a co-ed soccer game in 2017.
Three knee injuries in a four-year span for Campbell, who has dedicated her life to sports.
“Coming back from one ACL tear itself is hard enough, but three in less than four years was really a challenge. I don’t think a lot of people realize how difficult it truly is. Having to go through surgery and then months of rehab is draining. A huge part of the comeback is the type of surgery you have done (first was hamstring and second and third were cadaver for me). You almost have to train yourself to walk again and regain strength in your leg muscles,” explained Campbell. “For me, I had strict guidelines of what month I could begin walking with crutches, walking without crutches, riding the bike, jogging in straight lines, jumping cutting, etc. Physical therapy was no joke, I went two or three times a week for six-seven months straight. More than anything though it was mentally draining. Nothing is worse than having to sit on the bench and watch your team play when you can’t even run. There were a lot of tears and mental breakdowns because I couldn’t do what I loved for such a long time, and it kept being taken away from me. When you realize you’re only on month two out of seven, it hurts. It was more of a heartbreak every single time, but I knew I had to keep working hard, because of what was on the other end of it. I hear people say “Three times? And you’re still playing?” There was never a question in my mind that I wouldn’t be. The best words to sum up how an ACL tear feels are devastating, heartbreaking, and frustrating.”
You think it would have been enough for Campbell with three knee injuries. While others would have called it quits, Campbell was doing everything she could to get back on the field.
She wanted to show everyone that she could be the same player she was before the injuries. She wanted to prove to people that she wasn't going to give up because she had a little bump in the road.
“I remember when I tore it the third time, the first thought that immediately popped into my head was this was the last time I would step on a soccer field for the next eight months. I knew I tore it right away, and was beside myself for the next week or so because of the timing and that it actually happened again,” stated Campbell. “I had so many people telling me it was time to give up soccer. Friends, family, and especially my doctor all said that I should call it quits, which I do not blame them for saying, who keeps going back to what breaks them? Although I listened to what they were saying, not for one-second did giving up ever cross my mind. The only thought that ever went through my head was how I was going to come back stronger and mentally prepared. There were of course people who had my back (my parents even encouraged me to ask my doctor if I could play with a brace and get surgery after the season ended - my doctor didn’t like that one).”
Defining the odds, Campbell walked back on the pitch this spring ready to compete for a spot in the starting midfield. Stepping on the field was emotional enough for Campbell. She knew the hard work she has put in was paying off.
She also knows that this will happen again. Her knee is so messed up that it could go at anytime. Campbell is cherishing every moment on the field, because at any moment her season could be over.
“I think the hardest part about this whole thing is that I know it is going to happen again, the chances are so high and my knee is so weak. I almost feel like that makes me appreciate playing more, knowing that it’s going to be taken from me again. It does affect my playing though. I have to shy away from tackles at times because I’m afraid of something happening. I am not at all the player I used to be, I used to be so fast, I had great fitness, I was agile and quick,” stated Campbell. “Now, I am slow, I struggle to run, and my feet are too quick for the rest of my legs. I try to look at it as a good thing though, I focus on my agility and working with my speed when training alone. It is hard playing in games, your opponent is going full force at you, nobody knows all I’ve been through and how different my body is - everything is more challenging for me. The other players don’t realize that my 100 percent effort is equal to their 75 percent, because it is that much harder for me. This gives me a reason to go 110 percent. I recognize that I need to work harder, but that’s something I’ve accepted that comes with my struggle.”
While her natural ability may be gone from all the injuries, that hasn’t stopped Campbell from working on her game. Still a gifted midfielder, Campbell now makes sure her footwork is top notch. She might not be able to run with the speed that she used to, but she is still a solid player in the midfield.
As the game goes on, Campbell needs to make sure she makes the adjustments she needs to succeed on the field - and to help her team win. It’s the little things that she’s been doing in practice and on her own that have made the difference.
“If you’ve watched me play, you know my greatest asset is my footwork. I try to work on new moves and figure out how I can apply them to game like situations. I love megging people and it’s something I really didn’t start doing until college because I worked on it so much. I try to watch soccer when I can, I’m a big fan of the USWNT,” stated Campbell. “I take every chance I get to play, thankfully. I have three siblings who also love soccer so it’s easy for me to go to a park and knock the ball around with them. I’ve tried to get more involved with coaching as well, which I think really puts the game into perspective. I coach for Soccer Shots Buffalo with 2-7 year olds, which isn’t much in terms of improving my game but it helps bring me back to basics sometimes.”
Coaching is something that Campbell loves to do, and she has had the opportunity to go back to Niagara Catholic to help out the soccer program. This summer, however, Niagara Catholic closed its door due to poor enrollment.
It was a blow to the Niagara Falls community and to Campbell who was ready to help young girls on the soccer field for another year.
“It was so heartbreaking to hear about NC closing, that place was a second home to me and so many others. My younger sister was supposed to be a senior and my brother was going into 10th,” stated Campbell. “Niagara Catholic was something special. My best memories in high school were from playing sports. That week off in between sport seasons was always so weird. I actually had the opportunity to coach modified soccer there in the spring of 2016 and 2017, and my twin sister and I coached the girls varsity soccer team in 2017 as well (my twin plays for D’Youville and is “lucky” with only one ACL tear). We helped the girls get their first win since the two of us played in 2015. I was really looking forward to coaching again this year, and am so sad that I won’t be able to.”