Thirty-five percent of our student body participates in a varsity sport, a commitment that not only requires an immense time investment, but also often shapes a student-athlete’s social and academic life. So what happens when this central aspect of one’s day-to-day life at the College is dramatically altered by one of the greatest difficulties a student-athlete can face – a major injury?
“The hardest part is not being able to contribute, especially when your team is struggling,” said Alex Smigelski ’10, a forward and captain on men’s ice hockey. “You want to be able to help, but knowing you can’t is difficult to deal with.”
Smigelski spent a good deal of the season wanting to help from the sidelines after breaking his right arm on Feb. 2 after colliding with a Trinity player while skating to the puck. Shortly thereafter, he underwent surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgeries in New York; two plates and four screws will remain in his arm for the rest of his life.
“My goal was to be ready for the playoffs, even though I knew that no matter how quickly I healed that it would still be broken, and I would have to play with a hard cast on,” Smigelski said. To reach his goal, he rode a stationary bike to keep in shape, and three weeks after the injury, began skating again without a stick. Head Coach Bill Kangas held private skating sessions with Smigelski during his recovery period. The sessions helped maintain his fitness level and sped up his return to the ice.
“I did everything I could to get back, and I was able to play against Middlebury in the second round of playoffs with a cast on,” he said.
If suffering one injury has such lasting effects on an athlete’s entire season, two seems unthinkable – but it happened, to men’s basketball player Joe Geoghegan ’10. On November 20, 2008 Geoghegan broke his right hand while going after a loose ball at practice. He had surgery the next day, and after the surgeons inserted six screws in his hand, missed about nine games.
“I felt terrible, but the team responded strongly and did not miss a beat,” Geoghegan said. “I guess the biggest thing that the team missed while I was out was rebounding. My main objective in games is to rebound, not to score.” He also modestly added that he feels it was hard for the team to miss him at all, since they played so well while he was injured. But because he was the leading returning scorer and rebounder coming into last season, it is clear that his absence made a difference on the court.
“Joe handled an adverse situation as well as one could possibly handle it,” said Head Coach Mike Maker. “He’s very humble, but it was a major loss for our basketball team when he was injured. We were 8-2 when Joe played, and I’m a better coach when Joe plays,” he added.
Geoghegan was able to return to the season approximately a month later and had only played a few games when, on Jan. 31, he broke his left leg in a game against Middlebury. The new injury was harder to take than the initial one, since it came at a time when he was just beginning to regain his rhythm. “I tried to keep my head up because I knew there was a chance I could make it to the playoffs,” Geoghegan said. Unfortunately, his leg did not heal in time, and he had to sit out the rest of the season. Knowing that he has another year to play is what Geoghegan sees as the best part of the situation.
“We don’t really dwell on things that don’t go our way,” Maker said, “and we’re looking forward to him being healthy next year and playing as a senior. His presence alone on the court makes a major difference.”
Lucy Marchese ’11 is the leading doubles player for women’s tennis. She took home the Flight 3 singles title in the 2007 New England Women’s Intercollegiate Tennis Tournament (NEWITT) and paired up with Nikki Reich ’11 to take home the Flight 3 doubles crown in the same tournament. But at the beginning of last year’s season, she suffered a major knee injury that had her off the courts for an entire year. She tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus in her left knee and only just made her return to the team last weekend when she played in matches against Amherst, Bowdoin and Colby.
While Marchese was out, she didn’t dwell on her injury, and instead remained a visible member of the team. “Tennis is a small team, so missing any player affects the team greatly,” Marchese said. “However, I went to every match and helped to assistant coach. I was very upset being injured and staying very connected to tennis helped me a lot.”
Her injury is still very much with her; she has both patella tendonitis and a build-up of scar tissue in her knee, but playing through the pain this weekend brought her success, as she defeated her Bowdoin opponent in singles Sunday. Later on the same day, she partnered with Ashley Parsons ’10 to claim an 8-4 win in her doubles match against Colby.
“Before tearing my knee, I had never been injured before. When I was injured, I realized how much I took tennis for granted,” Marchese said.
Most student-athletes have a year or two to become immersed in the routine that their varsity sport plays in their lives, but the case of Lisa Jaris ’12 proves, injury can strike even before collegiate careers begin. Jaris, a member of women’s basketball, tore her ACL and meniscus two minutes into the game against Tufts on Jan. 16. Nearly half the season remained.
“Lisa’s injury occurred during our first conference game; she was playing her best basketball of the season at the time of the injury,” said Head Coach Patricia Manning. “We had other players step in, but losing her definitely hurt our depth.”
“It was hard missing games and being on such a small team because every person’s presence is felt,” Jaris said, echoing Marchese’s sentiments about tennis. “Until you experience a major injury you never expect it to happen, so my injury reminded them not to take any games or practices for granted.”
Although having to sit out in one’s debut season as a collegiate athlete is hardly ideal, Jaris is thankful the injury happened during her first year. “I am counting down the days until I can start playing again,” she said. “I now have an unbelievable amount of motivation to make the most of my next three years.”