Ben Hargrave

Ben Hargrave is a lift engineer, who has always been into sports, especially football.

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1) Can you share your ACL story?

I first tore my right ACL in 2008, during a football match - no challenge, just a twist and a pop. I went to the hospital the next day but nothing was diagnosed, as I have large quads and calves. No manual tests flagged up a torn ACL and I was told to rest. After the swelling went down and I tried to use the knee, but it kept giving way. I was diagnosed after the MRI but it was 14 months after initial injury. I had the operation using an ACL hamstring autograft, and had a medial and lateral menisecomy including bucket handle tear. Rehab was hard - I was in a brace for 8 weeks and it was really tough breaking down scar tissue but I got there in the end.

It was only a few games in after first knee surgery that I felt the pop in my left knee. In fact I think it was the first competitive game. I did not feel the same pain as before but I know something wasn't right. I went to get an MRI again and it was brought up as major partial tear to PCL. I was told this would be OK and just carried on - I went off to play football shortly after, but it did not feel right and the knee did give way a bit from time to time. It wasn't until I took a blow to the knee in a challenge when it totally went. I tried to play the next week and lasted literally seconds - I received the ball from kick off and the knee gave way. I was then diagnosed with complete rupture of ACL and medial meniscus tear, and I had the operation around 2015. I was really worried. I thought I knew what to expect, but rehab was super aggressive with no brace.

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On the first competitive game back after the second surgery I was super confident. I'd waited a year after surgery, became fit, and was looking forward to the season as it was a pre-season friendly.  Unfortunately during that game I broke my fibula in a challenge, subsequently needing a plate and 7 screws. That was a pain! But rehab for that was easier than ACL rehab, so it all good. This last season I've played the most games out of the whole squad at 25 games, scored 5 goals and enjoyed it. I've also been snowboarding this year for the first time after being advised not to ski. It was a great trip, and I made a full comeback with no knee issues whatsoever!

2) What was the hardest part of the experience?

I think the hardest part is the mental side of returning to competitive sport. For me, it was subconscious but to the point where I tore my other ACL, probably putting more pressure on it protecting the operated knee. In fact, I found it easier playing sports after having ACL reconstruction on both knees, as I no longer favoured/overcompensated on one of the knees. The brace I wore from the first knee surgery was tossed in the trash, and I just moved on from it. After the first surgery, I always had the injury in the back of my mind when playing, but with both knees done, I found I didn't think about either.

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3) How did you stay motivated throughout the process?

I've always stayed motivated by thinking, "I'm only here once". I've never really contemplated not having ACLs reconstructed as I want to do the things I love. Things might be hard and painful rehab-wise but I've always thought it's only a matter of time before it will be over, and then down the line it'll all be good.

4) What tips/advice would you share with other athletes on the road to recovery?

I would advise people to stay positive, and to get as fit as possible before surgery; really build the quads and calves.

5) Do you think these experiences have changed you as a person?

I feel like my injuries are part of me; I love my scars, as they are like tattoos that tell a story, I was stopped at 28 by the ACL injury, which was probably my prime time. It was disappointing but after fighting through the ACL injuries, I have a greater appreciation for being able to run and be active.