Lauren Agan, 23, played NCAA Division 1 volleyball at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, while completing her bachelor of science degree in addiction studies and psychology.
Passionate about volleyball, she continued to play in England at the University of Nottingham while completing her masters of science degree in health psychology.
She is now a Health Coach and is still actively involved with volleyball through coaching 11-year old volleyball players. It has now been 4 months since her ACL reconstruction.
After making a comeback, she is eager to to run a 5K. This is a big deal for her because she was previously not a runner, but misses and appreciates running so much more after being restricted from running for such a long period of time. She also plans on returning to volleyball again.
Although an absolute dream for her would be to play in Europe professionally, she would also be happy just playing the sport again just for fun with her friends.
1) Can you share your ACL story?
I played volleyball for as long as I can remember. I played at the Division 1 level and after graduation decided I didn’t want to be finished so I moved to England to get a Master’s degree and continue playing volleyball for the university team.
Throughout my undergrad volleyball career, the only injury I experienced was a minor ankle sprain and that kept me out for only about 1 day. At the beginning of this year, I got a concussion and was out for almost 3 weeks, the longest I had ever been out of volleyball.
My first game back, I tore my ACL and meniscus. For as long as I can remember, I always landed on my left leg first after jumping and hitting. The thousands of times I did that I never watched myself land. When I tore my ACL, I saw the whole thing. My knee went in and out and next thing I knew I was on the ground. My first thought was “I’m gonna need surgery and I’m out.” We only had 6 players dressed out for this game so if I was out, that meant we had to forfeit.
Being my competitive self and having no strict guidelines from a coach or trainer to tell me “no”, I went back on the court and hobbled around. Thankfully we only had about 5 points until we lost the game, I knew I couldn’t have continued for much longer.
Not long after, I had the ACL reconstruction using a hamstring graft (I didn’t have a choice in terms of the graft option). I had my surgery done in England and I believe the most common with the NHS is the hamstring graft.
2) What was the hardest part of the experience?
For me, the diagnosis was very difficult. When I initially went to the doctor, I was told that I had potentially dislocated my knee. I was told all of my ligaments were okay. Being in England, a conservative route was opted for, so I was prescribed physical therapy and no MRI. I was in so much pain and kind of left on my own. (I was in another country away from my family). Bending my knee and moving it was extremely painful so I just didn’t move it.
After seeing a different physical therapist I was told my MCL may be affected and suggested I have an MRI. Long story short, 2 months after my initial injury, I found out I had torn my ACL. So at this point my knee was STIFF. I could barely get my knee to 70 degrees. When I saw the surgeon, I was instructed to do intense physical therapy to get full mobility of my knee back before I could have surgery.
I injured my knee on March 7th and had surgery August 18th. During surgery, the surgeon found that I had not only torn my ACL, but also my meniscus. Having such a long time between my injury and operation allowed me to get very strong before surgery. I was lifting weights and doing some cardio up until my surgery date. I think this also helped my recovery, I was able to do straight leg lifts while I was still in the hospital. Not knowing was very challenging and the stiffness I had pre-surgery meant I had to do intense physical therapy before and after surgery which was exhausting and painful. During this entire period, I was away from my family, in a new country, and my sport had just been taken from me.
3) How did you stay motivated throughout the process?
I still have a long road ahead of me and although I am officially retired from collegiate volleyball I still want to be able to play again - that is my ultimate goal.
Having a good support system literally saved me through this process. My boyfriend was incredible and helped motivate me and keep my head up. My friends and family were so supportive as well; always checking in on me.
Having that support system was something I am so grateful for because if I didn’t have this I know I would have fallen into a depression. The mental side of this injury is incredibly tough and I injured myself at the tail end of my career - I can’t imagine how it would have felt going through this in the middle of my undergrad college career.
4) What advice would you give to other athletes on the road to recovery?
Surround yourself with supportive people but also people who know what you are going through.
I joined a lot of ACL support groups on Facebook. It was so comforting to see how many other people were going through the same struggles I was. I also made a lot of good friends through this and met other people who had torn their ACL - your scars give you a story to talk about.
Keep up with your physical therapy as well. It is going to hurt and feel uncomfortable, but it’s the only way you’ll get better quickly but also have fun at physical therapy.
My physical therapist in England is the best. I had him before my surgery and after. You will develop such a great relationship with this person and I honestly looked forward to my physical therapy sessions because of this.
It will be hard but surrounding yourself with supportive and positive people will help. Your injury gives you an edge that most people won’t have; you will appreciate the little things more, and learn to love your sport more than you ever thought possible.
5) Do you think this experience has changed you?
Throughout this whole experience, I have gained a greater appreciation for working out, running, and volleyball. I’m going to be honest, this injury SUCKS and I think anyone who has gone through it or has seen someone battle it would agree with me. But the new love and appreciation I have gained for my sport and just simply being able to walk without limping and run again is amazing. As much as this injury sucks, you are being given an opportunity to appreciate and love something more than ever before. Adversity changes you and makes you better. I have learned so much about myself, how I can handle pain, how it’s okay to lean on your friends and family, and how you just have to keep on pushing through. I would never wish this experience on anyone but I know I am better because of it but I also can’t wait until I can play sports again and run! Like I said, wow do I appreciate these things more than I ever thought possible!
Thank you Lauren for sharing your story and in inspiring athletes from across the globe!
SPECIAL THANKS TO LAUREN’S RECOVERY TEAM:
Dr. Nitin Badhe, Surgeon
Nathan Gunning, Physiotherapist
Pete Gray, Physiotherapist