Alexis Garcia remembers cutting left midfield into a hole in the turf during a preseason soccer scrimmage her junior year of high school. With her cleat stuck, her left leg twisted, shattering her knee and creating a pop loud enough for the referee and surrounding defenders to hear it.
Garcia fell screaming.
“I knew something was wrong,” she said, “but I never thought it’d be my ACL.”
Knowing she had a 12-month recovery and surgery ahead of her, Garcia went to work quickly.
“All right, time to start rehabbing,” she remembers thinking.
Garcia’s determination would be tested again and again after suffering two more ACL tears in two years, each with a year-long rehab waiting every time.
She tore it again the following year as a senior in high school and a third time as a college freshman, each time during preseason soccer. Garcia hasn’t played competitive soccer, a sport she’s played since age five, for four straight years.
The year-long recovery, surgery and daily rehab is what makes that distinctive pop one of the most feared injuries among athletes.
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is located in the knee and prevents the lower leg from extending too far forward, but it also stabilizes the knee and keeps it in place during side-to-side motions, according to the British Columbia Medical Journal.
By the third tear, the pain, sound and sensation were all too familiar.
“It was second nature,” she said. She remembers her knee ”popped out and I thought, ‘OK go get [electrostimulation] and ice and move on.’”
After the third ACL injury, Garcia thought her athletic career was over. She even decided against surgery to fully repair her knee.
She remained with PSUC’s soccer team in a student-manager role, but sitting on the sidelines didn’t suit Garcia.
Garcia had been an athlete most of her life. Whether it was soccer, lacrosse, basketball, softball or gymnastics, Garcia kept busy. Outside of strengthening and conditioning, this was the first time she wasn’t playing a sport since she was a young child.
“It was weird being a competitive athlete my whole life to just having way too much free time,” she said. “I think it was starting to get to me.”
Plattsburgh State added a women’s lacrosse team this spring season.
Garcia saw the new team as an opportunity to get back on a field, any field, even if she hadn’t played lacrosse since high school.
“I might as well try,” Garcia said. “I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m already down two ligaments.”
A few of Garcia’s friends on the lacrosse team encouraged her to join the newly established varsity program featuring a ragtag group of recruited freshmen and upperclassmen who haven’t played the sport in years or are picking it up for the first time. Garcia fit right in.
Garcia emailed head coach Julia Decker in late October about joining the team.
She sold herself on the experience she had been a competitive athlete for years. Decker invited her onto the team soon after, impressed with her resilience.
“Some people after one injury like that move on with their lives,” Decker said. “Others, like Alexis, go through several and keep coming back for more. They just don’t want to settle. That’s Alexis 100 percent.”
Garcia has emerged as the loudest voice on the inexperienced team in practice but has shown some struggles in the mechanics of the game as well hesitation in how she moves, thanks to her injury history, Decker said.
Garcia spent the winter break getting back in shape and prepping her scarred knees for their first season of competitive sport in over a year.
Doubts started to creep into the back of her mind and only grew louder the more time she spent preparing for her return.
“I thought, ‘What if I lost the athleticism I had? What if I’m just bad?’” she said. “What if I get hurt again?”
Garcia’s what-ifs subsided ahead of the women’s lacrosse’s inaugural season-opener.
“I get to finally dress and put on a uniform and be out there representing my school,” she said. “It means a lot.”