Student-Athletes and the Test of the Injury Bug

“Haley, you changed your number!” my brother said to me after one of my games this past season.

“No, Tyler,” I responded. “I have been 23 since freshman year.”

It wasn’t that Tyler hadn’t ever come to one of my games—he was familiar with Stanford soccer. He had just never actually seen me play.

My name is Haley Rosen, and I am a junior on the Stanford women’s soccer team. In my three years and 80 possible soccer games at this school, I have suited up for a total of 11 games. I have watched the rest from the sidelines accompanied by a pair of crutches, a boot or a bag of ice on a particular part of my body.

I think it’s safe to say that, for whatever reason, I have had a bit of bad luck with injuries during my time at Stanford. Despite my mom’s various attempts “to ward off the evil” (which included various charm bracelets, necklaces and scents), I have yet to play a full season here due to three separate season-ending injuries.

Now, I realize that this sounds like the beginning of a sob story—and admittedly, there have been many tears shed over these injuries—but I don’t intend to write one. Although I cannot speak for all athletes, it is my hope that by sharing a little of my story, I can give some insight into the psychological component of an athlete’s injury.

I think that most people can recognize the fact that injuries are physically painful—most people understand that a broken arm hurts, a torn ligament hurts, a strained muscle hurts—but what often goes unnoticed is the hurt an injury can cause long after the physical pain stops. Most athletes that have made it to this level have fully committed themselves to their sport. They have missed countless parties sitting at home hydrating, seen countless sunrises during their morning workouts and have routinely spent eight hours traveling to a two-hour game. And in one moment—one misstep or one bad tackle—that whole world can turn upside down. Hopes and dreams evaporate in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, this is a feeling that I’m all too familiar with.

After all of the time that I have put into this sport, how did I get here? Three years of Stanford soccer, with only 11 games to show for it. I wonder how 10-year-old Haley, with posters of Mia Hamm all over her room, would feel if she knew she would come so close to her dreams, only to have them stripped away by injuries. Would she have kept going? Or would she have stopped right there?

Now, I realize that I am being dramatic, and the reality is that soccer has opened a world of opportunities that would not be there otherwise. I’m at my dream school, have met the most phenomenal people and have learned life lessons, skills and abilities that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. And as tough as my Stanford career has been, I have tried to view it with a “glass-half-full” kind of attitude. I’ve been able to dedicate more effort to my schoolwork, I’ve made friends outside of soccer and I’ve really been given a new perspective on everything that Stanford has to offer outside of athletics.

But this would be difficult for even the most positive of people. After my third injury, a lot of people assumed that I would quit—that coming back for a third time wouldn’t be worth it. And maybe they’re right—I’ll be a senior, but I might as well be a redshirt freshman. How can I pour my heart and soul back into this sport, knowing this could happen all over again?

I’m not alone in my disappointment. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of people supporting me throughout my journey, but that also means that in tough times, I feel like I’ve let down the same people who have sacrificed so much for my success.

My dad has been there every step of the way, and I mean literally every step. During every summer of my collegiate career, he has done my soccer workouts with me, and he doesn’t just do them—he beats the times, shortens the rests and always wants to do “one more.” Sure, he likes to work out (it takes him back to his football glory days), but the main reason he destroys workouts intended for D-I athletes 30 years younger than him is for me—to push me to be as prepared and as good as I can be.

And he’s not the only one. So many people have invested time in me as both a player and as a person. My coaches have bet on me, trainers and doctors have helped my recoveries, friends have let me vent and come to the few games that I have actually suited up for. I have a great network of people around me who I know are proud of me no matter what, and the amount of time and effort that everyone has put into my soccer means more than I can say. But after all that they have done for me, it’s still tough to shake the feeling that, in addition to letting myself down, I’ve let them down.

My journey with soccer has not by any means been easy, and coming back a third time may be the most difficult challenge yet. But the thing is, I love soccer. I love soccer with every fiber of my being. I didn’t play soccer to go to college, or because my parents made me, or for any reason other than my love of the sport—and the competitor in me is just not ready to let go.

I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. And although right now, being in the thick of this injury, it is hard to see what that reason is, I have to believe that the lessons I have learned and the injuries that I have endured will help me as my journey continues.

My mom tells me, “Sometimes we need to go backwards before we can go forward.”

I really hope she’s right.

Haley Rosen ’15

Haley Rosen is a forward on the Stanford women’s soccer team. Contact her at haleyr@stanford.edu.

About Op Ed