Abby Matthews moves past three ACL tears

by Austin Chen, Sports Editor
photo contributed by Abby Matthews

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears inspire special fear in the minds of athletes. Because surgery and extensive physical therapy are required to fully recover from this worst-case-scenario knee injury, an ACL tear puts an athlete out of commission for anywhere from six months to two years. Even upon return, there’s no guarantee that the player will ever be the same.

Girls basketball and volleyball captain senior Abby Matthews tore her ACL three times in 20 months.

The first came during her sophomore basketball season, but she said she didn’t even realize it was torn at first.

“It was strange. I was hit, and I went down, and then I got up and walked off the court,” she said. “It’s only when I went back in the game [and] I tried to jump for a rebound that my knee completely buckled.”

Despite the major setback, Matthews said she was determined to get back on the court as soon as possible.

“I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, and they basically geared me to be disappointed,” she said. “I said that I was absolutely not going to do that.”

Girls basketball head coach Joe Rogers said that Matthews attacked her physical therapy regimen as if each check-in was a challenge to her ability to recover.

“She would update me very regularly on how the PT [physical therapy] was going on and how the rehab was going,” he said. “She was as competitive with doing the rehab as she was as a basketball player.”

After recovering, Matthews went on to tear her other ACL during her junior volleyball season, just under 12 months after the first tear. While frustrated and disappointed after the first two injuries, Matthews said the third was the hardest to bear, coming just as she was returning to volleyball her senior year.

“I had undergone two tears, two surgeries and two complete recoveries only just to end up back at square one again,” she said. “I had a little bit of a crisis of faith, like, ‘was all that worth it,’ and ‘did I actually achieve anything in that time?’”

ACL tears only require surgery if the athlete wants to return to sports, and while daily life is limited, many prefer not to have the operation and undergo an arduous recovery process. After a third tear, Matthews said she was done with hospital stays and resistance bands.

“Thinking about what comes along with surgery, it’s not just the whole recovery in terms of sports, but it’s a big chunk out of your life,” she said. “I was more worried about the fact that I would lose my sense of normalcy.”

This basketball season, however, Matthews has made her presence felt despite having the game taken away from her by transitioning to a more managerial role, Rogers said.

“She knows exactly what’s going on and can help teammates who don’t have things picked up,” he said. “She’s been really valuable in all of those ways as a kind of player-coach.”

Matthews’ teammates said she has approached her new role skillfully. Senior Siobhan Murphy said Matthews always has a positive mindset and helps the team however she can, and senior Erin McElduff said Matthews still has an impact on the game.

“Honestly sometimes I see her as a coach,” McElduff said. “She’s super helpful and smart and always knows what’s going on.”

Rogers said the clearest example of Matthews’ commitment to the team is that she continues to stay involved even when a return to the court is impossible.

“I can’t overstate the uniqueness of someone continuing to come back to the program essentially three years in a row,” he said. “The idea that she’s engaged every day, when she knows she’s not going to be able to participate. That is a really unique thing.”