My Comeback

By Emily Janek

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I remember the moment my college volleyball career flashed before my eyes.

It was the first district game of my senior year in high school when one wrong step forced the dreadful knee pop every athlete hopes to never hear.

I’d already signed on and committed to the University of Alabama the following year, but all of that was left up in the air the moment I learned of my torn ACL.

Then the questions came.

Does Alabama still want me to come? Was it the end of my volleyball career? What was the therapy and recovery process like after an ACL tear?

My brain was flooded with so many questions and no immediate answers.

Within an instant, everything I worked so hard for hung in the balance.

I found myself backed into a corner with only one option left in front of me: to come out swinging.

The Fight For A Dream

My fight spilled over into an intense rehabilitation process in an effort to return. There was no chance of finishing out my senior season, but if I worked hard enough, I could be ready in time to make my college debut as a freshman.

The coaches and staff at Alabama put my worries to rest when it came to potentially losing my athletic scholarship.

Their primary concern was my health, and they remained supportive throughout the entire process.

That unwavering belief in my abilities only incentivized me into doing everything I could to get well enough to contribute to the team.

I dreamt of playing college volleyball from the moment the emails and letters started coming during my freshman year in high school.

That sudden interest in my abilities on the floor was proof I had what it took to compete at the next level. It would have been downright devastating if all of that had to end because of one knee injury.

I couldn’t let that happen.

I was confident for things to fall back into place once I was able to stand up and move around freely on my own two feet again.

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Fortunately, I had teammates capable of stepping up and filling that void rather quickly. They were always there for me and did everything they could to make me feel at home. It was one of the reasons why I chose Alabama in the first place. That welcoming feeling and friendly atmosphere was my certified cure for homesickness.

The Art Of Being Prepared

The work continued when I arrived at Alabama because I clearly still wasn’t at 100 percent. Along with the strenuous rehab, I also had to combat the difficulties of being away from my family.

That aspect of college is easier for some than others, but coming from a tight-knit family, it was difficult for me to go through long stretches without seeing them.

Fortunately, I had teammates capable of stepping up and filling that void rather quickly.

They were always there for me and did everything they could to make me feel at home.

It was one of the reasons why I chose Alabama in the first place. That welcoming feeling and friendly atmosphere was my certified cure for homesickness.

And everything else was coming together once my initial nerves passed.

I didn’t enter my freshman season with many expectations. But, after a teammate went down with an injury, I saw an uptick in playing time and had an opportunity to build on my limited collegiate experience.

It was no problem for me to step in and fill a vacant role on the roster. I knew I had to be prepared to go in at any moment.

There’s no getting ready if you stay ready.

An Unexpected Season

Although I clearly have areas to improve, I walked away happy for the most part with my college debut season. It was a year with enough twists and turns to fill a maze.

There was even one final twist during our spring training session in March.

All games and practices were canceled for the rest of the season due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Our coaches held a meeting and told us everything was on shutdown. It was tough to accept at first considering the work we’ve put into preparing for next season, but there was always the option of doing some of that work at home.

We were fortunate enough to finish our season, while other athletes never got that opportunity. I’m friends with some of the girls on the softball team, for example, and it was heartbreaking to see their run cut short.

It’s a reminder that some things are bigger than sports.

But the work doesn’t stop.

Our goal is to make it to the postseason tournament next season. I’ll use the extra downtime to continue to rehab my knee and come back even stronger.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of my potential as a player in my freshman year.

And I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for this team. 

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