"My previous knee -- it was just an ACL." -- Liv Healy
A-C-L. These letters are so routine in women's basketball that we in media are guilty of dismissively writing, "She tore her ACL," or "she is back after recovering from a torn ACL, without really exploring what that means. We often forget the rigor that goes into the rehab, the painful days that linger during damp weather, the grind of one foot forward, two back from tearing an anterior cruciate ligament -- which joins the upper leg bone with the lower leg bone and controls the stability of the knee. The ACL takes an especially long time to heal because of its poor blood supply and location.
So we probed deeper when talking to Richmond guard Liv Healy about her second ACL tear, this one to the left knee, suffered in February at Dayton. Healy collided with Flyers guard Amber Deane, lunged toward her right and felt her left knee snap. She heard one huge pop and four smaller ones.
"I knew from the moment I hit the ground I was done," says the junior from Reading, Mass. "When they came over to me, I said, 'I've done it again, but it's worse.' "
Healy tore her right ACL 13 months prior to that in a game at St. Louis -- the same game she was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week.
2 years. 2 tears.
"This is definitely not how I pictured my four years," says Healy, who scored a career-high 17 against Dayton that day and averaged 8.2 ppg and 4.3 rpg last season in the 23 games she played. "It's been one of the most challenging things I've had to deal with. It's been a really hard adjustment for me this
year, not really knowing what my role is, taking it day by day."
The second time Healy also tore both the left and right meniscus and sprained her MCL. "I had a whole knee repair. It was also hard for me to understand how my rehab was going to be, because my previous knee -- it was just an ACL."
Here's a peek inside what Healy has dealt with since surgery, starting with the immediate hours afterward. Unable to keep the anaesthesia and nerve block down, she had to return to the hospital for a second nerve block. In fact, the doctor actually had to come to her because of the pain.
"The first 12 hours, I was in the most agonizing pain I've ever been in in my life," she says. "I'm so thankful for my loving mother and father who came down from Rhode Island to stay with me for three weeks."
Rehab every day wore on her mentally.
"You wake up one day and you squat down and you wake up the next day and you can't get out of bed. The rehab is two hours a day after everyone else has left the Robins Center. The most frustrating part is dealing with that roller coaster ride every day -- not knowing what tomorrow is going to feel like and not knowing if you're ever going to be the player that you were."
Healy was a star in the making at Richmond and a decorated as a high school player. She amassed nearly 2,000 points, tops all time at Reading High, and was the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year and ESPN Magazine's Miss Boston Player of the Year, both in 2013. She had a double-double 17 points, 10 boards in her collegiate debut against Georgetown.
"I was a Gatorade Player, All-American and now I come to college and haven't even completed one full season. I've never made it to the postseason," she says.
Some days, she says, you tackle rehab with a mindset that tells you that you can attack win, you can be that person who overcomes this without issues.
"In reality, that's not possible," she says. "You face some terrible days where you're crying in your car, but then you have great days when you can put five pounds on your leg and do leg lifts. The little progress is the most rewarding."
Healy has tried to run only to stop. Too much pain, she says, soreness that worsens during the type of weather we've had in the last few weeks when true sunshine has been a stranger.
As for playing again when -- we're not there yet. Best case scenario is returning to the floor two months after she starts running again, and Healy will try again in the next two weeks.
"A miracle could happen and I could feel great tomorrow and I could start running," she says. "It's been really difficult to deal with and the coaches have done a great job keeping me focused on the present day. Because sometimes when I have a bad day, I think I'll never be back."
Even if she's cleared in late December or January, it's not just a matter of jumping back in. ACLs mess with more than your knee. They get into your head. A year ago when Healy returned, she remembers turnovers and a lack of confidence affecting her play. By Christmas last season, she felt herself again, and then a month later came the Dayton game.
She knows this much. Before she can consider playing again, she has to be healthy. She has to be confident.
"It's not good to have one but not the other."
Healy is candid in admitting she can't promise she will be back playing at the same level as before.
"I can't say that right now," she says. "Not yet. Right now I feel like my health is a little bit higher than my confidence. I just had two friends go down with knee surgeries. One retore her ACL and meniscus, and since then, I've been terrified. I've had moments in the day when my mind wanders and I daydream and my leg will twitch and I will daydream about tearing it again. All the sudden I'll feel it and think, 'I can do it again in a second.' Until that feeling is gone, I'm not ready to step onto a basketball court."
She loves this team and is excited for the season, thrilled with the guards she calls the BIC -- Best in Conference. Yes, she longs to be a part of it, yearns to play at Providence in November, so close to her hometown when Mom, Dad and grandparents will all be in the stands.
"It makes me upset that I'm in the same position as last year and I worked so hard not to be in that position," she says.
Healy's mom told her that a silver lining would come, and it has. This fall the junior dropped her dance class for obvious reasons and picked up the only class she could find available: Journalism 101.
"I fell in love with it," she says. "I couldn't stop writing. I couldn't stop reading the news. And that's how I became a journalism major."
She is a regular writer for The Collegian, Richmond's student newspaper (we were impressed with her feature on a Richmond golfer) and is part of the Spider TV crew and social media. She will be writing about the men's basketball team during its season.
Joining a sorority is another prospect and that, along with the journalism, are all interests she would not have discovered had she not torn up her knee again.
We love that Liv has found joy in writing, something we embrace just a bit. But we hate to hear about any ACL injury of any kind and look forward to talking to her when her rehab is in the rear view mirror.