7/10/2018 7:30:00 AM The rehabilitation process What happens when a high school athlete suffers a season-ending injury?
Dean Hall/Lakeland Times
Lakeland football players, from left, Garrett Holtz, Nick Kizorek and Michael Ouimette, head out to the field on crutches during a Sept. 15, 2017 game against Mosinee at River Valley Bank Field.
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times
Emma Salquist underwent surgery for a torn ACL and meniscus in 2017 and didnt return to athletic competition until early 2018. Salquist is still cautious with her knee despite making second-team All-Great Northern Conference for Lakeland in softball.
Injuries are part of sports. They always have been and always will be.
If a professional athlete suffers a season-ending injury, there is almost always next year. It may take some time to get back to 100 percent, but with today's medical advances, career-ending injuries are quite rare. If a college athlete gets injured, more often than not, they can receive a medical redshirt to recoup the season lost.
For high school athletes, a season-ending injury means that season is lost and will never come back. Many times it also means that athlete loses a season of more than one sport.
During the 2017-2018 school year, multiple Lakeland Union High School athletes suffered season-ending injuries, including ACL injuries, which has become one of the most common injuries in sports.
One of those athletes was Michael Ouimette, who suffered a torn ACL during a football practice in September, just prior to the fifth game of the season.
"I was working out with a coach after practice and I was running and my knee buckled," Ouimette said. "I knew something happened right away, but I didn't know exactly what."
Ouimette missed five of the team's nine games during the fall, while also missing the entire basketball season and the beginning of the track and field season as he recuperated.
For athletes like Ouimette, not only was the news devastating, but it was also painful for him to sit on the sidelines for most of the school year.
"It was pretty hard. It broke my heart," Ouimette said. "I found out on Friday and I was gonna go see my team because we were playing Mosinee that night. I couldn't even watch them warm up because it was so emotional being out there. It was pretty hard hearing that news that I would miss the rest of my football season and all of my basketball season for my sophomore year."
According to a motion study done by Duke University, ACL tears are more common in females due to the fact that women tend to land with straight knees more consistently than men, and a torn meniscus typically comes along with it.
Emma Salquist transferred to Lakeland from Spooner for her junior season, but she did so while going through a rehabilitation process for a torn ACL and meniscus.
Salquist suffered her injury during basketball season at Spooner in 2017, but didn't know the severity of the injury until a month later.
"My knee just fully gave out on me but it was only a sharp pain for a few minutes and then I was fine and running around," Salquist said. "I didn't know that I tore it right away. I was told I had a partial tear in my ACL so I kept doing things and playing sports and I might have done more damage to it. My doctor thought I might have torn my meniscus later on because I had been pretty active after that so I had surgery in June after that."
For a serious injury, the rehabilitation process is not only lengthy, but it can be painful.
For Ouimette, the most painful time of his recovery came directly after his surgery.
"Just having to pick my leg up and squeeze my legs together after surgery was one of the hardest things I've had to go through," Ouimette said. "It put me in tears for the first two weeks I had to do it."
In the past, doctors would give a rehab timeline of six to nine months for a torn ACL, but now the return date is more dependent on the movement of the athlete.
All athletes are different and the recovery rate is not the same for all of them. Ouimette returned to athletics by the spring, while Salquist missed nearly all of the basketball season after her June surgery.
Therapists also like to take a more cautious approach with an athlete who has a prior injury history.
"Anyone with a history of injuries, we make sure to bring them along very slowly and include more cross training to avoid further injury," Marshfield Clinic physical therapist Maureen Drewsen said.
Of course some athletes - particularly high school athletes - want to return to action as fast as possible.
That means therapists and trainers must keep a closer watch on signs the injury is not completely healed before clearing them to play.
"We also keep an eye on people who come back too early by watching their form for any limping or other compensations," Drewsen said. "If anyone has injuries early on, we try to get on top of it early instead of waiting because we'd rather have them healthy in the long run than pushing through early injuries."
There is also a matter of being confident the part of the body that was injured is going to perform properly once the athlete is cleared for return.
A famous example is former ESPN top-ranked basketball prospect in 2016, Harry Giles, who suffered a torn ACL as a sophomore and then suffered another torn ACL late in his senior season, which kept him out for the first six weeks of his freshman season at Duke.
Giles returned to the court, but played sparingly and never regained his high school form during his only college season. The Sacramento Kings still drafted Giles last June, but held him out of the entire season in an attempt to ensure he was completely healthy.
Ouimette has returned to action in full and says he doesn't worry about his knee failing him again in the future.
Salquist, meanwhile, continues to rebuild confidence in her knee and that it will perform as adequately as it did prior to her injury.
"Towards the end (of basketball season) I got a few minutes here and there, which didn't really help my confidence," Salquist said. "It's better now, but it's still in the back of my head when I'm playing, especially wearing my brace. It's kind of a reminder. I'm hesitant with certain movements like cutting. I'm leary to fully ram on my knee. I'd say I'm still working on (my confidence), honestly, and I've been playing basketball since January."
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter@NickSabatoLT.