By John Calvin Perry '20
In the fall of my junior year, I found out that I needed surgery on my left knee. It bothered me in the few months prior, really hurting when I worked out and played basketball. After multiple doctor visits, some X-Rays and MRI’s, and a plethora of questions and worries, my physician, Doctor Lawley, finally made the diagnosis.
As I sat in his office that rainy afternoon in September, I remember just staring off into space, my mind wandering while dreading all the terrible, disappointing news that might be revealed to me after I heard those sharp rasps on the heavy white door. When I finally heard the thuds of Dr. Lawley’s fist on the door, my stomach turned. I vainly tried to swallow, but my mouth dried out in choked anticipation. He informed me about my condition, and told me that this meant that I had developed cracks in my knee cartilage that caused pain, as well as catching and locking of my joints, during activity. He did not know whether a genetic predisposition generated this situation or if overuse caused the condition, but he assured me that action needed to be taken. He compassionately explained, “I believe that surgery is the only course of action that will give your knee a chance to completely heal.”
I ultimately chose, with the help of Dr. Lawley and my parents, to go ahead and have the knee surgery, which put me in a straight knee brace for twelve weeks and required a few more months of physical therapy. This long, grueling process took an abundance of mental and physical toughness, but the eventual goal of full recovery and the ability to return to all of my normal activities made it well worth the hard work.
Many of the rehabilitation exercises were uncomfortable and painful at first, and I was unsure if my knee would really improve. However, what I did know was that even though the road loomed long, and my resilience might falter, I had the drive and the ability to finish the recovery. Because of my decision to have the surgery, I missed the entire basketball season and I struggled with how to handle that. Unsure of what I was going to do about basketball the next season and undecided on how I truly desired to dedicate my time after I recovered, I spent an exorbitant amount of time agonizing over my next move. I did not yet realize the blessing in disguise that this whole process created.
As my knee healed, and I returned to the weight room to get my strength back. My high school coaches and friends started trying to convince me to play football. The sweaty, noisy gym, filled with the sound of clanging iron and blaring rap music, brought refuge to me. Since a handful of football players worked out during my block--not to mention the football coaches dropping by whenever they had a chance--I experienced a deluge of inquiries every time I worked out. I withstood the same interrogations the year before, but I did not even give it a second thought at the time because I was so focused on basketball in the summer, fall, and winter. Now, still trying to recover, and after not picking up a basketball in months, as all of my friends and coaches constantly nagged me, I started to give football a serious thought. “JC, when are you going to finally come play linebacker for me?” Coach Killen inquired in a seemingly joking, but actually serious, tone. I did not know if my heart was into the idea of starting from scratch with basketball again and I had always been a little curious about football even though I never explored it.
As I recovered and began to realize that my knee was strong enough for my ambitions to become reality, I started to push my parents about the idea of trying out football for my senior year. They did not think I was serious when I first mentioned it, but as the conversations continued and I nagged them for the response that I so eagerly longed for, they quickly realized my real desire to try it out. At first, they both despised the idea, nervous about my safety, my unrealistic expectations to pick up a new sport in only a few months, and my ability to juggle football with all of my other academic, social, and extra-curricular demands. It took about two months of convincing, but I finally wore my mom and dad down to a very uncertain, “We don’t want you to play, but it is your decision.”
I felt elated that I had the go-ahead to play, but I also experienced nervousness and uncertainty about the insanity of even thinking about playing football for the first time ever this late in my high school career. My parents scorned the idea, my doctors deterred the notion, and everyone in my life outside of my friends and coaches at school seemingly discouraged me from playing football.
My parents worried about my well-being, and probably my rationality, for thinking I could bounce back so quickly from a knee surgery and immediately start playing a new, contact-filled sport without any repercussions. My doctors expressed concern about my knee not being back to full health and that the abundance of activity could possibly have negative effects. In my mind, however, I had already done all of the self-experimentation and testing of my knee, and I was confident in my own health and ability. I could use football to re-establish myself and push myself past my previous boundaries.
It allowed me to rebel, in a sense, and to accomplish something that I wanted to do, even when everyone around me declared that it wasn’t a good idea. Absorbing everyone else’s opinions while still standing firm and fighting to achieve a feat that one truly wants or needs to accomplish is necessary sometimes. Many will deter others from attaining goals, whether their intentions are innocent or not, and it takes a little rebellion and inner defiance to fight back against what those people are pushing and prove their doubts to be invalid. Sometimes nonconformity is necessary to obtain an objective for oneself.
As spring training began in the final weeks of May, I received my first taste of what real football is like -- not just backyard or playground football in elementary school. I fell in love. The first day of full pads proved to be a little surreal for me. I tried to take in as much of the atmosphere as I could. I smelled the freshly cut grass as we flew through our warm-up, already feeling beads of cool sweat gliding down my face and arms. I felt every bit of contact with each hit I delivered and received, but I quickly started learning to embrace it.
I started the summer excited to learn as much as I could in the short time I had, trying to soak up every bit of knowledge and advice from my coaches and friends. I attended the workouts and practices every week of summer aside from one week of vacation during the AHSAA dead week, showing up every day ready to get better. Although the demanding summer schedule left me feeling physically and mentally exhausted, I resolutely kept moving forward, grateful for the entire process.
Fall camp started in a blur and before I knew it, the season was already underway. I took the weeks and games one at a time, trying my best to prepare myself for each one and improve upon my newly acquired skills. After some particularly rough practices, the lengthy season seemed to be never ending in my mind. But in no time, all ten games came and went, flying by long before I was ready for them to end. My football career had concluded in the blink of an eye, just a mere eight months after its inauguration. After putting on a helmet and pads for the first time in my life, it was now time to retire them forever. I was disappointed that the season had ended so soon, but all of the time off during the past two months since my last game has given me a chance to reflect more deeply on what this whole experience did for me and how it changed me.
Playing football helped me grow both mentally and physically in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I signed up. Not only did I improve the skills required to play football, but I am in the best shape of my life. I also improved my work ethic and mental toughness, all the while learning more about being a part of a team than ever before. I am blessed that I made a full recovery with my knee, and I am inexpressibly appreciative to be as physically healthy and active as I was before. I realized over the past year that being forced to sit out for months on end and missing out on basketball season truly ended up being a blessing. It allowed me to experience how it feels to be helpless and defeated, as well as how important it is to test my limits and push myself to achieve my goals even when everyone around me is overly cautious about my ambitions. It gave me a chance to try a new sport during my senior year and really fall in love with it.
Through this experience, I have developed more appreciation for how bad situations can turn into great outcomes with a little bit of patience, perseverance, and experimentation, and I am extremely glad that I decided to pursue this absurd, unrealistic, and rebellious goal of playing a new sport for the first time ever in my last year of high school.
So, fellow students... I urge you to make a bold choice and try something that is out of your comfort zone. Make a decision that interests you, excites you, and maybe even scares you a little. You may be surprised at how much of a difference it can make in your life when you take that chance.