Returning to playing soccer after an ACL tear is tough, coach Seamus O’Connor said.
Recovering from two tears is nearly impossible. But former defender Cait Jackson did it.
During her sophomore year, Jackson was warming up before Temple’s game on Oct. 8, 2015 against Cincinnati when she had a familiar feeling. Jackson fielded the ball and pulled her right leg back. The second she felt it she immediately knew.
“I turned to my best friend [and former midfielder Delia Trimble] and said, ‘I just tore my ACL,’” Jackson said. “I tried to run it off but I could feel it in my knee.”
She had torn her ACL for a third time, forcing her to give up playing soccer. In her two seasons, injuries limited her to just four games before she became a student assistant coach for the 2016 season. The three ACL injuries inspired Jackson to change her intended career path. She initially studied secondary education in hopes of becoming a teacher, but Jackson decided to switch to business management in pursuit of a career in medical sales.
Advice Jackson’s father gave her in high school has helped. As Jackson debated whether to play for Temple or the University of Hartford, her dad told her to “attend the school where [she’d] be happy if soccer was one day taken,” she said.
Jackson said choosing Temple was one of the best decisions of her life, partly because of the academic opportunities it offers. When junior defender Katie McCoy tore her ACL during her freshman season in 2015, Jackson shadowed team doctors during her surgery.
“It seemed like I was having surgery all the time, and I needed to figure out what was going on in there,” Jackson said. “It was really cool to finally understand what they were doing when I go in there. Having a number of injuries myself is definitely what lead me to an interest in the medical field.”
Even though Jackson has found a new career path, it doesn’t make not playing any easier.
“Coming to the realization that I was never going to be the same player even if I tried to come back another time was devastating to me,” Jackson said. “But I also want to be able to walk when I’m 30 and still have the ability to run around, and if I continued to play, I would just be beating up my knees even more.”
Jackson suffered the first ACL tear in her left knee on the basketball court during her sophomore season at Council Rock High School South in Southampton, Pennsylvania. She stole the ball from an opponent on an attempted crossover, but it left her on the ground and unable to stand up on her own. She had to rehab the injury for nine months and missed her junior soccer season in 2012.
Jackson returned to soccer for her senior year. O’Connor, then in his first year as coach, recruited Jackson to Temple in Fall 2013. Jackson had her second ACL injury, this time in her right knee, shortly after the Owls began scouting her.
Assistant coach Paula Jurewicz, who played for the Owls from 2012-15, shared the field with Jackson as teammates at Temple and Council Rock South. Jurewicz suffered a season-ending ACL tear during her junior season in 2014. She has a great appreciation of Jackson’s determination to play after her second ACL tear.
“The toughest thing about tearing your ACL is you have to be as patient as possible because it doesn’t just heal like a broken bone,” Jurewicz said. “Coming back from one ACL tear is amazing, but coming back from two is insane. It’s the longest nine months of your life, and I don’t think I would’ve come back if I did it again.”
O’Connor said the coaching staff has “loved” having Jackson as a student assistant coach because it adds a channel of communication between him and the team.
“Student coaching has given me a different perspective both on soccer and on life,” Jackson said. “I’ve always said that I’ve learned more valuable lessons about life and adversity on the field than in any classroom.”
“She is just a natural leader [among] them,” O’Connor said.