Like too many, Andi Boe tore her ACL — this is how she returned
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series.
MIDDLEBURY — It was just a routine play, according to recent Middlebury Union High School graduate Andi Boe (pictured, left).
It happened in the fifth game of her final soccer season, on Sept. 19, 2017, at Rice Memorial High School. Boe, by her senior year already a multi-sport all-state athlete, had racked up seven goals and four assists in the Tigers’ first four games.
After soccer, Boe planned to add to her career totals of 51 goals and 62 assists in ice hockey, help the MUHS girls’ lacrosse team repeat as Division I champion, and then give college lacrosse a try.
The sky seemed the limit.
Then that afternoon Boe cut between two Rice opponents and touched the ball forward. One Rice player challenged her from the left, making what Boe insists was clean contact that bumped the Tiger all-staroff course. The other Rice player closed in from the right, leaving Boe no space to land properly.
“I had no room to step and prevent myself from falling,” Boe recounted. “So with my foot still planted I went down. And I heard it. People on the sidelines heard it.
“People said it sounded like a pop. I heard more like a crack. It was a noise I’d never heard before from my knee.”
And she felt pain unlike anything she had ever known.
“I remember just lying on the ground screaming,” Boe said. “As I went off the field I remember having two separate thoughts in my head. One was my pet peeve — when people go down and are crying and screaming and then come back on 10 minutes later. And I was like, OK, you are not really hurt. One part of my brain was saying, wow, I’m going to be that kid when I step back on the field and play.
“And the other part of me was like, wow, I just tore my ACL.”
Just like that, Boe joined the surprising number of local athletes who have faced the multiple challenges of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a key component of the knee joint. The story of how Andi Boe tackled the physical and psychological pain of the injury speaks not only to the resilience of one elite competitor, but also shines a light on what all-too-many athletes battle when they are taken offthe field.
After that fateful collision on the Rice soccer pitch last September, Middlebury orthopedic surgeon and family friend Ben Rosenberg ordered an MRI that confirmed that Boe’s ACL, which runs horizontally through the knee joint, was torn.
As is often the case with an ACL tear there was other damage: Boe’s medial collateral ligament (MCL), which runs vertically, was strained, and she also had a tear in her meniscus cartilage, which helps cushion the knee joint.
Ultimately, after surgery, months of determined rehab, and one frightening setback, Boe’s senior year ended more happily than first expected: Another play that normally would have been routine for Boe bookended the Sept. 19 injury.
On May 23 Boe, with a brace on her knee, made a surprise return to the Tiger lacrosse lineup, a couple months after a scare almost triggered a second operation.
And 1:52 after the opening draw vs. visiting Mount Mansfield Boe curled clockwise from behind the opposing goal and did what she had done 70 times before, to go along with 57 assists — tossed the ball into the opposing net.
“My defender was out of position, and I crease-rolled and shot,” Boe said. “And the first thing I thought was, ‘I belong out here.’”
Although Boe remained at less than her full former speed, she went on to help the Tigers win that second straight D-I title, scoring three times as they prevailed in a 11-9 quarterfinal and once in a 13-10 final.
But just getting back on the field was a huge victory. Right after that first goal she saw Rosenberg, who was nearby with a camera because his daughter, Isabel, was as usual on the field with Boe.
“Ben Rosenberg was behind the net taking pictures, and he gave me two thumbs up,” she said.
Rosenberg explained his reaction, which also included a yell. For years he had been watching Andi and Isabel play soccer and lacrosse, often with Andi’s parents, Kathy and the late Kelly Boe, who three years ago died after being struck by a drunk driver while biking. Rosenberg spoke of a “a special responsibility” in caring for Andi Boe.
“Andi gets the ball on the right side of the net where she always is, and boom! Ninety seconds, score. God, it was awesome,” Rosenberg said. “She went right after it. It was pretty amazing.”
But what it took for Boe to reach that happy ending, both physically and psychologically, is probably the real story — for Boe and for the many other athletes who have torn their ACLs.
Just in recent memory many local athletes have gone down with the injury. Within a couple of weeks after Boe’s injury last fall Vergennes Union sophomore Emily Rooney, like Boe a standout soccer midfielder, and Middlebury College quarterback Jared Lebowicz both tore their ACLs.
In the fall of 2015, in the case that most closely parallels Boe’s, Tiger senior three-sport standout Oakley Gordon tore his ACL in a D-I football semifinal; he missed the basketball and baseball seasons. In 2013 Otter Valley senior soccer and basketball star Jessica Frazier suffered the injury in the OV basketball opener. In 2012 senior Tiger girls’ lacrosse player Liz Kelley went down during the D-I lax final much like Boe, after being bumped while carrying the ball.
Statistics say Boe, Rooney, Kelley, and Frazier were more likely to tear their ACLs. According to sports-health.com females are at up to six times a greater risk than males, a trend experts most often attribute to muscular and structural differences in knees by gender.
The site states year-round female athletes who play soccer or basketball have an ACL tear rate of almost 5 percent, and about 70 percent of those are non-contact injuries resulting from “cutting, pivoting or landing on one leg.”
The challenges to a successful recovery start with a drastic surgery. “Basically you take an injured knee and then re-injure it when you do the ACL surgery,” Dr. Rosenberg said.
ACL surgeons replace the torn ligament by using cadaver tissue or a piece of either a patient’s hamstring tendon (from the back of the thigh) or patellar tendon (running below the knee and connecting to a lower leg bone).
Rosenberg said for “petite, young female athletes” like Boe the patellar tendon option is the best as it offers a lower chance of another tear. The downside is that using the patellar tendon means taking a small piece of bone on either end, a more invasive procedure that in turn means a more painful, longer rehab. (Surgery left a big scar on Boe’s knee, pictured last November, right.)
Rosenberg said he opted to leave the MCL tear alone because it would heal itself, and also not to operate on the meniscus tear because it was small and hard to reach, near an important nerve, and probably would not pose a problem.
The procedure left Boe with the challenges all ACL patients face: pain after surgery; at least six months of rehab and therapy before a return to even limited action; the loss of activities that provide sources of joy, even identity, to athletes; uncertainty about the recovery and future performance; and, often, feelings of isolation and frustration during the process.
Facing those issues, Boe first chose to stay with her teams. She only missed a handful of their soccer, hockey and lacrosse games. Experts say that’s one healthy way to deal with the psychological challenges.
For athletes a positive attitude and “social support” during recovery is critical, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s website. It recommends “continued team participation and the resulting maintained sense of athletic self-identity.”
Boe said staying with her teams and friends helped.
“I don’t really know what I would have done otherwise. So that was a pretty easy decision,” she said.
Boe’s coaches also trusted her as an advisor, something that made her feel like a valued team member.
“All of my coaches from soccer, hockey and lacrosse were good about telling me if I saw something to talk to people about it. I was still able to contribute,” she said.
Her coaches — Wendy Leeds in soccer, Matt Brush in hockey and Brandi Whittemore in lacrosse — talked about Boe’s input to them and leadership for their teams.
“This was a kid who played pretty much every minute always,” Leeds said. “Then all of a sudden she was (next to me), and I just found her to be incredibly valuable that way. She’s just such a smart athlete, and she has such a game sense. She has the ability to see things.”
Brush said, “She made it very clear it was never about her not playing. It was about supporting her friends and her teammates in any way she could to help their experience, knowing that it was tearing her up inside not playing.”
ANDI BOE WALKS onto the ice during the Middlebury Union High School girls’ hockey team senior game. Boe did not play the entire season due to an injury, but she sat with her team all season and assisted the coach.
Boe’s input proved to be helpful, he added.
“Andi would come and whisper something in my ear, and be like, hey what do you think about that, and she would have good insight,” Brush said.
Whittemore remembered a talk Boe gave to the team the day before a game, at about the time when it looked like she would return.
“Just her message of never giving up and just being proud, and the importance of being on a team and how it was such a privilege to her, I think it touched the team,” Whittemore said.
But just because Boe could be with and help her teams didn’t mean it was easy. Sometimes she would talk to her mother or Brush when she was unhappy, and she advised anyone in her shoes to reach out to friends, family or mentors.
“I just had to let people know that I’d been going crazy sitting here having to watch these games. It should be that going to hockey was my release,” she said. “And instead I would just build up more frustration having to watch instead of play. Anything that should have helped me out was doing the opposite.”
Boe also spoke of how supportive her teammates were and how much it helped ease her frustration.
“Even people who weren’t injured (were) able to empathize about how much it sucks to stand there and watch,” she said. “It was still really hard. Because every day I would stand there and I would want them to do well, but at the same time I didn’t want to miss out on all that. When it was going poorly I was so frustrated and just wanted to be able to help. And when it was going well I just wanted to be a part of it. There was no point where I was standing there and going, ‘Oh, this is so satisfying.’”
In Part II Boe talks about going through lonely, strenuous rehab; she and Rosenberg discuss a major, disheartening setback late in her recovery process that led to a tough choice before her ultimate return; and Boe shares more about how those going through major injuries can deal with it and those around them can help them handle it. Click here to read Part II.
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