Photo by Tino Tran

Photo by Tino Tran

It all started on December 31st when I got invited to tryout for the World Games team. A lot of things ran through my mind: Can I make this team? Am I just going for the experience? What are the goals I have for that weekend and for my ultimate career? I talked to some people about their experiences at tryouts 4 years ago and I decided to go all in. Why not? The worst thing that would happen is I wouldn’t make the team and I would still have an awesome learning experience.

I spent the next two and a half months lifting, throwing, running tracks, and watching footage of myself and others. I had been in the best shape of my life after the 2012 club season and I found myself at an even higher level than I had ever expected or seen of myself as I got on the plane to San Francisco.

The day was going great. I loved the drills we were doing, and I felt like I was making fast connections with players. I had scouted them, played against many of them, and I felt like I knew their favorite throws even though I had never actually talked to them before. I felt prepared to play the best I could.  We had about 20 minutes left on Saturday and were in the midst of our last scrimmage. I was the dump defender, and the person I was gaurding started to set up an up-line cut. I planted and turned and felt the most stomach-turning, breath-taking, skin-crawling feeling I had ever experienced. I took a deep breath in and fell to the ground. I had felt my knee twist out of place, bang together and return, and knew almost positively I no longer had an acl. I felt like an elephant was on my chest. I couldn’t breathe, and I lost all control of my emotions. I had glimpses of my ultimate career being over, which meant my life was over. I buried my face in the grass, wishing that all of the best players from the west coast were not watching me. I felt weak, I felt like I hadn’t done enough, I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t stop bawling. All I wanted to do was disappear. I felt stupid that I thought I was a contender. I felt like this was a representation of my character. I didn’t look up but I felt my Riot teammates close. Some were talking to me, and some had to walk away with tears in their eyes.

I got carried to the trainer, still covering my face so that I could pretend like no one else was there – hide my tears, hide my disappointment in myself. The trainer immediately started doing knee tests on me. In my head I thought she was crazy because I was sure that I tore my acl and I had been around enough teammates that had done it to know that I needed an MRI. I got angry at her. I was short with her and I wanted her to stop talking to me.  I sat under the tent watching my dream of being a part of Team USA, and also the Riot 2013 season, slip away.

With the help of Dom, Jamie, and Rohre, I got to see a sports med doc and get an MRI the Tuesday after, see the surgeon on Thursday and get surgery on the following Tuesday. It seemed rushed but I also felt like there was no reason to wait.

Surgery went well, physical therapy  went well, recovery went okay. I was ahead of schedule the whole time and worked my butt off at getting as strong as I could. I re-learned how to run, how to change direction, and how to move on the ultimate field.

The hardest part for me was the fact that I had used ultimate as my strategy for getting over all the major hurdles in my life. When my mom passed away, I started playing ultimate every day. When I didn’t make the Junior Worlds team and Riot in 2006, I worked even harder on and off the field to get better. When I got dumped, I lifted and got stronger and faster than I had ever been before, and concentrated on the weaknesses of my game to become a better all-around player. And now what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t use ultimate as my crutch. How would I get through this? The answer for me was my amazing teammates, friends, family, and the right mindset.

Before I had torn my acl I had been voted onto Riot’s leadership committee, which is made up of the captains plus a few other members of the team who help make things work. I worried about what this meant for me as a non-playing member of the team. Would I be able to lead effectively from the sideline? Could I help my team still? I decided to go all-in…again, Riot is my team and I care about the people on this team like they are my family. I decided that I wanted to do anything I could to make Riot as successful as possible, whether I was on the the field or not. I took this situation as an opportunity to develop my leadership skills, my tone, and my body language as I spoke to the team and others. I decided I could sit around, cry, be mad and make this situation truly the worst moment of my life or I could grow and become not only a stronger player but a leader as well.

I had a lot of people ask if I still went to everything. When I would say yes, they would respond with, “Wow, you are a dedicated teammate,” or “I don’t think I could do that,” and I would think to myself, “I guess, but I love my team and I want to be here.”  I had people come up to me and say, “It sucks to not be playing, huh?” And I would think to myself, “DUH! What do you think? Why would you say that to someone? But I still couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I feel bad for you because you must not have the same kind of teammates I have.”  Instead of saying all that, I would smile and say, “Not really.”  My teammates love me and they show me every day and it made every moment of 2013 worth it. Even when I had to leave for moments with tears in my eyes, I knew they were okay with the things I had to do on my own.

Now it has been just over a year after surgery. I am playing, but I appreciate every moment I get to play and I get to do drills as well as every moment in which I get to help my teammates on the field. But what I appreciate even more is how much off-field work it takes to make a team work. I also have realized that tearing my acl wasn’t the worst moment of my life. It could have been, but I did not let it. I made a rough time into an opportunity to not only get better at ultimate but also to become a better player, teammate and opponent.

Alyssa Weatherford | Riot #25