In the face of the worst nightmare of any athlete, senior tri-captain Megan Sears has made remarkable strides.
After tearing her ACL in Dec. 2004, Sears has spent the past year rehabilitating the injury and was able to compete at the Div. III New England Championships in the pentathlon on Feb. 18. Not only did Sears compete, but she was the Jumbos' highest finisher in the event, taking fifth place and scoring four points.
The torn ACL was Sears' second; she had suffered the same injury to her other leg during her senior year in high school, and Sears took the year of intense physical therapy and recovery in stride.
"She's probably the most dedicated individual we have on the team because injury is hard," senior Arielle Aaronson said. "It's hard to get through. Just knowing that she was going to put herself on the track at the end of it is something that not many people would do."
During her sophomore year, Sears showed considerable potential in the decathlon and heptathlon, provisionally qualifying for Nationals in the pentathlon during the outdoor season with 4,187 points. While preparing for the upcoming indoor season a few months later, Sears tore her ACL when a pole vault landing went wrong.
"As soon as I went down, I knew I had torn it again because I had torn it in the other knee before," Sears said. "I tried to mentally prepare because I know my body best and I knew what needed to be done."
After her first ACL tear during her senior year in high school, Sears worked hard to recover for soccer for her freshman year at Tufts.
"I had big goals and probably tried to recover too soon," Sears said. "[After the second injury] I just wanted to get through it, and try to run pain-free again."
The year-long recovery process from an ACL tear can be a humbling experience. Open-knife, rather than arthroscopic surgery is required as a new tendon is pulled through drill holes made in the tibia and femur, and then held in place with interference screws. Painful physical therapy immediately follows to regain the range of motion and build knee strength.
Patients spend months doing simple exercises such as leg raises, squats, and other exercises to recover strength and motion range. It takes far more effort to regain peak physical condition.
"Even if you come back, it's hard to come back well," Aaronson said. "Nine times out of 10 you'll get discouraged, and there goes that."
Having gone through the experience once, Sears was patient with her treatment, and worked diligently to return.
"Just in the last couple weeks do I feel like I've been running well again," Sears said. "I guess I didn't rush this recovery, which I think in the long run I'm going to be thankful for."
Sears only recently reappeared on the track, although she was a staple with the team during her injury. She spent much of 2005 cheering on fellow teammates at meets and practices during the indoor, outdoor, and cross country seasons. Now, Sears is grateful to return to competition and help the team.
"I wanted to be able to be a leader both on and off the track, [and] mostly to contribute with Div. III indoors," Sears said. "It was a lot less individual motivation this time around. It sounds corny, but the team has given me a lot over the years so I wanted to come back and give what I have left."
Taking fifth in the pentathlon was the culmination of Sears' return. She set a new personal record in the hurdles and cleared five feet in the high jump, eventually scoring 2,881 points in an event which requires a diverse set of skills and strengths.
"Going into that meet, I hadn't performed very strongly in any of my events," Sears said. "I was a really strong jumper before the injury. That just really hadn't been there for me when I got back. Somehow I just got fired up. I wanted to go out and I wanted to be able to contribute and I knew I was capable of scoring."
The performance carried over two weeks later to the Trinity College Last Chance Meet, where Sears turned in a split of 1:01.4 in the 4x400 relay. The time was roughly three seconds faster than any she had run during the indoor season.
Sears hopes to carry the momentum from into her outdoor season in the heptathlon. Although it will be her final season as a Tufts athlete, she is dedicated to reaching her full potential and has her eye on qualifying provisionally for Nationals.
"I've been doing competitive athletics since I was five," Sears said. "It's almost the end of my time. I'm really excited to feel good and have confidence going into this final season. I'm sure it will be a little sad as it comes to a close, but for the most part it's just excitement."