Today is National Women and Girls in Sports Day. And it’s the 40th Anniversary of Title IX. I found this out by reading Sin City Siren’ s post: http://sincitysiren.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/titleix-anniversary/ and was immediately reminded of an article I wrote a few years ago about my daughter and sports. This story originally appeared in Education Update.
A Daughter’s Recovery
“Did you get my racket?” My daughter whispered, sneaking a contraband telephone call during school hours.
“Yes,” I assured her. I’d collected the racket, restrung in time for her second to last match of her high school tennis season. As I left the club, where she’s trained for years, I couldn’t help think about the last 12 months.
At this time last year she underwent surgery to repair her torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, one of two ligaments that form a cross in the joint under the kneecap. When I brought her back to school five days after her surgery, she was the 16th student on crutches– all from various sports injuries. During the course of the next nine months, Lydia, now 21, was strapped to a bulky continuous motion machine eight hours a day. She wore three different custom-made leg braces, attended physical therapy sessions three times a week, and was fitted with custom orthotics. Each intervention was designed to rebuild her strength and prevent the injury from reoccurring.
Like any long rehabilitation, she had her low points. When a knee- strength test indicated she was only at 81% capacity, she felt her tennis days were over. She wrote about her injury and recovery in her school’s newspaper: “I concluded that 19% of me was still wrong, broken- a troubled work in progress.” She considered not returning to the sport. “It doesn’t define me,” she said, citing her other interests, including the school newspaper, an advocacy group against hunger in Darfur, and the makeup crew for the school musical.
She also had her triumphs: after nine months without playing (and no gym, which she didn’t mind), she began slowly retraining. She learned more about her anatomy and what she has to do to prevent injury. Her tenacity earned her the first singles spot on the team. At her second match, I talked casually with her opponent’s mother. Her daughter also had had ACL repair, not once, but twice. We joked about how the orthopedic surgeons had taken nice vacations thanks to us.
Yet as Lydia’s mother, I still couldn’t help question: Why didn’t all the pediatricians over the years, who knew she was an athlete, ever mention that the combination of her flat feet and tilted hips could lead to injury? Why hadn’t coaches and trainers at prestigious tennis camps and clubs ever mention ACL prevention? Or was I just feeling guilty that I hadn’t protected her?
Then I read Michael Sokolove’s “The Uneven Playing Field” (New York Times Magazine, May 11, 2008,) and his subsequent book, Warrior Girls: Protecting our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports (Simon & Schuster, 2008), and found answers. The 1972 passage of Title IX mandated greater opportunities for female athletes- a civil rights measure that extends from town recreation programs to college athletics. But the rapid expansion of women’s sports overlooked several factors: women’s anatomy, hormones, and training among them. How women run and how they’re built, both physiologically and chemically, dictate how they can be prone to injury.
As I read, I saw my daughter. Passionate about tennis since 8th grade, she realized she couldn’t continue playing soccer and taking ballet if she expected to play high school varsity. As she became more serious about tennis, she increased her hours each week, playing through the winter. Early specialization and year-round play contribute to injury, according to Sokolove.
I couldn’t prevent Lydia’s ACL tear. Thankfully she’s healthy and was able to return to a sport she loves. I watch her matches and hold my breath when she seems to over-reach for a shot, or her leg seems to turn in ways it’s not meant to. Sokolove discusses several ACL prevention programs and urges parents to become more involved in their daughters’ training regiments. From what I’ve seen, I recommend it.
Title IX should be celebrated and not forgotten. Women fought hard to be considered athletes and to have their own teams, coaches, locker rooms, new uniforms, and be eligible for scholarships.
Today, Lydia is a college junior and captain of the women’s tennis team. I watch her matches and still hold by breath.