COLUMBIA — When practice ends each day for the Rock Bridge girls basketball team, the players head off in all directions. Some stay to shoot or talk to their teammates, while others head to the locker room to shower and change clothes.
Carmen Boessen's routine is a bit different. The senior co-captain walks down the steps and passes the locker room doors. She enters a room filled with padded tables. A sign on the wall outside the door reads "Training/Film Room." No one is there. She walks to the back of the room and fills two plastic bags with ice, carries them to one of the tables and sits down. Boessen ices her knee for 15 minutes after practice every day.
2011 Rock Bridge Green and Gold preseason scrimmage
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Rock Bridge Gym
Last year, the Bruins ended their season in a loss to Jefferson City in the district championship game.
During a soccer game in mid-June, Boessen tore her ACL in her left knee while dribbling the ball toward the goal. She said she remembers hearing her knee pop and falling to the ground.
"I didn't have pain, but I knew something was so wrong," Boessen said, remembering the moment. "My first thought was, 'Oh my God, was that my ACL? This can't be real.'"
Boessen describes the injury as something she never thought would happen to her. She said her injuries have always been minor and she never has much pain, bruising or swelling.
"I've watched her since she was nine months old fall down, get hurt, whatever," Carmen Boessen's mother, Denise Boessen, said. "I've conditioned myself to (think) it's going to be fine."
But this time it wasn't fine.
Additionally, on the way home from the game, Denise Boessen informed Carmen Boessen that her grandmother had died that day.
That night, Carmen Boessen and her mother visited Rock Bridge athletics trainer Greg Nagel at his home. Because her knee wasn't swollen and she wasn't in pain, Nagel thought she was going to be fine and didn't think it was serious.
The next day, Carmen Boessen's doctor and an MRI confirmed it was a torn ACL.
"That was hard for me to hear," Carmen Boesson said. "I couldn't handle it. I was just a mess."
"It'll make you cry," Denise Boessen added.
On June 17, just five days after the injury occurred, Carmen Boessen had surgery and was immobile for two weeks with a brace on her leg to keep it straightened.
Within a week, she had dealt with the death of her grandmother as well as a serious injury that would separate her from the sports she loved for the next few months. She said she had never felt so emotionally drained.
"The two weeks that I had to stay still in that leg brace is when it really hit me how my seasons weren't going to be the same this year, and how it was going to be such a long process for me to get back," Carmen Boessen said. "I think that was one of the hardest parts."
The typical recovery time for an ACL injury is about six months, but she knew she couldn't take that long. Six months would allow her to start playing basketball in January — the middle of the season. Six months was just too long.
As soon as she could, Carmen Boessen began rehabilitation on her knee. She didn't attend a formal physical therapy clinic, but instead worked with Nagel in the training room and on her own. She admits that it got tiring and frustrating at times. She was alone a lot and sometimes felt like her progress was slow and no one knew what she was going through.
She often questioned what she had done to deserve the injury and loss of her grandmother. During those low moments, Carmen Boessen said she had to put a lot of trust in God. She describes the whole experience as being as much a "trust exercise with God" as it has been an ACL rehabilitation.
A slip and fall the first weekend of July caused Carmen Boessen to bend her leg completely just two days out of her brace. Although unexpected and probably not the ideal way to go about it, the fall allowed her to achieve almost her full range of motion in a split second — something that would normally take weeks of rehab. She described the incident as "lucky."
Soon after, the Boessen family traveled to South Africa for vacation, but instead of relaxing, Carmen Boessen used the time to continue her exercises.
"Vacation was really hard, and some days I should've done more than I did, but I think my only thought was that this is my senior year, and you're never going to have another high school experience; you're never going to get your senior year back," Carmen Boessen said. "I knew I wanted to be the leader on our team this year, and I knew it would be a lot harder to be a leader if I wasn't on the court, if I was just watching from the sidelines. I knew I was never going to get there if I slacked off at all."
When Carmen Boessen returned to Columbia, she began running.. Each day she continued to work hard and stay busy. She said it made the time away from sports pass by more quickly. She was missing her club soccer season, but her goal was to be ready for basketball season.
She met her goal. In mid-October, only four months after her surgery, Carmen Boessen was cleared to play, but her knee had gained what she called a new "accessory." A pink ACL knee brace has became part of her daily basketball attire. She admits that wearing the brace was a difficult adjustment for her and that it took some getting used to.
"I hate looking weak, and I felt like it made me look weak. I didn't want sympathy," Carmen Boessen said. "Now that I'm almost back to where I want to be, it's almost like it's a part of me. I like the pink. I like the brace. Put it on me, let’s go."
Last week Carmen Boessen was chosen by her teammates as a co-captain along with best friend and teammate Lindsey Cunningham.
In practice, she is always there as a source of encouragement to her teammates, giving high fives, clapping and telling them "good job" every chance she gets. She leads drills, hustles after loose balls and keeps a "never stop" attitude.
Carmen Boessen admits that her work ethic makes it hard for her to know her limits sometimes, but she said she takes pride in the progress she has made.
Although it has been a struggle from June 12, it seems as if everything has fallen into place. The timing of the injury allowed Carmen Boessen to recover just in time for basketball season and didn't affect the spring soccer season. She only had to miss a few summer basketball camps and her fall club soccer season, and she’s OK with that.
"Everything that has happened for tearing an ACL couldn't have worked out better," Carmen Boessen said. "The timing was perfect, and I'm blessed for that."