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#BounceBack: Sloane Serpe’s Journey to Recovery

Anyone who’s dealt with injury knows the journey back can be tough – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Now, imagine how much more frustrating it would be to think you’re back at full health, pumped for the season, game-ready with stick in hand…and then suddenly, you’re back at square one, facing the same injury and recovery process all over again.

That’s exactly where Long Island Sound defender Sloane Serpe found herself this year. On December 7, 2016, she underwent labrum repair surgery and had her femur shaved down to improve hip mobility. After more than a year of rehabbing, training and playing, the pain hit hard again and Sloane learned she would need a second surgery on her labrum.

Despite this setback, Sloane’s determined to be back at full health and join her teammates on the field for the 2018 United Women's Lacrosse (UWLX) season. We recently caught up with the University of North Carolina  alum for an update on her progress and any encouragement she might have for others facing injury:

 

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Let’s go back to December 2016 – how did you first get injured and where are you at now in the recovery process?

I first hurt myself in the UWLX 2016 Championship game. What I originally thought was a pulled groin turned out to be something much worse. I thought resting a few days would help me get past it. Then, a week later, after Team USA tryouts and a training weekend, it had gotten much worse and I knew I needed to get it looked at.

I had a few setbacks these last couple of months and had to get a second surgery. I was just cleared to run on my own — any distance I want — which is huge in this process!! In physical therapy, I’ve started building up to sprints and I’m feeling great.

 

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[Pictured: Sloane Serpe protecting the ball and herself from her opponent with the Fortress 600 stick and 4Sight Form Googles — click for more info on Sloane's gear and why the defender in your life needs it].

This is the second time in just over a year that you’ve had surgery on this hip – what’s different about the recovery this time? Has it been more or less challenging going through it for the second time?

 

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This time, I had a better idea of what to expect and how my body would respond to certain exercises and tests. I don’t know that any recovery is easy, but being more comfortable with the process has definitely made it easier, both physically and mentally.

I think the biggest thing I took away from last year was the importance of being patient and listening to my body. It’s natural to want to hurry the process, but there’s a difference between pushing yourself a healthy amount and rushing recovery beyond what’s reasonable. Rushing can actually make things worse – I didn’t fully understand that until I finished my recovery last year. In the end, the recovery journey is a marathon – you need to pace yourself if you want to be successful. If you try to sprint to the finish line, you’ll wear yourself out and do more harm than good.

During a journey like this you face peaks and valleys – what have been some of those peaks and valleys for you?

The biggest mental “valley” was probably going into surgery – it was really scary because it felt unknown. Then, learning I had to have another surgery exactly a year later and would be out of the game for a while longer was really hard for me. The first month is always the slowest in recovery and your patience is definitely tested!

But it always feels amazing to have a breakthrough! Some of the best moments for me have been little things like starting to jog on the unweighted treadmill or getting to work on agility drills. Those little victories feel so good!

Obviously, you want to be back on that field as soon as possible – how do you continue to build up your strength and refine your lacrosse skills without rushing the process or pushing yourself too far?  

I use PT for most of my strength exercises and then I do cardio and footwork drills on my own (Looking for some footwork drill inspiration? These are the ladder drills Sloane ALWAYS incorporates into her workout). I’ve incorporated more yoga sculpt and spin exercises into my routine as well to try and balance things out while keeping it low-impact.

Injury definitely makes you more self-aware. I’ve learned to listen to my body so I know when I can push it and when I should rest. Recently, I’ve made it a priority to focus on stretching to keep my muscles loose and flexible, since resting reverses those tendencies.

 

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What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I’ve learned patience – SO much patience! I’ve also come to realize that it’s okay to rest and not always go, go, go. In the down time, you learn a lot about yourself and your limits – physical, mental and emotional.

As an athlete, an injury can feel like a setback. How do you use it as an opportunity to grow?

You learn a lot about yourself when you can’t do something you truly love. During the recovery process, I learned so much about my body and how it performs. The more in tune you are with your body, the better you can take care of it and the better you can play.

The mental side of it takes you to a place you’ve never been before and pushes limits you didn’t know you had. It’s hard to stay positive throughout the entire recovery, but it’s important to find something positive in each session and hold onto it until the next one. Celebrate the small wins. Your mental capacity for recovery is equally important as your physical capacity – a positive attitude is crucial!

When you’re out of the game, how do you continue to grow with your team?

 

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With being away from practice and everyone living all over the place, communication is key. Keeping in touch, whether it’s talking about life, exercise, or new playing techniques, really helps to close the distance. With all the different ways you can communicate today, being away from the field and your teammates shouldn’t negatively impact your growth with the team.

Can’t be in-person for practice? No worries. Hop on a video call with one of your teammates or coaches and you’ll still be a part of the team’s activities. By showing your dedication to being part of the team, even when you’re not physically there, you’ll demonstrate just how much the sport, team, and teammates mean to you.

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