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ACLs and the Modern Woman

The same day Mike Copeland goes down with a torn ACL, the New York Times runs a story on the prevalance of the same injury in teenage girls. It's a bit alarmist, in the "Our children are in danger!" way, but throws out an interesting estimation - that ACL injuries in teenage girls are as much as five times as prevalent in their male counterparts. And naturally they go to Anson Dorrance for an opinion on the whole thing, and he knows where to put the blame:

"[E]verybody’s got a tournament. There’s the Raleigh Shootout, the Surf Cup in Southern California, and ding, ding, ding, they’re everywhere." Dorrance was animated, his words coming out in a rush. "So now girls are going somewhere every two or three months and playing these inordinate number of matches. And you know what? They’re playing to survive. And the survival is not just the five games in three days. It’s the two or three weeks following. They’ve got a niggling this and niggling that — sprained ankles, swollen knees, aching backs. They were overplayed and they never rested. But part of what’s developing is this question of who’s tough enough, who can play through it?"

It sounded reasonable to me, since I couldn't recall a headline ACL tear on the UNC team, but the very next page brings one up:

When I was with Janelle, I could not help thinking of Amy Steadman, who was going to be one of the great American soccer players of her generation. In her junior year in high school, in Brevard, N.C., Parade magazine named her the top high-school-age defensive player in America, "the best of the best." She was a captain of the U.S. women’s under-19 team, a future star of the women’s national team. She played for Anson Dorrance at U.N.C., and while I was talking to him one day, he pointed out beyond his office door to a gallery where the uniforms of his all-time greats, including Mia Hamm, were displayed. "She would have been one of those jerseys out there," he said, referring to Amy.

But by the time I met her, Amy was 21 and had torn the A.C.L. in her right knee four times.


As Amy walked toward me the first time we met, her right leg was stiff and her whole gait crooked. She moved like a much older woman. If I hadn’t known her history, I would never have believed she had been an athlete, let alone an elite one. She had undergone, by her count, five operations on her right knee. Her mother counted eight, and believed that Amy did not put certain minor cuttings in the category of actual operations. She was done playing. She had been told she would need a knee replacement, maybe by the time she turned 30.

Amy told me about her final operation, recalling that when she came out of anesthesia, the surgeon seemed as if he was going to cry. He looked at her in silence for what seemed like a long time, trying to compose himself. Finally, he told her, "Amy, there was nothing in there left to fix."

There's also Susan Bush, (two torn ACLs, '00 and '01), Ali Hawkins (last year), Ashlyn Harris (each knee, '05 and '06) and of course, Anson Dorrance himself, back in 1991. Even the coaching is dangerous. And that's just the first few pages of a Google search.

Anyway, the whole thing is a pretty good read. And of course, no mention of ACL injuries and Tar Heels is complete without the story of Jimmy Hitchcock.