Feb. 27 marked the fourth game of the 2018 season for the Lehigh women’s lacrosse team. The Mountain Hawks were hosting Princeton University.
Fifth year midfielder Jules D’Orazio was also celebrating her 23rd birthday. Her parents, brother and best friend had come to support her on her special day.
Lehigh found itself at a disadvantage from the start of the game.
“Every time they scored, I just kept telling the team, ‘We’re just going to keep giving it all we’ve got because at this point, there’s nothing left to lose. We have nothing left to lose,’” D’Orazio said.
The team managed to cut the deficit to three goals.
Then, D’Orazio went down.
“Right before the injury, I felt a really big adrenaline rush,” D’Orazio said. “I was moving pretty fast. It was in transition. And then I just took the plant, and I felt my whole leg just give out. I heard a bunch of crazy stuff, pops and cracks, but I was just kind of lying there, and I was just like, ‘I’m done.’”
D’Orazio lives by the motto, ‘Setbacks pave the way for comebacks.’ After suffering from the season-ending injury in February, however, she knew there was no coming back and her career was over. So, she shifted her focus from being the best player to becoming the best teammate and leader.
Junior defender Liv Kelly was the first to make it to D’Orazio’s side after she fell. The ball was coming to Kelly, but she ran straight to her injured teammate.
“She’s one of my best friends and someone that I always look up to as my role model on the field,” Kelly said. “So when I saw her go down, I just didn’t even really think twice about going to help her. That was definitely pretty hard to watch.”
After being helped off the field, D’Orazio went home for the week.
An MRI told her she had torn her ACL and sprained her MCL and was suffering from bone bruising in her left knee.
She was on crutches for six weeks before being cleared for surgery. She goes to physical therapy almost every day.
Though D’Orazio could no longer contribute to the team on the field, she still had captain duties to fulfill and wanted to help in any way she could. D’Orazio stepped into a coaching role and dedicated her leadership abilities toward offering one-on-one attention to her teammates and giving them pointers on the ways she had found success on the field.
“When you’re out, you do notice so many more things than when you’re in the moment of the game,” D’Orazio said. “I was just kind of trying to be my teammates’ No. 1 supporter and No. 1 fan on the side.”
Kelly said D’Orazio is the kind of approachable, grounded person who naturally leads by example and always knows how to help.
“I think she’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen,” Kelly said. “I don’t think I could’ve ever asked for someone better than her. The way she handled herself and still made such an impact on our team is really admirable.”
While she’d rather be playing, D’Orazio said having the chance to spend time on and feel the energy of the sidelines — something she wasn’t able to do as a key player — was worth it when her teammates found success because of something she had been working on with them or completed a move the way she used to.
D’Orazio said her teammates are the people she shared the most memorable times with over the last five years.
“Every year is different at Lehigh, and every year had its special moments,” D’Orazio said, “but I’ll never forget the camaraderie we’ve had together each year. I’ll definitely remember my senior year the most, because this year I just lost a lot of it — I got hurt early. I think it’s inevitable that this past year will be my favorite, especially with my class that I came in here with. Those people obviously have a special place in my heart.”
Kelly — who stepped up to cover D’Orazio’s role on the field after her injury — said D’Orazio could never be replaced. She attributes the impact D’Orazio made on the team to her focus on improving and her passion for the sport.
“She was always having so much fun out there, and it was so awesome to watch her play,” Kelly said. “She really looked like she loved the game.”
Coach Jill Redfern said D’Orazio’s mindset, ‘Even the best can always get better,’ has inspired her teammates to step up and work harder as a unit.
“Her legacy, I think, is just the amount of work it takes to be a great player in our Lehigh program,” Redfern said. “I’m hopeful that her teammates have learned that she didn’t come here the player that she became, but it was a product of a lot of hard work on her side.”
Redfern said the injury was unlucky and unfortunate, especially when the team was excited and privileged to have D’Orazio back for another year, but D’Orazio has been a tremendous ambassador of the Lehigh women’s lacrosse program.
While some days are worse than others, D’Orazio said injuries have shaped who she is today. Losing her sophomore season to a concussion gave her the opportunity to come back for a fifth year, something she viewed as another shot because most people don’t get an extra year.
She said the most important part of her recovery process has been the overwhelming support she’s received from her family, coaches and teammates.
“I’ve learned how big your support system is,” D’Orazio said, “from your parents and family to your friends to the coaches to your teammates and even people at Lehigh — administration, sports medicine — how big your support system is and how important they are to you when you need them the most.”
D’Orazio said the injury was a learning experience and a reality check that taught her no one is invincible and freak accidents could happen to anyone.
“Things are going to constantly shut you down,” D’Orazio said. “There’s two choices you can make: let them shut you down or step up and make the most of what you have.”