With the field fresh for the start of a new season and hours of practice behind him, Lehigh men’s soccer captain Nolan Jetter and his teammates took the field for their first preseason game.
At around the 80-minute mark, the senior midfielder attempted to steal the ball from the opposing team. Jetter planted his foot in a way that made his upper leg rotate away from his lower leg, and he went down.
“I was just like…‘Oh, no, I know my season just ended,’” Jetter said.
Lehigh student-athletes coping with injuries find navigating the shift from the field to the sideline difficult, grappling with the emotional toll of not being able to play.
Despite their physical setbacks, these players have discovered alternative ways to contribute to their teams, finding new avenues to make a meaningful impact from the sidelines.
Jetter tore his ACL and underwent surgery.
He said the long recovery has taken a toll on him, but it doesn’t stop him from leading the team.
“It becomes about ‘How can I get the most out of the players to do their role for the team?’” Jetter said. “I think that that sort of became my role. So not to degrade myself, but I feel like I almost became a little bit of a mascot or a martyr, something that the players can fight for a little bit.”
He said he had players tell him practices just feel different when he isn’t there, even if he wasn’t playing games.
First-year Holly Lovett is a recruited shortstop for the softball team and broke the ulna bone in her right forearm over the summer. Lovett said she also feels she has taken on the role of a cheerleader for her team.
“I was one of the loudest people on the bench at the games that we had in fall ball,” Lovett said. “It was definitely a contribution because I wanted to do something and I wanted to be involved even though I couldn’t do anything physically.”
Even with these contributions and newfound roles, deferred first-year wrestler Kimo Leia said the physical challenges of injuries, along with mental and emotional ones, can still take a toll on these athletes.
Leia suffered a concussion in the preseason and noted the interconnectedness between his physical, mental and emotional health after sustaining the injury.
“If I’m doing good mentally, that means I’m aligned emotionally, and if I’m doing great physically, that means I’m happy mentally,” Leia said. “But obviously now that part of me is taking a downturn in my physical application, I feel very held back and very reined in. I feel very on a leash, but as that leash loosens, and as things come together, I feel everything is getting better.”
First-year ice hockey forward Oliver Hall said another consequence of being injured is missing out on bonding opportunities with his teammates.
He said it was hard seeing his team without him.
“I’d be going to get food, and I would see the people that would usually drive me down to the rink.” Hall said. “I look at the time and be like ‘Damn, I would be there right now.’”
Hall said he found a new role on the team that proved his membership value — giving input on what he saw on the bench, being there for his teammates, filling water bottles and other managerial duties the team needed.
Being aware of the change in perspective and how much worse his injury could have been is what Lehigh football senior center George Padezanin said kept his spirits up.
After the captain tore his ACL and part of his meniscus in the first game of the season against Villanova, Padezanin made sure to play a part on the team while keeping an optimistic outlook on his adjusted role.
He acknowledged the trainers’ hard work in helping him recover from his injury and attributes his current state of recovery to their efforts.
Padezanin said perspective is important, urging others going through similar situations not to take anything for granted and to appreciate every moment, as injuries can suddenly change one’s circumstances.
“I’m trying to be a morale guy coaching guys, still trying to be a leader,” Padezanin said. “It’s been in a different fashion, obviously not being on the field, but I’ve found ways to really bring a positive energy to the team.”