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Poland student overcomes leg injury to return to soccer

Even with a titanium rod now in her leg, 15-year-old Alyssa Lepper plays five soccer games per week – in the offseason.

By BRYON ACKERMAN of Herkimer BOCES

POLAND – For one surreal half hour, Poland student Alyssa Lepper didn’t think about soccer.

It was May 14, 2011, for a club soccer game in Rochester, and her leg was broken in two places.

In those 30 minutes, Alyssa, who has been a soccer fanatic since she was a toddler, lay on a soccer field in the rain, as people surrounded her with umbrellas and blankets.

Others attempted to hold her leg still while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Meanwhile, the opposing coach had a seizure – resulting in a second ambulance being called to the scene.

After Alyssa was taken to a hospital, a doctor told her she would require surgery and that she wouldn’t be able to play sports for six months.

Suddenly, soccer was on her mind again.

“That’s when it hit me,” she said.

Although the news hit her hard, it didn’t keep her down.

Alyssa, 15, is now a sophomore at Poland Central School District.

Not only does she again play on the Poland girls’ varsity soccer team in the fall, she also is currently on several club teams.

The journey back, however, wasn’t an easy one.


‘Fell in love’

Alyssa joined the Coliseum Soccer Club at about age 3, and she later joined the American Youth Soccer Organization.

Soccer was an easy sport for her to start playing, she said.

She quickly realized she enjoys the speed of the game, the variety of people she gets to meet through her teams and the way the game unfolds differently every time, she said.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

It also helped that her father played soccer in high school, and now her younger siblings play, she said.

As an eighth-grader at Poland, she made the varsity soccer team and played good minutes – spending time at every position except goalie, she said. As a freshman, she started on the varsity team.

Her sophomore year would be much different.


The injury

While still a freshman, Alyssa was playing in club soccer leagues in the spring.

For the game on May 14, 2011, she had just entered as a substitute and ran down the field toward a ball that was approaching the goal area.

The goalie, however, ran out and slide-tackled the right side of her right leg – breaking both her tibia and fibula.

After one teammate checked on her, Alyssa said she didn’t think she needed a substitute to come in for her. But then another teammate started yelling that Alyssa’s leg was broken.

That’s when Alyssa rolled over and saw that her leg was flopping around, she said, as she made a wave-like motion with her hand to describe it.

For the surgery, she was opened up at the knee, and a titanium rod was placed through her bone all the way down to near her ankle.

Screws were put in place near the top and bottom of the rod.

Her normal schedule of playing indoor and outdoor soccer throughout the year was out the window.


The recovery

After the surgery, Alyssa had to completely stay in bed for two days. Eventually, she could get up on crutches.

With a boot on her right leg, she started recuperating by moving sections of her right leg and working out her left leg in the gym.

Once the boot came off, she started doing some jogging and leg lifts and using the elliptical machine at a gym.

Then on Aug. 22, 2011, she was cleared to resume running and jumping – right on time for the Poland varsity season.

“The day I got cleared was the first day of preseason soccer,” she said. “So I went and played soccer.”

But everything she tried that day was difficult – even just running, she said.

“I felt like I’d never played soccer in my life,” she said. “My brain was thinking something, but my legs couldn’t do it.”

Not playing the same due to the injury, she struggled throughout her sophomore season. She no longer started, and at times, she barely played.

“Last year was horrible,” she said, before looking ahead to her junior year. “I’ll look pretty good out there compared to last year.”


‘I’m back’

Alyssa’s sophomore season wasn’t a complete loss. It allowed her to make improvements, particularly in the second half of the season, she said.

Now, she is playing club soccer as much as she can. She is on five indoor teams – usually competing in two games on Saturdays, two games on Sundays and one game on Tuesdays.

“My speed is actually faster than what it was,” she said. “I feel tougher now and actually improved from where I was before I broke my leg.”

In one game, however, she ran toward a ball approaching the goal area, and thoughts of the injury came rushing back.

“The goalie came out, and I just slowed down, and it felt like the exact same thing,” she said.

Alyssa said her coaches understood why she slowed down, and despite the momentary hesitation, she is now more confident than ever overall.

She looks forward to making the injury just a memory by playing soccer at a high level in her junior and senior years at Poland – and also in college, she said.

“Soccer is my life,” she said. “Now that I’m back and can play soccer, it’s just part of me.”

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