You step onto the field, and the whistle blows. Adrenaline surges through your body as you cut, dodge, check. Nothing matters but the moment, the team, the game. You feel alive. You feel invincible.
But it only takes one moment, one misstep for the limitations of your body to cause you to come crashing back to reality. A snap of a tendon can send you to months of rehab or even to a permanent place on the sideline. You are left with a choice: do you stop playing, or do you spend hundreds of hours training to get another chance at your dream, another opportunity to play the sport you love?
It’s a decision that no athlete ever hopes she will have to make.
In her first two seasons, Harvard attacker Jess Halpern had become a dominant force in the Ivy League. After being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2008, Halpern continued to excel as a sophomore, leading the league in goals and points per game and being named to the All-Ivy League First Team. Coming into her junior season last spring, Halpern was expected to be an integral part of the Crimson attack.
When she walked onto Homewood Field in Baltimore, Md., for the second game of the season—just days after being named to the watch list for the Tewaaraton Trophy, given to the nation’s top collegiate player—Halpern figured the match against Johns Hopkins would be like any other game.
After recording two second-half goals in the match, Halpern received the ball and ran down the sideline with one defender on her back and another running toward her from the front. Halpern planted her right foot to do a split dodge, but as she cut got a push from behind, and her knee buckled in.
“I knew right when it happened that something awful had happened to my knee,” Halpern said. “I heard and felt my knee crunch and pop, and I just collapsed. I immediately knew I could have torn my ACL.”
After taking her off the field, the trainer confirmed Halpern’s suspicions that it was most likely an ACL tear.
“I was living out my biggest fear,” Halpern said. “I was freaking out to think that I would be out for the season. It was a shock and super surreal for me.”
While waiting in the airport, Halpern called Lauren Bobzin ’08, who had been captain her freshman year, for advice and support.
“She was the first to suggest that I could red shirt,” Halpern said. “She said how in the long run it could be better for the team, better for me, and really a blessing in disguise. Talking to her, I realized that I really wanted to play another season of lacrosse.”
After confirming a few days later through an MRI that she had torn the ACL and sprained the MCL in her right knee, the decision was easy. Giving up a season or quitting wasn’t an option, and Halpern was ready for the rehab process to begin. She confirmed a few weeks later that she was taking the semester off and red-shirting.
After undergoing surgery in May, the true work began.
Remaining determined through months of daily strengthening, conditioning, and rehab, her dedication was obvious to her teammates.
“You can see how badly she wants to be out there,” junior tri-captain Melanie Baskind said. “She shows a lot of dedication in her treatments.”