Like most successful teen athletes, Christina Gordon felt like an unbreakable, invincible force for much of her youth. Standing head and shoulders above her peers in terms of talent, she dominated the highest levels of youth soccer and caught the attention of college recruiters around the country with her impressive athleticism, inspired play and leadership qualities.
During a match in September 2011, however, she realized in an instant how quickly a bright future full of endless opportunity could be derailed by months of doctor's appointments, surgery and painful physical therapy. After being tackled aggressively from behind, Christina heard a loud "pop" in her knee and fell to the ground in pain, having torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus.
"I was a very confident player in terms of skill and strength and the fittest, most conditioned girl on the team. At the level I felt I was at, injury and failure seemed impossible," Christina admits. "When I got hurt I was in tears... I remember thinking to myself, ‘I'm never going to play soccer again!' I was frustrated, shattered and even angry with myself."
Fortunately for Christina, her initial inclination about her soccer future proved wrong. Thanks to orthopaedic surgeon James Montgomery, MD, and her dedication to a grueling rehabilitation program, she returned to the pitch a year after her injury, and ended up recently winning the Texas state championship.
Having gone through all the emotional ups and downs of a lengthy recovery from surgery, she was eager to find a way to help other athletes facing the same adversity, and a one-of-a-kind website was born.
Friends In Kneed
"After tearing my ACL and going through the surgery, I decided that other athletes shouldn't have to deal with the same pain I felt while going through my injury," said Christina, who speaks candidly about the physical and emotional pain and frustration she endured throughout her successful recovery.
She decided to create a website, FriendsInKneed.com (FIN), that would provide emotional support as well as valuable information and advice to other athletes trying to bounce back from similar sports-related injuries.
FIN features visitor-submitted stories from injured teen athletes around the world, most of whom echo Christina's concerns of feeling alone and unsure what to expect from orthopaedic care and months of physical therapy. With story titles like "Giving up should never be an option," "These have been the toughest months of my life" and "If I can overcome this, I can overcome anything," the website creates an environment where student athletes are comfortable sharing their personal experiences and the wide range of emotions that come with them.
"The website is a great tool for young patients to address the psychological side of going through an injury," said Dr. Montgomery. "Teenagers don't want to listen to adults. They want to listen to each other, so it provides a great format for teen athletes to share their experiences and support one another."
The most viewed-and perhaps most helpful-feature of the website is the "Questions You Should Ask" section, which provides helpful tips on communicating with everyone from your doctor, nurse and physical therapist to your coach and athletic trainer.
"Being prepared for a medical visit and knowing what questions to ask your doctor allows patients to be more hands-on in their recovery process, increasing their chances of overcoming injury," said Dr. Montgomery.
To date, Friends in Kneed has received more than 5,500 visitors and 17,000 page views from over 30 countries. The far-reaching impact of Christina's message is evident, as visitor-contributed posts have been submitted from 22 states and nine foreign countries including England, Australia and even Hong Kong.
The diversity celebrated on the website doesn't end with the geographic locations of its contributors. Followers have shared stories about injuries suffered during everything from cheerleading competitions to basketball games to cricket matches.
"Knowing that FIN has reached athletes all over the world shows that anyone, anywhere, regardless of their sport or situation, can go through a major injury," said Christina. "Emotionally, the recovery is basically the same no matter what level the athlete is at. The fact that the website has gone international suggests there are a lot more athletes who are in need than we might think."
Through the website, Christina hopes to raise money for disadvantaged youth who are in "kneed" of physical therapy but unable to afford proper care. Visitors can purchase FIN shirts, featuring the "Kneeasaurus" logo, with proceeds going directly to organizations providing rehabilitation to those who need it.
When asked what her ultimate goals are for the website, Christina unselfishly declares, "To help as many people as possible!"
Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Christina's story is part of the AAOS's A Nation in Motion campaign. For more inspiring stories of athletes coming back from orthopedic injuries, click here.