Doctor’s orders: Stay for a fifth year

For lacrosse captain Emily Abbood, life imitated academics after a season-ending injury

Faith Buchanan/Staff

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With one minute remaining in practice, Emily Abbood had just gotten possession of the ball. The senior midfielder raced toward the cage at the end of the field, hoping to close that day in October of 2010 with a final goal.

As she neared the eight-meter arc, Abbood, who was cradling the ball in the pocket of her stick, prepared to cut through the defenders and launch the ball past the goalie. She dashed left and came back right, but then she heard a loud pop.

Abbood’s left knee had given out from under her, and she collapsed to the ground. She later found out that she had torn her ACL and as a result could not play in the ensuing 2011 season. As a pre-medical student pursuing a career in orthopedics and sports medicine, Abbood had become a victim of the very thing she had been studying to amend.

Abbood’s interest in medicine goes as far back as her interest in sports. In elementary school, she was exposed to the medical field through her mother, who worked at Rhode Island Hospital as a nurse. Through her frequent encounters with doctors and orthopedic residents, she was drawn to the idea of sports medicine.

In the spring of her sophomore year, Abbood took a public health class that detailed the healthcare system in the U.S., and she was hooked. Abbood knew she wanted to major in public health and pursue a career in the medical field, considering orthopedic surgery or emergency room medicine as possible future careers.

So after suffering the injury right before her senior season, Abbood made plans to apply to post-baccalaureate programs before applying to medical school, thereby ending her Cal lacrosse career — the team had been among five athletic programs cut earlier in September. With her injured knee and a cut lacrosse program, Abbood’s return to the field seemed to be a lost cause.

“When we found out about the program, we were angry and upset, but decided that we just had to have a great last season,” Abbood says. “But when I tore my ACL, that’s when it changed. It hit me that I was never gonna play lacrosse again, and I kinda just had to accept that.”

However, in mid-February, the university announced the reinstatement of the lacrosse program, and Abbood was shocked. She immediately considered coming back to play for a fifth year with the Bears. Although her parents, Teresa and Michael Abbood, were initially against the idea of letting her stay for another year due to out-of-state tuition expenses, they eventually agreed — she would finish up her pre-med requirements at Berkeley while serving as senior co-captain of the team.

“My husband and I tossed that idea back and forth for a while,” Teresa says. “But we decided that we didn’t want her to have any regrets ever, years later, saying that she wished she played a fifth year and she wished she completed her role as a captain. We just didn’t want to take that passion away from her.”

Instead of graduating that year, Abbood had her mind set on playing with the Bears for a final season. She would finish her remaining requirements at Berkeley before she took the MCAT in August and applied to med school in the fall.

Abbood had to work harder than ever to recover and get back on track. She underwent intense physical therapy after having surgery on her left knee. She was determined to recuperate as quickly as possible, stretching and bending her knee everyday and gradually increasing the flexibility in her joint.

“I never had to tell her that it was time for physical therapy,” Teresa says. “She would come home, get on the floor and start stretching. Her heart was in it 100 percent, and she just did not want to give up.”

This year, Abbood has not only become a leader in ground balls and caused turnovers, but she has also been brandished by her teammates as one of the “nerds.” When she isn’t playing lacrosse, she is studying for her classes, seeking out tutors or going to study groups. Although one of her main priorities this year is to win an MPSF championship, Abbood is determined to study and prepare for the MCATs just as hard as she plays the game.

“(Attacker Alexa Rozelle) texted me the other day asking me to teach her how to be a nerd,” Abbood says with a laugh. “It’s a joke by the team, but I guess I’m just diligent. Things don’t just come naturally to me, so I have to prioritize and start studying early.”

Abbood sees the sport of lacrosse as a means to stay grounded. When she takes the field for practice or a game, she is able to retreat from the stresses of school and just focus on playing the sport. Lacrosse pushes her: it has taught her to prioritize and balance sports and school, especially while finishing up core classes before the August MCAT.

After she tore her ACL, Abbood did not understand why her mother kept telling her that “everything happens for a reason.” She was upset. She had worked too hard to get to where she was to have it all taken away with one bad break.

Now, Abbood finally recognizes and appreciates her mother’s words of wisdom.

“Being here and playing lacrosse is a challenge,” Abbood says. “But all those things associated with lacrosse — injuries, traveling, having to prioritize — they’ve helped me become a mentally strong person. It’s taught me a lot about myself, and it’s these lessons that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”