Rupturing my ACL taught me patience and gratitude

Rupturing my ACL taught me patience and gratitude
  • PublishedMarch 25, 2024

Sport has always been part of my DNA.

Sirens, cheers and the muffled complaints of over-eager parents composed the soundtrack of my childhood.

Weeknights were reserved for leotards at my local gymnasium, while Saturday and Sunday were the holy days of tennis and netball.

For the past five years, at Easter, I’ve joined my partner’s family and a motley crew of 30-odd friends and acquaintances in a country tennis tournament that’s equal parts social and competitive.

And it was here, 11 months ago, I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

One moment I was upright, the next I wasn’t

It was uncharacteristically wet, and my first match of the whole weekend.

One moment I was gearing up to return serve, the next I was horizontal on the baseline with a dizzying pain radiating from my left knee.

I was carried off the court. Onlookers reassured me it was likely just a sprain, but the sinking feeling deep in my gut was telling me otherwise.

An MRI scan confirmed a ruptured ACL, an injury that tends to happen more to women and with a notoriously long and tedious journey to recovery.

I knew the 12 months ahead would be physically challenging, but couldn’t have anticipated how much I would learn about the power of patience.

Ella Taverner stands on a sunny AFL field wearing a team singlet and shorts, and prepares to kick the AFL ball in her hands.
I struggled to envision months of recovery without sport.(Supplied: Ella Taverner)

Leaving my active lifestyle behind

My reconstruction was booked; a section of my hamstring would be grafted into a new ligament across my knee.

Lying in the hospital bed pre-op, I was filled with a sense of sadness, mourning the active life I was leaving behind. No more Monday night tennis with my mum or a sweaty Pilates session with my housemates.

I’d never consciously viewed exercise as a coping mechanism for mental health, but now I was struggling to envision the months ahead without sport.

The operation was a success and, groggy and dazed, I was discharged from hospital the following day.

Those first two weeks were tough. Between work, my parents took turns making my meals, timekeeping my painkiller dosages, and handling what seemed to be a never-ending supply of ice packs.

It was the longest time I’d spent back at my childhood home since I’d moved out, and I became increasingly grateful for their company.

Ella Taverner wears a surgical mask, cap and gown, lying against a pillow in a hospital bed.
Waiting for the surgery, I knew for the period of my recovery, my life would look very different. (Supplied: Ella Taverner)

Enforced slowing down

Once the need for intense painkillers began to reduce, I regained some semblance of a normal daily routine.

Although the days consisted of painful and rigorous daily exercises, my nights were spent relaxing on the couch with my mum as we babbled over Masterchef, while Dad brewed us a pot of camomile tea.

It was the first time, in my adult life, I’d been forced to slow down — I had nowhere to be and nothing to do except put one foot in front of the other.

Gratitude for my body

It was during this time I began to reflect on how grateful I was for my body and all it had supported me through.

For every beam fall in gymnastics, every shin graze in netball and every shoulder bump in footy, my body had always been there to catch me (quite literally).

For so much of my life, I’d placed value on what my body looked like, but had never quite recognised what it had carried me through.

As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, my admiration for my body grew, as did my patience.

With each physio session, I overcame a new hurdle and continued to push forward onto the next challenge.

I was reconnecting with my body in ways I hadn’t for years, acknowledging when I needed rest, and recognising that setbacks were all part of the journey.

Ella Taverner wears a red singlet and jean shorts while standing, hands on hips, on a footpath and smiling.
Tearing my ACL forced me to refocus my energy on the things that brought me joy and the people who helped me recover. (Supplied: Ella Taverner)

Focusing on the things that brought me joy

Prior to my injury, I was operating at 110 per cent. I was totally consumed by the unforgiving pace of full-time work, while trying to juggle creative side projects, social engagements and an adequate self-care routine.

I didn’t know how to slow down, and keeping busy fuelled my avoidance.

Tearing my ACL forced me to refocus my energy on the things that brought me joy.

I started reading more and my cooking repertoire began to evolve. A self-care journal that I’d discarded became part of my weekend ritual, and I learnt it was healthy to say no to things.

If not for my injury, these small life changes would never have happened.

Has something forced you to slow down or reassess your priorities? We’d love to hear from you. Email  

Eleven months on, I’m grateful for these lessons I learnt from my recovery.

As a particularly impatient person, I now understand the power of slowing down. Where I used to spread myself thin in my life and relationships, I take active steps to be present each day, and have adopted a ‘less is more’ approach.

I no longer feel guilty prioritising my needs and boundaries, and ensure I regularly check-in with myself during stressful or busy periods.

I now realise that good things can take time, and that’s perfectly okay.


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