Kristine McLaughlin – Athlete of the Month

Alexandria Hunt

Athletes are often susceptible to injury, but it is rare for athletes to face injuries that cause them to regain their motor skills. One athlete who has come across this fate is Kristine McLaughlin, a junior at Cupertino High School on the girls’ varsity volleyball team. She previously tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a knee ligament, and has overcome many difficulties during her recovery to get back into playing volleyball.

Kristine McLaughlin began playing volleyball when she was in sixth grade because she wanted to emulate her sister, who played volleyball as well. In middle school, she played on the school and club teams, traveling to areas such as Minneapolis, Minnesota for tournaments.

As a freshman, McLaughlin joined the junior varsity (JV) volleyball team. However, in January when her club season began, Kristine tore her ACL after landing on her left knee and falling to the ground after she hit a volleyball.

Describing how she felt immediately after getting injured, McLaughlin states, “I knew something was wrong but … I didn’t think it was a big injury because of the adrenaline of the moment. I didn’t expect to be on crutches that night.”

Following the injury, Kristine did not seek the help of a doctor and merely iced her knee. When her knee injury did not improve and she could barely walk, even after a few weeks, she went to the emergency room. The doctor took an X-ray of her knee and redirected her to another doctor to take her MRI. A few weeks later, the doctor informed her she tore her ACL.

Around two months after her injury, the day of her surgery arrived. To mend her torn ACL, doctors removed and replaced the torn ligament with a piece of tendon from her hamstring.

After her surgery, McLaughlin says, “I started to fall behind on my school work a little bit because the pain in my leg was so bad that I couldn’t stay awake at night… my mobility was also very limited and made it difficult for me to do everyday tasks [such as] going to the bathroom and getting into bed.”

To regain her strength, Kristine attended physical therapy sessions, where she started with small leg movements and exercises and then moved her way up to a bike and later a treadmill.

Her injury came with emotional difficulties as well. She states, “I was almost traumatized from my injury and the long recovery process. It took me a while to get to that psychological state where I was confident to play [volleyball again] without hesitation.”

Luckily, McLaughlin had a variety of supporters along her way, including her parents, friends, therapists, doctors, and old volleyball team members.

The year she got injured, the club team she was on traveled to Colorado for a volleyball tournament, and they brought a sweatshirt back for her. It made her feel grateful that people were thinking of her during her injury.

Kristine also notes, “I definitely realized who my close friends were because it’s not [easy] to stick by someone while they are recovering for nearly a year.”

Six months after her surgery, she was cleared for light volleyball, but she did not play until nine months later, slowing her recovery process. Says McLaughlin, “Right when I [got back into volleyball], I didn’t feel that comfortable… I was very nervous because I was scared of getting injured again.”

Although she missed out on playing on her school team during her sophomore year, McLaughlin returned to playing volleyball during her junior year (currently.)

She notes, “[I went back to playing volleyball] because I wanted to do something that was purely for fun and not for college app[plications] or other people, [and] because I love the sport.”

Although her journey came with many difficulties, McLaughlin believes she learned a lot from the experience. She says, “While making my decision about going back to volleyball, I made a pros and cons list, which made me realize my motivations on why I wanted to do the activities I did. I realized that my life and childhood should be more than just school.”