When you walk into the Hindman Hobbs Center at Morningside University any afternoon, chances are high you will meet 18-year-old Paula Geiser from Germany in the gym, preparing for a crucial test coming up in a few days.
The test will evaluate whether her right knee is strong enough to start playing soccer again after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). If she fails, she will have to wait until the end of next semester until she goes back home to Germany the next time and can take the test again.
It was in September 2020 when 18-year-old Paula Geiser from Germany tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during soccer practice.
“It felt like something in my knee was completely broken right away. It was the first time I screamed because of an injury,” Geiser recalls.
After getting surgery about a month later, she had put in a lot of work to learn to walk again and build all the muscles she lost in her right leg back up. And she quickly made progress.
“It went very well, surprisingly well. I was very lucky. After 2-3 months, I could do most of the things I could before, besides playing soccer. Often it doesn’t work that quickly,” Geiser says.
She was just waiting for her knee test appointment in May since at least six months had to pass after the injury before she was allowed to take it.
But things didn’t go as planned. In January, four months after the initial tear, it happened again.
“It hurt the same way it did the first time. In the first moment, you don’t think anything. You just scream. But right after, I thought: No, that can’t be happening. Not after I’ve invested so much these last months,” Geiser remembers.
The doctors tried to do the same surgery they did before, but it turned out that, unlike the first time, there was nothing left from the ACL this time. It was completely destroyed, along with the meniscus, so they had to do a different, more complicated procedure.
“She was working very hard. While she had her final high school exams, she had to do outpatient rehab right after school every day. It took three hours and was on the other side of the town,” Geiser’s mother says.
“Everything takes much longer than the first time because they had to do this other surgery procedure,” Geiser herself notes. “A few weeks ago, for example, I had a very rough phase. I could only run for about five minutes and had to work my back up from that.”
Geiser is glad she can do much more by now. Five to six days a week, she goes down to the stadium to do a 10-kilometer run, coordination exercises, stair runs, jumps, interval runs, and turns. After that, she goes to the gym to build muscle strength, and sometimes she goes for a swim to recover. This routine takes her about three hours.
“She’s one of the most determined and dedicated I’ve seen in the years, and I bet you we’ve had 25+ ACLs here.” says her Coach Tom Maxon. “It’s just so good to see what she is doing. I wish all our players worked as hard as she does. I think that the work that she’s doing will also be a good example for those on the team who maybe allow the drag of practice or the difficulty of the physical work to get to them, and they’ll see somebody else pushing through it, and that might help them,” he continues.
He knows that it takes a lot of hard work, discipline, and patience for players to come back to the field after a severe injury. While he believes the physical part alone is hard enough, he thinks the mental and emotional part is even harder.
“In many cases, the player [comes back] stronger. They are not only physically stronger, but because of the whole deal, they come back especially mentally stronger,” he holds.
December 22 – That’s when Geiser has her new knee test appointment. Therefore, it’s important for her to put all the work in right now. Even though she is feeling confident, it does put her under some pressure since she finally wants to start playing soccer again.
“On the other hand, especially because I have been waiting for so long, I’d rather wait another 2-3 months than tear it up again,” Geiser says.
Geiser’s journey back onto the field has been long and tough. After her first ACL tear, the finish line was already in sight before she suffered yet another setback that put her back to square one. That’s when she had to fight even harder. And now, after over a year of not being able to play soccer, everything she has done is finally about to pay off.