Seneca Valley multi-sport star makes quick return from ACL surgery
It was something she had done hundreds of times without incident.
In preparing to compete in the PIAA track and field championships, Seneca Valley's Abbie Trzeciak was tossing the javelin four days before she was to head to Hershey when disaster struck.
Wearing a new pair of spikes, Trzeciak was practicing her approach on the track surface at Seneca Valley when she collapsed. Her spike bore into the surface, but her knee continued in motion. Trzeciak knew something was wrong, and rather than travel to Hershey, she was taken for an MRI. It took 10 days to get the diagnosis, and the news was what every athlete fears: a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The injury required surgery and a complete reconstruction.
“It was devastating,” Trzeciak said. “I have had my fair share of bumps and bruises over the years, but never a knee injury.”
Prior to the surgery, Trzeciak paid a visit to Revolution Physical Therapy where she worked under the care of Dr. Lyneil Mitchell, a doctor of physical therapy. She worked with Mitchell two weeks prior to her surgery.
“I told Abbie that this would not be a quick turnaround, but in her mind that was not an option,” Mitchell said. “That was something that stood out to me. She wanted to get back fast, and she is a goal-oriented kid.”
Mitchell said that 95 percent of girls' ACL tears are of the noncontact variety and added that therapy before the surgery would strengthen the muscles around the knee and produce muscle memory for after the surgery.
On June 12, Trzeciak had her knee reconstructed. A ligament was removed and new one constructed from a tendon (a bone-patella-bone graft). A piece of her meniscus was shaved off, which was a bonus because it trimmed her recovery time by about six weeks.
The usual timetable to recover from this injury and surgery is eight to 12 months; a slim possibility to return is six months in rare cases. Six months would put her back in action by November, but would have cost Trzeciak her senior volleyball season. Eight months of recovery time could have kept her out of basketball season. If the recovery took 12 months, Trzeciak would have lost her entire senior season of athletics.
“I kind of had my doubts,” Trzeciak said. “Especially about getting back to play volleyball.”
Determined not to lose her senior year, Trzeciak returned to Revolution and was there every day. Her mom said that sometimes the teen would come home and continue her workout. She was off crutches in a week. After six weeks, Mitchell had to reel her in as Trzeciak felt like her old self.
“Abbie's body is not the same as most people, I have never seen anyone come back from this injury like Abbie,” Mitchell said.
Trzeciak visited her surgeon in early September and was told that if the hard work continued, she could be cleared at a follow-up appointment on Oct. 3, which would be 15 weeks post-surgery. It also was the same night as an important section match against Pine-Richland.
“I noticed I was healing quicker, moving faster and that motivated me more,” she said. “The hardest part was sitting there watching my team win and lose without me. That drove me the most.”
Although the news was positive, Trzeciak knew that a mere thumbs up was not going to be enough to get her on the court. The correct paperwork needed to be filed at the school. She needed the doctor's signature on the form that cleared her without restrictions. The athletic director and trainers at Seneca Valley would need to discuss the doctor's findings.
There also was the question of whether Trzeciak could help the volleyball team in that huge match against Pine-Richland, since she hadn't practiced all season, even though she had attended each practice.
Trzeciak warmed up and began the game on the bench. In the second game, Seneca Valley head coach Karen Martini put Trzeciak in the game to a standing ovation. She subbed in the remainder of the game, and although the Lady Raiders lost, Trzeciak had won the recovery battle. She played in seven more games and a couple of playoff games, and now will prepare for basketball season.
“I could feel the crowd,” Trzeciak said. “Even the other team showed their support.”
Mitchell said a key to the recovery was having faith and strengthening the brain because it is a function of the brain to recruit the muscles to do their jobs.
“With this injury, it's not the jumping that worries you. It is the landing that is the problem,” Mitchell said. “Abbie is still in here working three or four days a week (which is important) because so many athletes tend to go back to their sport and drop the rehab.”
Those around her are dumbfounded at the speed of Trzeciak's recovery. She used the model set by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who returned from an ACL tear in nine months to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark in 2012. However, there was a 16-month hiatus taken by Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose to return to form.
“I did a lot of reading on Adrian Peterson (to see what he did),” she said.
If all continues on the right path, Trzeciak will have earned 12 varsity letters by the end of the school year. She plans to study exercise science and physical therapy — and hopefully play volleyball — in college.
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979.