North Andover Scarlet Knights Girls Soccer '07

North Andover's Dellea has not let a pair of ACL injuries slow her down

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Mariah Dellea » Roger Darrigrand, Staff Photographer

Thursday, October, 04 By Bob Albright
Staff writer

There were just seconds remaining in a routine win over Ipswich, but the second Mariah Dellea heard the unmistakable "pop" in her right knee she instantly knew her soccer season was over.

"It's a weird sound that you know when you hear it," said Dellea of the ominous sound which only accompanies a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

"I fell right to the ground and I was just thinking, 'Here we go again.' I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me." In fact, Dellea knew down to the last minute and last leg curl exactly how many long hours of rehabilitation were staring her in the face. If there is a better profile in courage on the local soccer fields this fall than his double knee brace-clad midfielder, North Andover coach Bud McCarthy would like to hear about it.

"She's an inspiration to me and everyone," said the coach of Dellea, who is battling back from her second torn ACL. "Just watching the way she has worked her tail off to get back. I don't think there are too many people who would have the courage to come back from that once, not to mention two times. I don't know if I would, but that's just the way she is."

Wearing two clunky black knee braces, the senior now relies on her smarts as much as her feet while increasing her minutes each game for the red-hot Scarlet Knights (8-1). "Sometimes I don't feel like I have legs, but just these two big black things under me," Dellea said with a smile. "I used to be a lot faster. Now I just try to be smarter and see the whole field and make the most of my touches."

It was a contact injury against Ipswich | she was kicked on her right knee | that led to her second ACL tear last fall. There was no contact at all in an early-season contest with North Reading two years ago which first introduced her to the term, "anterior cruciate ligament tear."

"That time there was an even louder pop," recalled Dellea, who was simply trying to force a Hornet forward to her left when her left leg just gave out.

"I had no idea what it was. I thought I would be out a couple weeks. They told me 6-9 months and I was thinking even broken legs don't take that long."

It was a crushing reality for the 5-foot-9 Dellea. In an instant, not only her soccer season was gone, but basketball as well.

She says the lowest times came after her surgery where her leg was placed in an immobilizer for six weeks. That made even the simplest of tasks, like climbing a staircase or taking a shower, an ordeal.

"The first one was very tough because I did not know what to expect," said Dellea. "But once you are able to move around and start physical therapy it gets a lot better."

Dellea was back on the field in just five months, fueled by her desire not to miss a club soccer tournament that was being held in sunny Florida that March.

After last year's injury, Dellea opted to put off surgery until the spring so she wouldn't miss her second straight season of basketball. Fitted with a brace to match the one on her left knee, Dellea played a full season at guard and small forward for the Knights, all the while building up her leg to make the recovery time from her second surgery even quicker.

"You lose a lot of muscle when you have the surgery," Dellea explained. "I wanted to make sure that I went into it as strong as possible."

As strong as she entered the procedure physically, her mental toughness may have been more important.

"It's easy to get down, but you just have to stay focused," she noted. "I think by just sitting, watching and listening on the sidelines I understand (the game) a lot more than I would have. I understand the whole concept a lot better." Having the support of McCarthy has been a big help.

"He's been great," she said. "He lets me go at my own pace, but at the same time lets me know if I'm not doing something that he thinks I can. After (the injuries) he would call me on the phone all the time. It's just nice to know you have not been forgotten."

Dellea does not need a white jacket and a clipboard to elaborate on the alarming rate which athletes, especially females, are having to climb the grueling mountain. She hopes her story can make it a less daunting climb.

"I would tell girls not to give up because it gets a lot better as you go on," she said. "At first, it seems like the end of the world when it happens, but you learn a lot on the sidelines and I think you learn to appreciate playing a lot more."

What is an ACL tear? A tear of the ACL occurs most often during sporting activities when an athlete suddenly pivots, causing excessive rotational forces on the ligament.

What are the signs of an ACL tear? A sudden giving way of the knee often accompanied by hearing a "pop" at the time of the injury, sudden swelling of the knee joint and pain in the knee when walking.

What is the surgical procedure? ACL reconstruction surgery is usually not performed until several weeks after the injury to let the swelling subside. The torn ligament must be entirely removed and a new ligament is created out of other healthy tissue.

What is the recovery time? A recovering patient can expect to be on crutches for two to three weeks and the total recovery time for athletes returning to high-demand sports like soccer and basketball is seven months.

Source: Mayoclinic.com

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