Katrina Geiger: To the Always Injured Athlete


Katrina Geiger is an assistant coach at Georgetown University and professional lacrosse player who formerly played in the WPLL before joining Athletes Unlimited for its inaugural lacrosse season this summer. She graduated from Loyola in 2018.

I’ve been a part of the game of lacrosse ever since I could remember.

My mom took my family to the 2001 World Cup in England, and I was hooked. The speed that the ball moved, the communication between players, the creativity and connectivity … I’d never seen something so flawless, spontaneous and competitive all at once, and I knew that I’d be part of this sport forever. I couldn’t wait until it was my turn.     

It was always my dream to play lacrosse at the highest level ever since I first picked up a circa-2001 metal STX stick when I was 7 years old. I’ll never forget the adrenaline-filled glee I felt after scoring my first goal in a game one warm Wednesday in April. I was exhausted, but so happy, and I felt like I knew how to use my speed, skills and drive to contribute to something so much larger than myself.

I played through high school and was honored to make my way to Loyola to learn under the tutelage of Jen Adams and Dana Dobbie. Little 7-year-old Katrina would have pinched herself — coming into the absolutely stunning Ridley and joining a team of inspiring, like-minded individuals who wanted success at the highest level of the sport just like I did was right here, now, in front of me!

I was hungry to make an impact as soon as I arrived on campus, but the 2013 season didn’t go as well as we’d wanted it to. We were ousted from the NCAA tournament early, sent home with our bags packed before we had even really processed it. By my sophomore year, I was ready to build on what we’d started and the legacy that came before me under Jen’s direction. I was ready to lead by example heading into the 2014 season.

But then, during one February night at practice, I heard a pop.

I was stunned. It was my knee, and it had completely given out from under me. Cutting for a pass, no contact, no one within 15 yards of me. I tore my ACL just four days before our season opener against Virginia.

What was to follow — the MRIs, the surgeries, the pain and the physical therapy to name a few — were things I never could have foreseen. Not only was my largest source of joy and expression taken away from me physically, but I also had new psychological hurdles presented to me in an instant. I was scared and overwhelmed.

The entire experience was almost surreal. Growing up, I never was hurt. I had my share of sprained ankles from soccer, sure, or jammed fingers from basketball, but I never had any “real,” sustained injuries that sidelined me. And while tearing my ACL was the first injury of its nature I experienced, it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

I spent six years at Loyola, and four of those were spent on the sideline with an injury.

In my junior year, I missed the middle 12 games of the season with a torn meniscus that needed surgery. My senior year, I had a stress fracture turn into a break after the first game of the season, causing me to miss the remainder of our games. And during the last game of my fifth year, I tore my other ACL, causing me to miss the fall of my sixth year.

When you experience a season-ending injury, people love to offer phrases like, “Things happen for a reason,” or, “There are peaks after valleys,” or, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Yes, I’ve heard that Kelly Clarkson song, too, and while it helps to keep the positive vibes going in recovery, these phrases made me want to put one of my crutches through a wall. Every year felt like a test to see if my body would do what I and others wanted and needed it to do, with so many people waiting to see if it would perform correctly.

After my second season-ending injury, I learned to have a new perspective. It didn’t occur overnight, but I started to change the word “could” into “can”. What can I be? What can this opportunity give me that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to have? In the face of adversity, I looked to my teammates and saw strengths in them I’d never seen. I saw camaraderie and thoughtfulness, risk-taking followed by failure at times, and resilience in practice that I’d never had the chance to take in. It made me a smarter player, a better teammate and allowed me to grow into the coach I am today.  

None of this is to oversimplify the pain and setbacks I experienced because of these injuries, but they didn’t prevent me from doing what I love. I was able to play in conference championships and appear in NCAA tournaments in my time at Loyola, and I’m currently able to play at a professional level as a part of Athletes Unlimited, as well as coach at Georgetown.

I avoid telling our girls on the team now who sustain injuries that it happened for a reason, or that this will make them stronger with a new appreciation for the sport. That may end up being true for them, and maybe she will find a reason for her injury that makes sense to her, but what I do know for her is that it will always be worth it. What I do know is that it’s okay to be frustrated with your body. It’s alright to be upset about the squandered vision you had of being a contributor and leader on field. It’s normal to be angry about the process and to question why and how you ended up on the sideline. And it’s even more important to use those emotions as fuel.

I was very lucky, and remain so. That probably wasn’t the sentiment you’d think I’d be feeling after all that, but I still feel this at my core. Even after every one of these injuries, I would do it all again for my time at Loyola. I was so incredibly lucky to have the best teammates and coaching staff rally behind me every time I fell. Some days I wondered how I’d keep myself going, and they’d show up for me. Comeback after comeback, I was reminded by them why I got into the sport to begin with. These weren’t fair-weather friends; this was my team — I was never written off or forgotten about, when I very well could have been lost.

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments in my career when I thought I wouldn’t recover from the latest blow, but I learned just how resilient the mind and body are. It’s never the falling down that defines our failure, it’s the staying down. Every time I’m hit, I try to rise a bit taller and adjust my gloves for the next fight. It didn’t happen for a reason, and it doesn’t get easier, but I will keep rising for the fight.

So to you, the always injured athlete, I say: your injuries are not you. Look to the possibility within your circumstance as a new opportunity. You might not be the same player you were when you reach the other side of recovery, but you will grow in ways you can’t even conceive of yet if you choose to keep rising for the challenge.

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