After one infection, two operations, three drainings, and 15 physical therapy sessions, I was back in the hospital for yet another operation. They carved me up like a tomato. Almost surreally, time froze; the events of my life blended together. The days since my first knee surgery were confused, thrown in a stainless-steel blender and turned to puree.

I woke up after the surgery and was wheeled to my room. I took my volleyball and tossed it in the air over and over. I closed my eyes, focusing not on the pain but on getting back on the volleyball court. Serving, passing, hitting – I could still practice, if only in my mind.

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This was my third surgery within two months, and I was miserable. I sat up in my hospital bed watching “Jeopardy,” eating orange sherbet, and talking to my mom.

“Mom,” I said with a small quiver in my voice, “I feel sad.

I feel like I let this injury defeat me, and I don’t know what to do. Why did this happen to me? Why me?”

“I know,” she said. She could feel my pain, see it in my face, and hear the distress in my voice. “Sometimes when you have a setback, it is not about beating an opponent on another team; it can be about beating the opponent within. I know that the fight inside yourself can be the hardest, but taking charge and rising above the situation can be the most rewarding. You end up learning a lot about who you are and what type of person you want to become.”

I thought about what Mom said as I took another bite of sherbet, a tear dropping in my spoon. As the ice melted in my parched mouth, I realized that I had to change. A metamorphosis was in the works. Although the rehabilitation would be painful, focusing my energy was necessary to achieve my goals. If I could alter my perspective, I knew that I could be positive. I just had to propel myself through it. I didn’t want people to pity me, and most importantly, I couldn’t pity myself.

That day, I started to embrace the pain and use it to my advantage. The more pain I was in, the harder I pushed. One week later, I took my first steps without crutches. I had freed myself from the cuffs that bound me to failure.

My experience from the surgeries has made me a more patient, perseverant, and hard-working young woman. I will never forget the pain of the tedious healing. My leg no longer looks like a sliced vegetable, and I have learned the virtues of pushing myself to the ultimate limit.

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