12/7 Special Report: Applying Yourself

Taking Risks in Life

The following story is one of three in the Special Report package, written by yours truly. Originally, this college application package was to be published in the magazine, but things went awry. 🙂 However, this package is still just as beautiful online. 

Last year during volleyball tryouts, senior Theemeshni Govender tore her ACL, a ligament in the back of the knee that helps with stabilization. She spiked a ball and her feet had landed in an awkward position.

Over the course of the next 11 months, she would undergo four surgeries for her torn ACL.

Govender recalls her landing as feeling as though two things were sliding across each other. People helped her off the court, as she moved to the sidelines in extreme pain. However, after she eventually tried walking around, she found that the pain had actually lessened. She underwent a surgery for an ACL reconstruction, and certainly expected to be back on the court her senior year — a fitting end to her high school experience.

Presently, she is no longer leaping to spike volleyballs and perhaps, similar to many injury-affected athletes, the court may simply serve as a reminder of what could have been. A week after the ACL reconstruction, she was racked with high fevers and informed of an infection in her ACL. Govender underwent two more surgeries for the infection and was absent from school for two weeks, only to return with a tube in her arm — the only way for her body to consume her antibiotics was through her veins. Her antibiotics had to be administered every six hours, so her dad would come to school every day during lunch and administer the medicine.

Presently, she is no longer leaping to spike volleyballs and perhaps, similar to many injury-affected athletes, the court may simply serve as a reminder of what could have been.

During her third surgery, the orthopedic surgeon had inserted a tube into her arm, running across her arm and rests on the center of heart, and her dad would inject her antibiotics through the tube. The orthopedist had also “washed” out her knee to clean it of any of the bacteria from the infection, and she returned home from the surgery on the weekend, ready to return to school.

Govender remembers how naive she was after the surgery. Facing a stressful junior year, Govender didn’t want to miss any classes and considered immediately returning to school. Her parents were firmly against it and in turn, Govender was absent from school for an entire week. But, looking back on it, she’s thankful for her parents’ cautiousness, seeing as merely walking was already a challenge for her body.

When Govender returned back to school, she received a warm welcome. Her friends carried her backpack for her and teachers extended deadlines for the homework she had missed or excused her from particular assignments altogether. Govender continued physical therapy, even after she was able to walk. A nurse still visited her every week to re-clean the site around her tube, and she had vials of blood drawn for four weeks to make sure her white blood cell count was returning to normal.


Senior Theemeshni Govender types on her laptop. Many of Govender’s college essays reflect on her growth as an individual after tearing her ACL during volleyball tryouts in her junior year. Photo by Om Khandekar.

Her life seemed to be looking up.

However, when Govender revisited her orthopedic surgeon again in July, before the beginning of senior year, he told her she needed yet another surgery — her fourth. The graft from her hamstring that he previously inserted had stretched.

Staying ahead of the game, Govender had planned to start her college essays over the summer and center the prompts around her injury. She eventually fell ill to procrastination, but completed several essays before the beginning of the school year. At the time, she didn’t know she would need a fourth surgery, but still felt slightly uneasy about writing of her injury.

Her mother was all for it. The injury had and has definitely changed Govender, emotionally and physically, and her injury has affected her academic performance, and that in itself, to her mother, was worthy of colleges’ attention.

“Sometimes I feel like [colleges]don’t want you to talk about certain hardships, as they might not understand or they’ll be like ‘Oh it wasn’t that big of a deal,’” Govender said, “I didn’t want to underrepresent what happened, yet at the same time I didn’t want them to say like ‘Oh she’s using this as excuse for things that happened my junior year.’”

In lieu of simply stressing her physical situation, Govender ultimately pinpointed the emotional aspects of her injury, and wrote of the process — or roads — traveled to overcome these hardships.

And the bigger picture unfurled at the edges as she did so.

“The college [application]process definitely made me look at the entire process of my surgery and recovery,” Govender said. “Look back on it in detail. Every step.”

What with the intravenous medications and the four surgeries, it seemed as if the enormity of her struggles would always be crystal clear to her. However, to Govender, it didn’t seem that way.

“It’s almost as if after I recovered and I could walk again that had like pushed them [the past struggles]aside and forgotten about it,” she said. “But when I was forced to write about it, I was like ‘Wow, I can’t believe I went through all of this.’”

Regardless of the emotion concentrated in her writing, Govender said she doesn’t want to garner any sympathy. She’d never informed peers of her injuries unless they had asked specifically, and in essence, there had never been a driving reason for her to “re-travel” these emotional roads of her injury — until college applications. After all, Govender mentions, sometimes people dislike reflecting on their “past selves,” regardless if they have changed for the better or worse.

“The college [application]process definitely made me look at the entire process of my surgery and recovery,” Govender said. “Look back on it in detail. Every step.”

At first, Govender had reflected on her injury with resentment. Yet presently, in the middle of her senior year, Govender personally believes she has become much more resilient — not just physically, but emotionally too — and she’s ready to face any problem that arises in the future. She is still attending physical therapy and is just starting to jog — she hasn’t attempted running just yet. Even then, her jogging is assisted. While others’ feet may subconsciously pound the cement sidewalks, Govender can only jog with the aid of a trampoline.

“I want to take risks in life,” she said, nevertheless.



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