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Sophomore defender Liv Smith is ready to make an impact for Penn women's lacrosse after recovering from multiple ACL tears.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Not one. Not two. Not three. Not even four. Two torn anterior cruciate ligaments and three torn menisci made five the number of injuries for Penn women’s lacrosse’s Liv Smith, who has triumphantly taken the field for the Red and Blue after nearly two years on the sidelines.

After missing part of her senior season in high school due to a devastating injury that saw her tear her ACL and both menisci in her left knee, the now-sophomore defender spent eight months doing intensive rehabilitation to prepare for her first year of college athletics at Penn.

Smith received clearance to play in February of 2018 — just days before the Quakers’ first game of the year — and hopped right into the swing of things, but a slight tweak of the right knee in a practice one-on-one drill turned into another blown-out ACL and meniscus on the ensuing go-around. 

This injury, now to the opposite leg, marked a second consecutive season lost to misfortune. The shock of again being relegated to the sidelines combined with the experience of her first rehabilitation process made the Port Washington, N.Y. native reconsider her approach to healing.

“I was kind of blind in that recovery [from the first injury],” Smith said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, so I kind of did the minimum.”

The second time around, with two surgeries under her belt, Smith wanted to do everything in her power to ensure that she would return to the field stronger and more resistant to injury.

“[My left knee injury] helped me with my right knee, because with my right knee, I knew what was most important to do,” she said. “I actually spent more time on it — about nine months of recovery. After that, I was doing a lot more biking and range of motion to keep up my muscle strength.”

Her workout regimen included exercises to improve her balance after her right leg had been overcompensating for her left. In line with her second set of torn ligaments and cartilage, a 2013 study by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine found that athletes may be twice as likely to tear their opposite ACL after undergoing reconstructive surgery.

After enduring such hardship on an individual level, it would have been easy to understand if she had become withdrawn and despondent, but Smith noted that she has been able to weather some of the lowest points of the healing process because of the people around her.

“My teammates have been a rock for me throughout my recovery, especially when you’re away from your parents,” she said. “Our trainers have been awesome. They’ve been there when I’m going through really bad physical pains or just having a bad emotional day. The coaches have been super helpful and understanding of everything that I’ve been through, and they’ve done everything that they can to help me.”

Smith made her Penn debut in March when Quakers earned a tight 11-10 victory over visiting Cornell, and she’s thrilled to be back on the playing field.

“I’m just really excited to be out there with my teammates again; I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s a crazy feeling,” she said. “It almost makes me feel like nothing really happened.”

Despite having finally returned to the team, Smith remains dedicated to staying healthy and building confidence in her game. In addition to regular practices and lifts, she attends physical therapy sessions multiple times each week to build strength and combat knee soreness that grows more quickly than it did before the injuries.

With her extended hiatus and injury struggles now behind her, however, Smith dwells more on her team’s success than on herself.

“Since I’ve been injured, my goals have shifted to be more team-oriented,” she said. “I think it’s a lot more rewarding to see your entire team succeed, so working toward a national championship and winning the Ivy outright are huge goals of mine.”

Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but acknowledge her competitive nature. If two severe and successive knee injuries couldn’t keep her away from the lacrosse field, it would hardly be shocking to see Smith and the Red and Blue ascend to new heights.