Major injuries happen, it is a part of sport and life, but imagine the frustration of having the exact same injury in consecutive seasons?
This is what JP Kealey endured.
Kealey tore the ACL in his left knee in August 2015, his sophomore season at Robert Morris University.
And following a grueling rehab process to get back on the field with the Colonials’ field lacrosse team, he returned seven months later. But during a pre-season tournament, he felt a ‘pop’ in the surgically-repaired knee.
The doctors didn’t initially didn’t think he had re-torn the ACL, but after rest and rehab didn’t remedy the injury, Kealey’s gut instinct was confirmed: another torn ACL, another lost season.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Kealey took a broader view of the situation.
A look at his Twitter profile shows a pinned tweet: ‘I refuse to be defined by an injury but rather rise from it.’
— JP Kealey (@JPKlax67) November 17, 2015
“I kind of took it upon myself to look at it as an opportunity rather than a setback,” he explained.
Kealey, a 24-year-old left-handed forward from Ottawa, is now in his second season with the senior A Langley Thunder of the Western Lacrosse Association.
In his rookie year last spring, Kealey led the Thunder in points per game (3.58) while finishing second in goals (20) and points (43) in just a dozen games. He is off to a solid start in 2018 with the Thunder, leading the team with 17 goals and 29 points through the first seven games.
He is third in the WLA in goals scored and ninth in points and Thunder head coach Rod Jensen said Kealey has been as advertised.
“He is exactly what (Thunder general manager) Rob Buchan told me: he has a really good stick, a really good shot, some fancy stuff,” Jensen said. “He is a very gifted athlete, there is no question about it. He is shifty, he is athletic, and he is competitive.”
Last season marked his first time playing competitive lacrosse in 15 months, quite the stretch considering he had played the sport since he was four years old.
“You learn how tough you really are when you have no choice by to be strong. You really find out through adversities like that what kind of person you can be,” he said.
“I think I found a whole other gear of hard work and what that means on and off the floor. I consider myself a hard worker, but I feel like having those injuries, you have to work even harder … you have to find a whole other gear.”
It is safe to say Kealey’s efforts over his time away from the game paid off.
Despite virtually missing his final three seasons of college field lacrosse and not playing box lacrosse until last spring, Kealey set lofty – but attainable – goals for himself.
With the National Lacrosse League draft set for last September, Kealey knew he had a tougher hill to climb than most in achieving that goal.
“I knew I didn’t have much draft stock, not having played box lacrosse for three years,” he admitted. “I looked up and down the mock draft and used that as motivation. I saw guys I had played against my whole life and I knew I am as good as those guys.”
The New England Black Wolves picked Kealey in the first round, 10th overall. Kealey suited up in a pair of games, scoring twice and finishing with four points.
Finally fully healthy, Kealey admits the injuries – while never welcome – played a critical role in his development.
“I don’t think I would be the player I am right now if it wasn’t for the adversity I had to overcome,” Kealey said, adding there was never any doubt about walking away from the game.
“I worked too hard and had done way too much to walk away. Another year of busting my (butt) and fighting through this is going to be worth the next 20 years of being able to do the thing that I love and achieving my dream.”