October 7, 2009

The Comeback Kid

Jumbo soccer star Cara Cadigan beat a devastating knee injury—and it wasn’t the first time she pulled off that feat

By Paul Sweeney

Watching Cara Cadigan race up the middle of the field to collect a pass and score a goal during a recent soccer game at Kraft Field, fans would never know that the senior co-captain has overcome serious injuries to both knees. She is as fast and talented as ever.

Click on the play button to watch a slideshow of Cara Cadigan (center, #8) and her teammates playing Keene State College; Tufts won, 2-0. Photos by Alonso Nichols

Coming back from a knee injury is not as easy as Cadigan makes it look. After each injury, she had to relearn how to bend her leg, not to mention how to run, jump and pivot. And she had to learn to trust her body again, convincing herself that she wouldn’t get hurt when she was out on the field going for a tackle.

“For a short amount of time—less than an hour—I thought about not playing,” she says, reflecting on her most recent injury. “I realized how much I wanted to play. I love soccer, and I love the Tufts soccer team. The girls on it are great, so just to get another chance to play with them before I graduated was incentive enough.”

Cadigan’s Tufts career stalled before it even started. In May 2006, when she was a high school senior, a hard slide tackle by an opponent snapped the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. The rehabilitation took more than six months, wiping out her entire freshman season with the Jumbos. She was the team’s scorekeeper instead.

Her comeback was spectacular. Debuting with the team as a sophomore in 2007, Cadigan produced the strongest offensive season in the program’s history. She scored a Tufts record 19 goals, including 10 game-winners. In nine all-important conference matches, Cadigan scored seven goals, each one tipping the balance in Tufts’ favor. She led the New England Small College Athletic Conference in scoring and was voted the league’s Rookie of the Year.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect her to have the season she did that sophomore year,” Coach Martha Whiting says. “It’s tough coming off a major injury, but Cara is an exceptional athlete. She has speed, skill, strength, agility and quickness. She also has a determination that is truly remarkable. She will not be denied. When you have that combination, great things will happen.”

Lightning Striking Twice

Then last fall, seven games into her junior season, Cadigan blew out her right knee in a collision while going for the ball in a game at Brandeis.

“I think I was more mad than anything,” Cadigan says. “I walked off the field and just hoped it wasn’t my ACL. I hoped it was anything else besides my ACL, because I didn’t want to go through that again.”

But it was, and she did. She worked hard through eight more months of rehabilitation. With help from Anna Shoolroy and Pat Cordeiro of the Tufts sports medicine staff, she’s back again, leading the charge for the Jumbos in 2009. The goal she scored in the season’s first home game, helping Tufts defeat Keene State College, is a good measure of her determination.

“We have not noticed Cara hindered in any way by her injuries,” Whiting says. “She worked so hard lifting [weights] before her surgery that the muscles in her leg surrounding her knee were unbelievably strong. I don’t want to jinx anything, but at this point, it’s hard to tell she was injured at all.”

With 23 goals in 27 career games, Cadigan is third on the Tufts all-time list. She’s also a team leader—a two-year captain, as voted by her teammates.

Her sense of humor helps keep things light. Whiting recalls that when she was recruiting Cadigan, they had a “great meeting” with an especially memorable ending. “As we were saying goodbye, she was putting on her coat, and she put it on backwards by accident,” Whiting says. “She cracked a joke about it, and we laugh about it to this day.”

When her undergraduate soccer career ends, Cadigan’s time at Tufts will have prepared her well for the future in more ways than one.

“Ironically, I would really like to be a physical therapist,” she says. “Luckily, I have gained some experience on the other side of the profession for the past few years.”

Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.

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