View Full Version : Career-ending sports injury that gets better

08-16-2016, 01:33 AM
I have an 18-year-old hockey player who I want injured in September or October, told he'll never play again, operated on and rehabbed and fixed in order to be functional all winter and spring, and then told in the late summer that his injury has actually healed incredibly well and he's got a good chance to play again. The injury could happen during a game, or it could be a car accident or something else off the ice.

I was thinking ACL as a common injury, but I'm not sure it would fit the "told he'll never play again" criteria in this day and age of miraculous treatments.

It's also been suggested that I consider a head injury, but I don't want to deal with the side effects of that if I can avoid it (easier to write a character in pain rather than a character going through the mental changes of a concussion).

Another suggestion was an eye injury a la Marc Staal - it seems like it would work, except I'm not sure it was really as clearly career-ending as I want this injury to be.

(The point of the story is that the character has to come to terms with the end of his career, try to find another dream, etc., and then finds out his old dream actually isn't dead. For the coming-to-terms part to be compelling, he needs to really, really believe he's done. But then he needs to get better!)

Am I missing anything that would work better than the ideas I've got?

Thanks for any help with this.

08-16-2016, 02:08 AM
Ermmm...... that's a tough one. There is the French gymnast who snapped his tibia and fibia in two. He's very highly unlikely to be able to compete at Olympic standard at the vault but... if his bone heals well and he has good physio......

08-16-2016, 02:12 AM
Has there ever been a one-eyed hockey player? I would imagine you need all your peripheral vision for that game. Is it possible that his optic nerve is damaged and then grows back? Is that possible? I know some nerves regrow but don't know about that one.

08-16-2016, 02:18 AM

but optic nerve currently can't be regenerated, according to Google. I could hand-wave a miracle treatment, but I'd rather not if there's something else it could be...

08-16-2016, 02:35 AM
Well.... I know from experience that the nerves in your fingers regenerate but it takes a long while. But then I never had any kind of treatment for it.

08-16-2016, 03:49 AM
Brett Lindros.

There are very few injuries that lead to 'you'll never play again' that will rehab successfully. I can't think of one and I've seen guys smash heels to bits (that's very bad), break every bone in their face (yes, literally; also, very bad), have their neck sliced open, double ACLs, multiple ACLs (or MCLs)... To clarify, everything on that list was rehabbed and returned from (though the neck thing was really just gruesome and life-threatening; wasn't any big deal in terms of his overall health) and I don't believe anyone was really told they were done.

I'm not saying there isn't one, just got me.

Maybe something like blowing off some fingers in a fireworks accident or having them sliced off by a skate (happens, more likely to goalies) - though sliced off is usually reattachable and regardless I'd think everyone would try rehab before writing him off.

08-16-2016, 03:57 AM
The only way I can see it is that he loses three fingers off one hand which makes it impossible for him to grip. And someone comes up with an advanced prosthetic which gives him back his grip. Would that work?

Cos I also can't think of a career-ending injury that will heal either. Surgery has come on a lot for sports injuries.

08-16-2016, 04:27 AM
Yeah, that's kind of all I've got - though there are really good prosthetics now and you might be able to static it.

There was a goalie had a finger sliced off (I think the top two segments?) and reattached though the drs warned they couldn't really make it too functional if they reattached it. He told them to put it on fused somewhat crooked, in the position to hold a stick. Worked fine.

08-16-2016, 05:33 AM
Bryan Berard played with one eye for awhile, I think. He was never as effective again, though. That tends to be what happens. Some guys can come back but the chances of coming back at a competitive level are really minuscule. Even just the time off can pretty well end a career.

Couple options I see that haven't been mentioned, both of which would require some creative storytelling but which could work:

First, a cancer diagnosis or similar disease-related situation. See also: Saku Koivu. It could, at the time of diagnosis, basically end a career. But there are players who deal with it, survive, and come back arguably as good as they were before.

Second would be some combination of injuries. Even something as innocent as a hamstring, if it gets chronic, can severely derail or even end a career. Couple of players on my favourite soccer team (Toronto FC) have skirted near this line. If you go out for, say, a normal ACL, then tear something else while trying to rehab, then can't get playing time... by the time you've been off for 2-3 years it may never be possible to elevate yourself back to professional form. Play, sure. Compete, no. And professional teams will see a history of injuries and may never sign a player who's spent too long away.

Third option would be something like a blood clot. Those are career enders, often. Usually I wouldn't even suggest this because to play through something like that is more excessively risky than an actual comeback. But see Steven Stamkos. Hockey superstar, was diagnoses with some sort of circulatory issue last year. There was a bit of a media circus about whether his career might be in jeopardy. It was probably overblown--in the end he had some surgery I think and re-signed with his team after one of the stupidest free agent frenzies in awhile, but there's always a chance it could flare up again and it might legitimately endanger his career.

Hope something like this helps. I'm not a doctor. This might be an area where you need to consult one.

08-16-2016, 06:42 AM
Accidentally got all his teeth back. Can't play hockey with a full set of teeth. :)

Knee or hip, broken pelvis, crushed foot/ankle, severed Achilles tendon...

There are a lot of career ending injuries that modern medical techniques can repair, if it goes well and heals properly and he gets proper therapy, he could play again.


08-16-2016, 09:39 AM
When I used to play ice hockey I got sciatica one season and was told that I'd be out for a whole entire year, but was playing again within a few weeks. That's not exactly the same as what you want but it was pretty devastating to be told that I might have to miss an entire season... it seemed like forever at the time. That level of unexpected recovery isn't implausible. People heal at different rates and sometimes injuries do heal much faster and better than expected.

It could be a misdiagnosis as well, like if they thought something was fucked up beyond repair - I'd go for knee ligaments here - then it turns out it's not as bad as they first thought and a really good surgeon might be able to fix it.

Soft tissue injuries can be pretty devastating. I know of athletes that have been permanently laid off due to ligament injuries particularly the knees. You have to bend your knees much more when skating than when running so the knees are more vulnerable in skaters to begin with, plus when you do fuck your knees up, skating puts that much more strain on them and means more likelihood of the injury getting worse again. Surgery can fix ligaments. They don't heal on their own if they're badly damaged. You'd need a really skilled surgeon and for story purposes, there's always the doubt whether the operation will be successful. There might be a reason when the injury first happens that the doctors think that surgery won't work, then later on they might find something different and realise that they can try surgery.

I'd imagine fucked up discs in the back would be another possiblity - they can be surgically repaired but it may look initially like the damage is worse than it really is, so a combination of misdiagnosis and a really skilled surgeon could make doctors go from "you'll never play again" to "after intensive rehab we can get you back on the ice".

Another career ending thing is if you have to many concussions. You get to a point where bleeding on the brain is too big a risk and one more concussion could kill you. I know of a player who had to stop playing hockey because of this (one of the previous head injuries was from a car accident) - I don't think there's any way to get back into sport after this though, so it's not a good one for your story unless you have a deus ex brain surgeon type ending. Not sure surgery can fix this though (hence deus ex). Concussions in ice hockey are much less common than they are in some sports like boxing or American football.

08-16-2016, 09:44 AM
This might help: 7 powerful stories of recovery after injury (http://blog.ted.com/7-powerful-stories-of-recovery-after-injury/)

08-16-2016, 10:11 AM
I think the issue with something like disc problems and knee deals is that rehab/surgery is the first line response and it usually works - sure sometimes it doesn't, or there's a limit (though I've known of players with multiple ligament repairs who ended up fine, and players who eventually gave up but after like nine surgeries (over a long period)) with declining results. It seems the OP wants something that goes the opposite way.

08-16-2016, 01:05 PM
For the average person in competitive athletics almost any major injury is potentially career ending because of the level at which they are competing. There are exceptions who manage to come back, Tim Krumrie had a horrific leg injury in the superbowl and managed to play again. Lance Armstrong and testicular cancer. (I'm not a sports fan so those are the specifics that are public information that I know of. I've also taken care of at least one NBA major player but can't discuss that) A torn ACL is a common injury that washes people out of Ranger and Seal school and ultimately out of the military. Some of those people go on to have better than average people's physical ability, partly because most of us are couch potatoes. An ACL tear is a perfectly conceivable injury for your story to have been expected to be a career ender

08-16-2016, 02:44 PM
Thanks, guys - great ideas!

I'm taking notes... doing some more reading...

08-18-2016, 04:18 AM
A shoulder injury will keep you out of athletics for up to six months depending on its severity, but it's possible to continue sports after rehabilitation and physical therapy. I'm not sure how stressful hockey is on the shoulder joints, but it can't be as dramatic as the impact on players' knees.

08-18-2016, 05:08 AM
I’m also leaning towards knee as previously suggested. More specially "tibial plateau fracture". There are varying degrees of severity that may fit your story (up to 6 types...says google). The "surgery" could be a "tibial plateau fracture ORIF". The specificity and nature of this fracture is such that the outcome really could go either way. I have only rehabbed 2 close to this age group, both came out functional, but running and even walking was somewhat impaired at discharge. Because of the nature of the injury, his leg may have to be immobilized or he would be non-weight bearing for quite some time, so it may fill up your time gap. Or maybe you could give him a peroneal nerve injury with the fracture or even without the fracture. Peroneal nerve injury causes foot drop, which could definitely make someone think they have to quit, but if it is only a minor injury...it could resolve for sure. Not sure if peroneal nerve injury would fill your time frame, but the fracture probably would. I’m going to stop now, in case you already figured something out. Anyway, I hope this helps.

08-18-2016, 05:16 AM
These are super-useful, guys - thanks!

I think I'm going to try to go with the knee, for sure, and the nerve injury part sounds perfect.

Thanks so much, everybody - great stuff!

11-22-2016, 05:59 AM
I have a similar character. I went with a torn MCL. It's a common, career-ending injury that does get better.