Jordyn Bradbury’s soccer career didn’t end when she tore her ACL in September 2016 and experienced the “most excruciating pain” she’d ever felt. It didn’t end when she faced setbacks in her recovery process. It didn’t end when she blacked out and cried after failing her fitness test. No, Bradbury revived her career – but that revival came at the cost of her desire to play.
“I never thought that I would be one of those people to lose my passion for something that I loved so much,” Bradbury said. “When I sat down and thought about it, it was really sad to realize that I didn’t love to play anymore. I still love the sport, but I do not want to be on the field myself.”
Since she was 5 years old, Bradbury’s life has revolved around soccer. When she was younger, her parents took days off from work to drive her to tournaments. During the offseason in high school and college, she coached youth soccer. As a freshman at Chapman, she’d established herself as a starter on the women’s soccer team.
When an ACL tears, it is not outwardly visible. It is a trauma that lies under the knee. Much of the recovery process is also below the surface – it challenges athletes emotionally.
“It was probably 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental,” Bradbury said.
The physical trauma of an ACL tear prevents immediate surgery, said Pam Gibbons, Chapman’s director of athletic training and sports medicine.
For four weeks, Bradbury underwent pre-surgery physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize her knee. After surgery, Bradbury returned home, and for the first three days of the following week, she stayed in a hotel with her mom, who had to take her to class.
I never thought that I would be one of those people to lose my passion for something I loved so much.
“I had to have people carry my backpack because I couldn’t crutch with my backpack on,” Bradbury said. “I hate asking people for help. I had to learn that it’s OK to need help and to ask people for help when you’re in a time of need.”
Bradbury had to move out of her third-floor dorm room in Henley Hall into a single disability-accessible room in Glass Hall, where she lived for two months before moving back to her dorm. Some of her classes, like one on the second floor of Wilkinson Hall, were only accessible by stairs, meaning Bradbury had to scale those stairs with her crutches.
“At that time, I was upset and hurt and sad and angry at the world, wondering why it happened to me,” Bradbury said. “Instead of seeing it as something positive where I could grow and learn and overcome it, I was automatically like, ‘I can’t do this.’”
The nine-month period of daily rehabilitation wore Bradbury down, she said. Eventually, it caused her to lose her passion for soccer.
“The emotional part of injury recovery is something I think people forget about,” Gibbons said.
Once Bradbury finally returned to the soccer field this season, she was in frequent pain and couldn’t move with the same speed or agility she had before the injury. After failing her fitness test, she called her parents crying and considered quitting the sport, but decided against it, and went on to play 14 games.
“There was always some problem with my knee and I think mentally, I wasn’t strong enough to realize that that’s the reality,” Bradbury said. “It’s not going to be the same.”
Despite her setbacks, Bradbury’s teammates know her for her positive attitude. Elly Aronson, a sophomore midfielder, said Bradbury was positive throughout her rehab process and after she returned to the field.
“Whenever she faced anything, she always took a positive outlook,” she said.
But what Bradbury showed to her teammates was not always indicative of how she felt. In her sophomore season, Bradbury said she didn’t feel the same physically or mentally, and considered quitting during the season – a thought that became real just before the team’s end-of-year banquet. Still, Bradbury didn’t feel comfortable discussing the potential of quitting with teammates.
After talking with her parents and head coach Courtney Calderon following the banquet, she finally made the decision to quit. She said she drafted a text message to her teammates five times, sending the message to her parents and Calderon first to make sure it appropriately conveyed how she felt. The team, while disappointed, was supportive of Bradbury.
“I was really sad about it and the team overall was really bummed,” Aronson said. “But I think we all wanted to support her with that decision.”
When talking about her choice to quit, Bradbury said she struggles to avoid becoming emotional.
“Telling the team was the hardest part,” Bradbury said. “I was an absolute mess. They are one of the best teams I have ever been a part of, in terms of support, of love.”
But Bradbury won’t be too far from the team. Besides planning to attend every game next season, she is the liaison between the women’s soccer team and Team IMPACT, a program that pairs children who have life-threatening and chronic illnesses with college sports teams.
Bradbury said she is close with Sophia Colby, a 13-year-old with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a rare immunodeficiency in which the body makes too many activated immune cells. Colby became a player for the team in a signing ceremony Sept. 16. After being interviewed, Bradbury headed off to meet Colby to help her pick out hearing aids.
Bradbury also contributes to organizations across campus. Besides double majoring in business administration and strategic and corporate communication, Bradbury is a member of the Alpha Phi sorority, DECA – a business and entrepreneurship club – and the B+ Foundation, which raises money and awareness for childhood cancer.
Weeks after deciding to quit soccer, Bradbury sees the experience positively. Without quitting, she would not have been able to get a summer internship as a fashion merchandiser at TJX, a department store company, she said.
“I used to not see it in a positive light and always be down on it, but looking back, I learned and grew so much as an individual,” Bradbury said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve been through, but one of the best things in the end.”