Varsity soccer player Gracie Poulsen: down but not out

Hannah Thomas Perez, Journalism 1 Staff Writer

On a warm day in North Carolina, sophomore Gracie Poulsen woke up bright and early with a smile next to her teammates, ready to get onto the field. Today was the last day of the CASL Showcase Tournament for soccer, and Poulsen was ready to go home with a win. Her excitement was even larger than on any of the other days, as she knew that college scouts were going to be watching her. Little did she know that seemingly picture-perfect day would be the last time she would play soccer for 6 months.

Ever since Poulsen was 3, she lived her life for soccer. “No matter what I was doing, I was constantly thinking about soccer,” she says. Poulsen’s mother, science teacher Daniall Poulson, elaborates: “Gracie’s number one priority has always been soccer and that won’t change,” she says.

Poulsen first started out at AYSO and then made her way to Kingdom and Portage Lightning. After that, she worked her way up to a Grand Rapids team that is in the top league for Michigan for her age group. She has been playing with this Grand Rapids-based team for the past year and says, “The team and coaching has made me into a better soccer player and a person as a whole.”

Poulson was playing with this elite team last December when her life-altering injury occurred. She recalls her last moments playing on the field: “I felt amazing as I was running across the field. I was about to make a goal and I had never had so much energy. Then the goalie hit my knee and I fell to the ground in pain.” Immediately, both she and her coach knew something was wrong.

The drive home was very long and dreary, and the car was silent even though she had friends with her. “I was terrified to go to the doctor and hear what actually was going on with my knee,” says Poulsen. Although she was not ready to know her future, she knew it was important to see a professional sooner rather than later. The doctor told Poulsen that she had exploded her knee and torn her ACL and MCL. Poulson’s injury highlights a national trend among soccer players: a 2016 American Association of Pediatrics study found that in just the last ten years, knee and ankle injuries have more than doubled among athletes 12-17 years old, mostly credited to the fact that elite players often play soccer both in school and on travel teams, exposing their growing bodies to more strain than usual. Soccer in general is more dangerous than other sports already, having a higher injury rate than other contact sports. A 2014 Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study estimated that 22% of soccer players age 10-17 would be injured over their careers.

The seriousness of Poulson’s diagnosis blew her away, but it did not knock her down. “A few words from my doctor does not say my future,” she insists. After undergoing reconstructive ACL and MCL surgery, she is on the road to recovery. Following a regimen of doing her exercises everyday, seeing her physical therapists, and staying positive, Poulsen is sure she will be back on the field someday, better and stronger than ever.

Unfortunately, that day will not happen in this year’s spring girls’ soccer season. While she will not be able to play on field, she will be a part of the varsity team in a different way: this time as their biggest supporter. “I’m very bummed with Gracie’s injury because I was excited to see her impact on the field this year, but I am still happy to have her a part of the team and see her impact the team in a different way,” says varsity soccer coach JD Rhodes.

With playing this spring out of the picture, Poulson’s main focus is her recovery and thinking about the positives of this unpredictable situation. She is looking forward to the future and is eagerly waiting for the opportunity to have colleges see her as a better, more determined player than before. Wherever her future takes her, one thing is for sure: Poulson has a strong support system behind her. “My friends have been a great support through this entire thing, and I couldn’t survive without them,” she said. With her skill and determination, those same friends will most certainly be cheering her on from the bleachers again soon.