Fall Down Twice, Stand Up the Third: Keri Bradley’s Journey Back to the Pitch

By Nikki DeSerpa

It has been about a year since Keri Bradley’s initial injury, and she has been rehabbing her knee ever since. For months, Bradley has been in the McCann Center training room, working to heal her torn ACL and broken kneecap on her left leg. For roughly two hours everyday — sometimes more, depending on her pain level — she works with her team trainer, Briana Galeazzi. She has been working on her range of motion and strength. She spends her days repeatedly on a training table doing heel slides, single leg lifts, quad sets, treadmill walking, step ups, followed by STEM and ice, lots of ice. 

Bradley doesn’t miss a day. She works around classes, practices, meetings, lifts, and seeing friends to rehab her knee. She has been doing this since the injury, and continues until she can barely stand the pain, just to do it all over again the next day.

Keri Bradley started playing soccer at a young age and it instantly became her world. Practices during the week, followed by games and tournaments every weekend, is all she has ever known. She knew she always wanted to play collegiate soccer and was looking at a few schools during her high school years. By her junior year, Marist was the clear choice, the school at which she’d look to continue her dream. 

During Bradley’s time at Marist, she has faced a lot of adversity. The team’s authority was in flux; three coaches over the course of Bradley’s first three years. Leigh Howard, though, the third, had an immediate and withstanding impact on the team, and on Bradley. “Coach Leigh has changed my perspective of the game,” she said. “[She] has helped me fall in love with the sport even more than I thought I could.”        

Bradley has been a standout for the Red Foxes since her freshman year. Last year, she started in 14 games prior to her injury, tallying three goals and five assists, good for a team high 11 points. She was on track for being a team leader in almost every category, and was always eager for her next game. On October 13, Marist took the field at Manhattan College. The Red Foxes held a 4-1 conference record, and were looking to Bradley to help pick up their fifth conference win. With only seven minutes to play in the game, and Marist leading by one, Bradley went to track back on defense. She then planted to turn and “heard a loud pop, fell to the ground, and started screaming at the top of my lungs,” Bradley said. Shortly after, an ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital. She had a torn ACL; her season was over.

“I knew right as she planted and started to scream that she tore it,” said trainer Galaezzi. “But the way she was screaming, I wasn’t sure if she hurt something else because she was in so much pain.” After going to the hospital and getting her knee checked out, she discovered that in addition to the tear, her tibia and patella bones had collided, creating a deep bone bruise, explaining her intense level of pain. “I will never forget the night that she got home from the hospital,” added teammate and roomate Taylor Mongno. “The pharmacy was closed by the time she got back to school, and had to spend the entire night with no pain medication… just Advil.” That night, Bradley got 20-minutes of sleep and recalls waking up in so much pain. She called her dad uncontrollably crying, barely able to form words. The next morning, two of Bradley’s friends were waiting at the pharmacy before it opened so they could bring her the prescribed medicine in hopes to help control her pain.

 After her November surgery, she was not allowed to walk for several weeks until her rehab began. She used crutches and her friends to drive her to class, rehab, and practice. Not until January was Bradley able to walk normally, but, of course, with caution. Things were starting to look up and she was feeling more like herself. She was looking forward to getting back from Christmas break to see her friends and teammates.

On January 22 of this year, Bradley was back on campus after a long break at home. She was spending the snowy day at teammate Lexi Prisco’s off-campus house. While walking down the stairs to her driveway, Bradley slipped on black ice. She took one wrong step and her reflexes allowed her to catch herself without falling onto the ground. However, a bone graft during her ACL surgery didn’t take, essentially leaving a hole in her knee. This weakened her knee, and when she slipped, her quad muscle contracted, causing her kneecap to completely shatter in half.        

The break was no less painful than it was rare. Bradley knew something was wrong, and her knee swelled up like a balloon. She got on the phone with her coach and had Prisco immediately drive her to the hospital. “I didn’t know what to think in the moment,” Prisco said. “She told me she knew that something was wrong and all I could think was this should not be happening to Keri, she has already been through so much.” Coach Howard, Prisco, and Bradley all stayed in the hospital that night waiting for the x-ray to confirm what Bradley already thought. Her family, friends, and teammates were in disbelief when they heard she had suffered another injury. Bradley FaceTimed her friend, Nikki, who at first did not believe her. She thought there had so be some sort of mistake, because there was no way she could be going through another injury and another surgery. Just two short days later, Bradley was in New York City about to undergo her second surgery within two months. Her five to six month recovery for her ACL turned into an eight month to a year long recovery because of one faulty step. 

But Bradley has a love for soccer that not a lot of collegiate athletes still have at this point in their careers, injuries aside. It’s common for players to get burnt out and dread the early workouts and practices; not Keri. This past spring semester, she set her alarm for 5:30 every morning and was out on the field with her team by 6:00. While she could not suit up with her shin guards and cleats, she was still there supporting her team from the sidelines. She would limp along the sidelines wearing a knee brace, early Spring weather disregarded. As a player who has so much love for the sport, becoming a spectator instead of being able to actively play has been challenging.

She said, “A lot of people focus on just the physical side of the injury because that’s all that they see. They just see me going to class with crutches, so they know I’m hurt. But the mental side of this injury is frustrating and unseen and may just be as hard as the physical aspects.” As she has watched the team practices and lifts, Bradley has found a new appreciation from this perspective that is very new to her. Perhaps an advantage for her upon return.       

Bradley does not want to give up on a sport that has not given up on her. Her long road to recovery is far from over; at this point, many players would have given up. Not her. It has been just under a year since the painful, draining rehab cycle began. Bradley is ready to endure with all that she has, for however long it may take, until she is back under the Tenney Stadium lights.

Edited by Will Bjarnar & Lily Caffrey-Levine

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