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Back in the Swing of Things: The Inspiring ACL Recovery Journey of a Champion College Softball Player

Sarah Harker was a junior in college, playing one of her best games in her softball career when she heard a “pop” while diving for the ball. The Manhattanville College student, a softball player since age 3, knew that dreaded sound and the excruciating pain that followed meant one thing—she had likely torn her ACL. After overcoming much disruption to her college athletic career due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah was devastated.

Coincidentally, on the day of her injury, Sarah ran into a Manhattanville baseball player she knew who was getting ACL surgery that very day. Before her ill-fated game, she even wished him luck and a speedy recovery in the training room. That is how Dr. Demetris Delos, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at ONS, as well as the team physician for Manhattanville College, entered Sarah’s story.

Dr. Delos, a sports medicine and knee/hip surgeon at Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS), saw Sarah that day and confirmed what she had feared—her ACL was torn, and she would need surgery due to the severity of the tear.

From the beginning, Sarah was comforted by Dr. Delos’ calming and reassuring nature. “I felt like he genuinely cared about me and my softball career—I guess I didn’t expect a surgeon to be so compassionate, but he put me at immediate ease,” Sarah said. She wanted to get back to playing softball as soon as (safely) possible, and meeting Dr. Delos gave her some much-needed hope.

Sarah underwent successful ACL surgery performed by Dr. Delos, but she knew that it was only half the battle. “I knew that ACL surgery meant I had to adhere to a strict rehabilitation plan if I ever wanted to see a field again, and I was determined to do just that,” shared Sarah.

The strict rehabilitation plan was slightly complicated because Sarah was returning home to California for the summer. After learning some physical therapy exercises and establishing a plan with Dr. Delos, Sarah was able to take the plan carefully crafted by him and Manhattanville’s athletic trainers to a physical therapy office near her family’s home.
After diligently rehabbing for nearly ten months, Sarah was cleared to play at the end of February. She returned to the field again in March. “I had some mild pain returning to the field. You can practice and practice, but it’s different when you’re in a game for over four hours straight the first time. I knew that I was strong and capable and trusted the process,” said Sarah.

To say Sarah came back stronger would be an understatement. In fact, Sarah’s team went on to become Skyline Conference Champions, and she was named Player of the Year for the conference.

Sarah graduated Manhattanville the same day as her last game of the season, but she’ll be returning to play for another year since she was a redshirt (unable to play for a year but still on the team) due to COVID-19.
Sarah attributes much of her successful return to softball to Dr. Delos and his team at ONS.

“I’d recommend Dr. Delos to anyone, and in fact, I’ve already recommended several teammates with ACL injuries to him. He’s a wonderful surgeon, and I could tell he really cared about me throughout the entire process and beyond. He even called me to congratulate me on our big win and graduation,” Sarah said.