Plymouth High School senior basketball teammates Meghan McCarthy and Chloe McClain have become reluctant experts on medical acronyms like MPFL (medial patellofemoral ligament) and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).
Although they’ve each battled through multiple knee injuries throughout their noteworthy athletic careers (McClain could teach a course on MPFLs, McCarthy one on ACLs), the acronym that best describes the duo is NGU.
Never. Give. Up.
Following more surgeries and trips to physical therapy sessions than either would like to remember, they’re both primed to excel this winter for the Wildcats’ promising hoops squad — knee braces and all.
McClain had endured kneecap dislocation issues since sixth grade before medical professionals eventually diagnosed the problem as a torn MPFL in her left knee. The MPFL is located outside of the knee and holds the kneecap in place.
McCarthy tore the ACL in her left leg the fall before her sophomore year at Plymouth. The knee was surgically repaired, allowing her to return to sports the summer before her junior year — but she suffered a partial re-tear of the ligament prior to her junior basketball season.
Playing through pain
With her doctors’ blessing, she played last year with the partial tear, but endured another surgery to re-fix the problem.
Through all of the adversity, the McTough sisters have supported their Wildcat athletic programs (McClain plays softball and basketball; McCarthy soccer and hoops) and served as exemplary role models for everyone who knows their stories.
“First and foremost, these two young ladies are great teammates,” said Plymouth girls basketball coach Ryan Ballard. “Some kids who suffered injuries like they have may have stopped showing up to practices or workouts, or not come in as much, but not these two.
“They’ve continued to be a part of our program whenever they can — whether it’s running the clock for the JV games, helping coach fall league games or just being supportive teammates on the sidelines, they’re just two special people. I have no doubt that whatever they decide to do in life they’ll be successful because of their grit.”
Difficulty changing speeds
McClain admitted she finds it hard to not go through life at full speed, which has made her ongoing recovery from her knee ailments all the more difficult.
But “quit” isn’t in her vocabulary.
“I’ve been in and out and in and out of rehab for quite a while now and I’m finally almost fully cleared again,” she said, relief glazing her words. “Maybe the most important thing this injury has taught me is that I have to be patient with myself; I can’t just jump right into things and go, go, go.”
Both athletes have attended grueling rehabilitation sessions with agonizing regularity. It’s a part of their lives — along with the knee braces and compression sleeves they wear while competing — they’ve learned to embrace.
“I’ve learned how important it is to maintain consistency when exercising and going to physical therapy,” McCarthy said. “Even now that I’m back to 100%, I still have to do the stuff so I can stay strong. Dealing with this injury has taught me to push myself and to appreciate still being able to play the sports I love.”
McCarthy said the biggest endorphin boosts for her came when she reached important milestones in her recovery.
“For instance, when I was able to walk again after my surgeries, start running again or even shooting in practice, that’s what would make me happiest,” she said.
Higher rate of injury
Ballard said female athletes suffer knee-related injuries seven to 10 times more than male athletes — and there’s a reason, according to Dr. Laura Ross, an orthopedic surgeon.
“When your ligaments are more lax, you need to be extra careful about the way you move your knees. You also have to compensate for what doctors call the ‘Q angle. This represents the angle formed by an imaginary line drawn from the top of the upper leg/outer hip down to the knee.”
Ballard said he puts more emphasizes on exercises and stretches that strengthen the muscles around the knee to help prevent ligament damage.
“But you can have the best strength-and-conditioning programs in the world and girls will still injure their knees more than boys,” he added. “Look at Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team a few years ago; they suffered seven knee injuries in one season and they have one of the best medical staffs around.”
Ballard said McCarthy and McClain are difference-makers on the court — whether they’re 100% or not.
“More importantly, they’re both good people in the community,” he said. “They like helping others and, as a result, are incredible representatives of Plymouth High School.”