Michael O’Brien broke his right ankle just before the Charlotte Catholic lacrosse team’s varsity tryouts. But as a freshman, he didn’t let it stop him from having a strong junior varsity season.
As a sophomore he made the Catholic varsity squad and earned a spot as a defender in the starting lineup. But in the seventh game of the season, O’Brien tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. His season ended.
O’Brien worked tirelessly the summer of 2014 and was cleared to play lacrosse about seven months later with his club team, Team Carolinas.
Just as the Charlotte Catholic junior felt he was getting into form, O’Brien tore the ACL in his left knee -- in the championship game of a fall tournament with his Team Carolinas’ squad at Elon Park.
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O’Brien again was devastated by the injury. It put a hold on his college recruiting as one Division I lacrosse team was close to offering him a scholarship.
“There were times when I asked myself ‘why me?’” O’Brien said. “Why did I have to tear both ACLs and break my ankle, when there are a lot of guys out there that haven’t even broke one bone?
“But, I never thought about giving up or quitting lacrosse even in the toughest times,” O’Brien said. “I remember the doctors told my parents after the second ACL tear that I didn’t have to get surgery if I didn’t want to play lacrosse again, I could just let it heal. But I had done the rehab before and I knew I could do it again. I knew I just had to get through it, stick it out and focus on getting back on the field.”
Charlotte Catholic lacrosse coach, Bo Turner, who has seen a lot of tough players in his 22 years as the Cougars’ head coach, says he’s proud of O’Brien.
“To see him do all that hard work to get back and do it again was tough,” said Turner, who has guided Catholic to four states titles in his tenure. “But he was determined to get back and play the whole time. He never let anything stop him.”
This time around, O’Brien was even more motivated, going to rehab sessions at least three times a week, while also doing work on his own. His goal was to get back on the field for the Cougars’ playoff run, which would start in May (2015), just five and a half months after his surgery.
“I remember when Michael told me he was going to be back for the playoffs, I thought to myself there was no way he was going to play this season,” Turner said “To see him back on the field in the playoffs was amazing.”
O’Brien’s appeared – in limited time – in all five 2015 postseason games. He said his best game was in the state championship loss (7-6) to Apex.
“The hardest part about being injured is having to sit and watch your friends and teammates compete and you want to be out there with them,” O’Brien said. “I knew I was taking a risk coming back, and I knew I wasn’t 100 percent, but it felt great just to be playing lacrosse again. I played one of my best games in a Charlotte Catholic uniform in the state championship game. That gave me a lot of confidence and momentum going forward.”
O’Brien also caught the eye of several college recruiters, particularly the Mercer University coaching staff, who had come to watch his best friend, teammate, Jackson Harris. O’Brien says it meant a lot to him that the Mercer coaches never gave up on him.
After watching O’Brien play throughout the fall, Mercer offered the 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior a scholarship to play lacrosse. He committed and signed with the Bears in November (2015).
“When they called to offer me it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” said O’Brien, who will room with Harris. “I felt like everything had come together and happened for a reason.”
O’Brien has been inspired by fate for a while.
His father, Steve O’Brien, was on U.S. Airways, Flight 1549 – the plane that crash landed into the Hudson River.
“I don’t think I realized how much of a miracle it was that my dad is still alive until I watched a video about a year ago,” O’Brien said. “I remember thinking then that ‘Wow, my dad just jumped in the water and swam to the wing and survived. The next week he was on a plane flying again.”
O’Brien, now an 18-year-old senior, has been fully healthy for the first time in his Charlotte Catholic career.
The team is 7-1 this season.
But no matter how this season ends, O’Brien has learned life lessons.
“One of the main things I’ve learned throughout all of this is that everything happens for a reason,” O’Brien said. “Even if you think at the time that the worst thing possible has happened to you, things will fall into place. Something good is always around the next corner.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: jay firstname.lastname@example.org.