The Trials of a Champion


The first pop caused a feeling of panic, knowing that something bad had happened. But when senior Anixa Cisneros felt her knee pop for the second time during a game, she instantly thought that was it; her dream of playing professional basketball was gone. 

In February of 2017, while finishing off her first season on Leyden’s basketball team, Cisneros tore her ACL, a ligament that connects the thigh bone to the shinbone, during a basketball game when she tripped while blocking someone and felt a strong pop in her knee. “I knew right away that it was gonna be bad,” 

Unfortunately for Cisneros, this was not the only setback of her athletic career at Leyden. After coming back to play basketball from her previous injury, Cisneros was tackled and caught under other players during an intense and physical AAU game (Amateur Athletic Union), causing her other ACL to tear. “I felt a painful snap and immediately knew this was it something far worse than my first injury. I thought that I wouldn’t ever be able to play sports again.” 

She was out for an entire season and underwent rigorous physical therapy after having surgery done on both of her ACLs. “After the first surgery, I was determined to heal as fast as possible and get back into playing basketball. But after the second surgery, it was a lot harder. I knew that was where my dream would end. It had such a toll on me both physically and mentally. I didn’t want to eat, go anywhere, I couldn’t even get myself out of bed,” Cisneros said. “I wasn’t into my physical therapy and wanted to give up on everything. It was hard on my parents to have to watch me struggle like that.” According to a recent research study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, there has been a sharp increase over the last 13 years in the rate of ACL tears in females aged 13-17, causing a 59% increase in required reconstruction procedures. “There are proven injury prevention resources available, but the continued high rate of injuries suggests that they are not being implemented across the board,” said lead study author Mackenzie Herzog, MPH. 

Although Anixa was sidelined last year due to injuries, “she never missed a single practice or game.  She worked extremely hard this summer to get herself back out on the court,” said her coach and physical education teacher, Ms. Stephanie Kuzmanic. Due to endless hard work and perseverance, Cisneros was chosen as captain of the Leyden girls’ varsity basketball team. “We chose Anixa to be a captain because she is not only a good basketball player but a good person. She has a contagious positive attitude and serves as a great role model for her teammates.  We don’t normally choose captains who haven’t played varsity minutes, but Anixa has earned this position,” stated Coach Kuzmanic. This season especially, Cisneros has been working harder than ever and working harder than everyone else on the team because of the injury. “I had to work hard to just be able to just walk let alone get back into shape, while my teammates were running around and playing basketball.” 

Despite the fact that Cisneros recovered from her injury and is back on the basketball court, she continues to stay cautious with any physical activity. She wears a brace over the knee that had the most recent surgery and does intense stretching before any physical activity. Cisneros is also affected by something called a “mental block” which is the fear or inability to perform a particular skill that commonly occurs in athletes recovering from an injury. “When I go to jump, sometimes I don’t even leave the ground because I still have that fear every time I go on the court that it might happen again. It’s not a good way to play basketball.  I try hard to get rid of that mental block and sometimes it even makes me not enjoy playing basketball.” 

The road to recovery has been a long and bumpy ride for Cisneros, but it ended up leaving her with some valuable lessons. “It was really tough, but somehow I made it out and I’m getting better. Day one is different than day eighty-one, and that’s different than day one hundred and one. I had my parents and close friends with me by my side all throughout the journey and that helped me maintain a positive attitude and stay hopeful throughout the process. I knew I had to get through it one way or another, and I am thankful for what this experience has taught me.”