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The surging return of Jeremy Boltus

March 17, 2016
In today’s sports landscape, the news of an athlete suffering a major, season-ending injury such as a torn ACL is met with more positivity than has previously been the case. Despite the severity of the injury, the question posed to today’s athletes is not “Will they return?” but usually “When will they return, and how much better could they be?”

For attack Jeremy Boltus, now in his third Major League Lacrosse season, the return date has come and gone with much optimism and excitement as he resurfaced with the Denver Outlaws in the 2013 season opener. Though he is not entirely comfortable on the field just yet, Boltus has shown significant signs of life in scoring three goals and registering two assists across two games.

“I felt the best I’ve felt, I’m just increasing strength and everything week-by-week, and it’s kind of a week-by-week basis. I feel great, and I’m just trying to develop my role on the team and pick up some [wins]” Boltus said following the Outlaws’ 15-8 week two victory over the Ohio Machine.

The future did not always look so bright, however. After he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee while playing for the Charlotte Hounds in a game against the Long Island Lizards on July 28, 2012, Boltus’ future in MLL was uncertain; after all, a major ligament tear is not something easily remedied, especially for an elite athlete.

After being diagnosed, Boltus’ frustration reached its peak while he tried to rationalize what had happened. At first, he found no comforting explanation.

“Looking back it was kind of similar to what Kobe [Bryant] was tweeting out and Facebooking when he just tore his Achilles, it was kind of like that. Kind of feeling sorry for myself, “why me?” kind of mentality” Boltus said, referencing the Los Angeles Laker five time NBA Champion’s frustrating social media posts that came after his own injury diagnosis. “But then, I talked to a bunch of guys who had torn their ACLs as well, they reached out to me said, ‘You know, you’re going to come back stronger than ever.’ So I just kind of took the feeling sorry for myself mentality and just turned it into a positive.”

The rehabilitation, both physical and mental, started for Boltus in a place he’s grown familiar with over the years: The United States Military Academy at West Point. A First Lieutenant in the Army, Boltus underwent surgery with Dr. Brett Owens, who had been his team doctor at West Point and previously worked with him to rehabilitate a shoulder injury. Boltus underwent a patellar tendon graft, one of the most common ACL reconstructive surgeries that takes the middle section of the patellar tendon below the kneecap and attaches each end with plugs of bone. The torn ACL ligament is then removed, and the new graft put in its place.

Despite having considered other options to reconstruct his knee, Boltus put his trust in Dr. Owens, a man who he’s come to be well acquainted with since his time as a cadet.

“Being young and being athletic and having that kind of background I’ve had for multiple years before the injury, [Dr. Owens] said this is probably the best way. Since I am young and could probably recover from this injury, that that would be the best way. Obviously he’s had more experience, and I just took his word for it. Like I said, we have a trust factor built, so I trusted him and things are working out so far.”

After beginning his rehab process at West Point for the first month, Boltus went to his final post at Fort Carson in Colorado. There, he reconnected with a former intern for Army and was placed in the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which has worked with rugby players, wrestlers and judokas; some of who have performed in the Olympics. Boltus began one-on-one sessions with Captain Jason Barber, also of the U.S. Army, who he says has helped him “get after it” since January and has given him the motivation to work harder and return to peak form that Boltus could not have achieved on his own.

In addition to the help from his support team, Boltus credits the fact that he’s always felt like he had something to prove in lacrosse as extra motivation to come back from injury and prove the doubters wrong.

“I’ve always kind of had a chip on my shoulder from day one, you know, everything regarding lacrosse for me” Boltus began. “I thought I was a decent player and whatnot, and I never got recruited so that kind of played a part. And then, having a good career at Army and coming into the league drafted 43 rd, just kind of always trying to prove myself- and here’s just another thing where I remember reading articles last year after I tore [the ACL], saying “Is this the last you’re going to see of [Boltus] playing?” and that kind of stuff fuels me.”

It’s been seen quite recently: elite athletes who have been the best in their sports suffering a major ACL injury and the ensuing questions regarding whether they can bounce back. However, many have been returning to top form, some say perhaps even better than when they left: Pro Bowl NFL running back Adrian Peterson being the biggest example after his comeback season in 2012 that saw him earn both NFL Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors.

For Boltus, Peterson’s return proved to be an uplifting process during his own rehabilitation and uncertainty regarding his future in MLL.

“Obviously, I don’t think I’m on that level of being a physical specimen like [Peterson], but I just always use that as motivation. I mean, watching his little clips on SportsCenter and whatnot about his knee and then the stories throughout the NFL season really made it easier for me to find motivation and to keep working hard because ultimately my goal is to come back stronger,” Boltus said of the man nicknamed AD, meaning “All Day”.

Though he began his professional career with the Hamilton Nationals and played his second season with the Charlotte Hounds, Boltus’ future lies with the Outlaws; fitting, since Boltus’ recovery process culminated in Colorado. Since being cleared by his doctor to be 100% ready to play, and having a renewed mindset following his rehab, Boltus started training camp with the Outlaws looking forward to building chemistry with his new team.

“Those training camp weeks really helped, and I think everyone could attest I was pretty shaky the first couple weeks in training camp” Boltus said, clearly nervous upon his return to the field due to uncertainty of how his reconstructed knee would hold up. “I’m just happy to be a part of this team, a very unselfish offense and like I said, just hoping to pick up some more wins.”

A self-proclaimed “never satisfied kind of guy” Boltus is optimistic regarding the future of both his career and the chances of Denver earning their first Steinfeld Trophy in franchise history; an optimistic opinion that a 2-0 start to the 2013 season has certainly helped reinforce.

Outlaws head coach Jim Stagnitta also acknowledged that Boltus’ presence on the team is going to present problems for their opponents down the line, and that focusing on one person defensively is going to become more difficult for the opposition.

“He’s one of the most well-rounded attackmen in the MLL. He can feed, he can dodge, certainly he’s not 100% yet in his dodging but he gets better every week.  He’s very good off ball, and he’s a great complement to [Brendan Mundorf] and that’s exactly what we were looking for. We were looking for another quality attackman who can both feed and finish, and he’s everything we thought he was going to be and he’s not even 100% yet” Stagnitta said.

For Boltus, the revitalization of being back on the field, stick in hand, has been everything he’s hoped for thus far. His surroundings have improved, and his experience has taught him a thing or two about how this season could potentially be his best yet.

“Being in [my] third year of the league now, you definitely know- have a little bit more experience about what needs to be expected in the league and what you need to do in order to succeed, so I think I’m using that to my advantage and having a great group of guys around me I think is going to ultimately pay off as well.” Boltus said.

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”