As Greg Gurenlian lay on the field after tearing his ACL, there was a moment where he thought his career might be over. Gurenlian, referred to as “The Beast” by his fans, had returned to MLL after taking a year off in 2009 and looked to be on his way to a career year in 2011 for the Long Island Lizards. All of that changed in an instant.
“When it happened, the entire stadium was in shock,” says Gurenlian. “I was in shock too. Sitting there in front of thousands of stunned fans, I didn’t know what was coming next. But then my Dad, who is my hero and the person I look up to most, came down out of the stands and knelt down next to me. He looked me in the eye and told me that everything was going to be okay. It doesn’t sound like much but, in that moment, with my mind going a million miles per hour, it calmed me down. Right then, I knew I was going to be back in the league.”
When Gurenlian went to SPEAR Center Physical Therapy in New York City, he learned that the ACL tear was the least of his problems. “The biggest issue was that I had cracked cartilage in my knee, in addition to the torn ligament,” says Gurenlian. Dr. Charles Goodwin gave Gurenlian a choice. “I could have surgery to repair the ACL and be up and walking in a month. Or, I could take the hard road and have microfracture surgery and come back and try to play lacrosse,” he says. “I’ve been through too much in this sport to have my career end on my back holding my knee. There was no way that my pride would allow me to walk away.” Gurenlian opted for the microfracture surgery and the hellacious rehab process that goes with it.
Microfracture surgery is a relatively new procedure that works by creating tiny fractures in the bone underneath the cartilage. The fractures cause new cartilage to develop. The procedure has become very popular with professional athletes, especially basketball players, including NBA players Amar’e Stoudamire, Greg Oden and Jason Kidd.
After the surgery, which included a patella graft to form the new ACL tendon, Gurenlian, a monster of a man at 6 ft. 1 in. and 225 pounds, was almost helpless. “I was non-weight bearing for six weeks,” he says. “My girlfriend and my brothers had to help me get into cabs four times per week just to get to physical therapy. Those six weeks were awful. As somebody who takes pride in being a physical specimen, it’s tough to deal with the fact that you can’t even get yourself a glass of water.”
Gurenlian, who is the founder and head strength coach at Brawlic Strength, also had to adapt to new physical challenges. “Sitting on the edge of the table and just trying to straighten my leg was the most brutally painful thing I have ever experienced,” he says. “The only thing that got me through that was knowing that eventually it wouldn’t be this way.” His knowledge of the body and the fact that he was in peak physical condition before the injury helped Gurenlian endure the physical therapy. “Being in the strength and conditioning industry gave me the knowledge that I needed to stop me from doing dumb things that could aggravate the injury,” he says. “It also prepared me for what I should be feeling and experiencing. The first time I tried to walk, the muscles in my leg didn’t know how to fire. My calf and glute cramped up. If I wasn’t expecting it, I might have freaked out. But,like anything else, the nerves just have to relearn how to fire.”
Knowing that ACL injuries are extremely prevalent in sports, Gurenlian decided to document his rehab process and post videos to YouTube. “One of the great things about being in the MLL is that we’re so close with our fans. I try to use my status as an MLL player to help kids,” says Gurenlian. “I decided to document my status so that people going through a similar injury can know what to expect. I’ve had kids messaging me and sending me emails telling me about how they had torn their ACL and asking me what they should do or expect. It gives people encouragement, because there is a lot of fear involved with an injury like this, especially for high school kids. They might be sitting at home wondering if they can still go to college. I got a ton of feedback and it’s incredibly gratifying to know that I was able to help these kids.”
As far as his recovery goes, Gurenlian is months ahead of schedule. In January, he played in a tournament in Miami to test out his knee. “There was some tenuousness,” he says. “I was constantly watching the left side of my body and there were things that I couldn’t do yet that I used to. I basically had to become a FOGO instead of running around like a banshee and taking diving shots like I’m used to.” Little by little, however, Gurenlian is making strides to get back to his pre-injury form. “My goal is to be at the point where I don’t even think about my knee by the time training camp rolls around.” He continues to rehab his left knee and do “pre-hab” on his right knee to prevent any injuries that come from overcompensation.
“I’m going to be 100 percent by April 28 and I expect to pick up where I left off last year,” says Gurenlian. Great news if you’re a Lizards fan, not so much for the rest of the league.