“When I tore my ACL in practice, I kind of knew right away.”
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, connects the thigh to the shin. Especially for athletes in high-speed contact sports that involve lots of quick direction-switching, torn ACLs are an unfortunately common occurrence. It’s a diagnosis nobody in the sporting world wants to hear because it almost without fail condemns them to months upon months of rehabilitation and a lengthy absence from the field.
It’s also a diagnosis Cameron Badour, a fifth-year midfielder on the Duke men's lacrosse team, has heard twice–most recently in March of 2021.
“Freshman year, I tore my ACL as well,” he said. “It's kind of heartbreaking, though, my senior year. I haven't really ever been healthy enough to finish the season.”
By all accounts, 2021 was supposed to be Badour’s roaring comeback. He lost his entire freshman year to an ACL tear he suffered before even arriving in Durham and was robbed of most of his junior season–a season in which he ranked fifth on the team in scoring–after Duke suspended all spring sports in March 2020 amid rising concerns over COVID-19.
2021 was the redemption arc. 2021 was the chance for Badour to get his chance.
It began encouragingly, too: five consecutive starts, five goals, two assists and a hat-trick against Robert Morris. Cruelly, though, the old beast that stole his freshman year returned after just under a month of playing. The cloud of injury he’d evaded for years had once again caught up to him. This time, however, the cloud was a hurricane, not a thunderstorm.
“I kind of got back to work and started rehabbing,” he said. “Everything was going really well [and] rehab was a little bit ahead of schedule.”
Just as he was wrapping up recovery from the second ACL tear and re-entering team workouts–approaching the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel for the second time in his college lacrosse career–came a very unwelcome surprise in the form of a torn meniscus.
“In early September, my knee just kind of started to swell up out of nowhere,” said Badour. “It was pretty concerning. So I went to my physical therapist, and he said to me [that] I might have done something to my meniscus. But you know, normally when I've injured my knee, I've never really felt pain like this. Let's say that was on Sunday. Now it's Monday or Tuesday, we were gonna get an MRI and now it's still really hurting.”
“Then I get a hammer on Wednesday,” he added. “I'm five and a half months out of ACL surgery and my MRI comes back showing that I tore my meniscus.”
Badour, his physical therapist, and all of his teammates to this day have no idea how it happened. Still, this news was not the worst he’d hear that week.
“I was having these really awful night sweats and fevers,” he continued. “I really had no idea what was going on; the pain was just getting worse and worse in my knee.”
Surgery for his meniscus was scheduled for the next week, but he went back to his doctor a few days before and got the fluid in his knee tested because of his feverish symptoms. After over 24 hours without results and another restless, uncomfortable night, another bomb dropped.
“The results came back from fluid that I had staph infection on that Friday,” he said. “I don't know how I got the staph infection. The doctor said they really just had no idea; it was kind of like a one-in-a-million chance.”
Badour’s surgeon flew in overnight for a next-day procedure. Staph infection is normally a fairly common bacterial infection but has the potential to become life-threatening if it enters the bloodstream and isn’t dealt with quickly. Because the infection was deep in his knee, the chances of that were high.
“It was really severe at this point. I was kinda like, if it was another day later, they probably would have had to remove my knee or where the infection was.”
Fortunately, the procedure went well. To put it in perspective, though, right at the end of rehabilitation for a second ACL tear comes a torn meniscus, then a potentially fatal staph infection deep in his knee. Surely he’s still in recovery, right?
Fast forward five months, and Badour has not only fully recovered but played in both of Duke’s opening games this weekend against Robert Morris and Vermont. He was also named team captain for the first time, a role he tried hard to uphold even if he couldn’t share the field with his teammates for much of the practice season.
“You're kind of a voice for your teammates, you're kind of the moderator between the coach and getting the team on the same page and you're just kind of someone for those younger guys to look up to,” he said. “When we're getting yelled at or having a tough day, the younger guys look up to you. As a captain, you have to remain calm and just kind of keep pushing through things.”
If there’s one thing to glean from Badour’s health scares and remarkable recovery, it’s the power that a positive outlook and determination played in keeping his head above water. Managing one injury-ravaged season is hard enough, let alone having to do it twice. Yet, his motivation didn’t waver and his work-ethic didn’t fade. A potential return to the field felt improbable, but he held on to a small, unlikely sliver of hope that ultimately carried him to a full recovery and a promising fifth season.
“He has just been so consistent and so dedicated with his grind,” said Nakeie Montgomery, a fellow fifth-year midfielder and Badour’s roommate since freshman year. “I mean, like, you're missing time, all you're doing is just trying to get back.”
“It's an incredible testament to his mental, physical and emotional toughness,” added Montgomery. “We talk about all the time, like, in life, everything hurts. You’re either gonna live, you're gonna go through the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”
Badour has worked for his opportunities and seized them despite his unfortunate history with injury. Originally from Ottawa, Ontario, he grew up playing hockey before eventually switching to lacrosse in high school, attending Florida’s famed IMG Academy. Before coming to Duke, he held places on the 2017 Under Armour All-American team and was twice a USILA All-American, notching 112 goals and 70 assists in his last two seasons alone. His athleticism and, crucially, his incessant work ethic landed him 24th place on Inside Lacrosse’s incoming freshman list.
He was on track for a barnstorming freshman season and was only stopped by the aforementioned ACL tear in his final high school game.
It’s an unfortunate trend that’s derailed Badour’s momentum at various points, but he managed an awful situation by putting his head down, following a regimen and maintaining belief that his injury was merely a setback and not a wall.
“You just kind of have to suck it up and just be there for your team,” he said.
His determination has not gone unnoticed, and Badour will hope to use his position as captain and the positivity surrounding his hasty recovery as a springboard for a successful season and as a way to make up for all-too much lost time.
“To see him back on the field is really gratifying,” said head coach John Danowski. “Everybody is really happy for him and I think guys recognize his leadership, they recognize his work ethic, they recognize how important he is to the team. Usually, the captain thing has become what the coaches don't see off the field. Cam makes a great captain. He's just, it's just about the team. It's about Duke.”
Badour has had to deal with two ACL tears, over two years worth of missed seasons and the internal pressure to get back on the field as quickly as possible to prove to himself, and to his team, what he’s made of.
Lacrosse is an unforgiving sport. Ask any attackman or midfielder to reveal their shoulders, and odds are they’ll be plastered with blue-black bruises. It’s rough, it’s physical, it’s hard.
It’s a team sport and one where the inevitable challenges are embraced together.
“When you're injured, it's kind of a lonely process,” said Badour.
His team didn’t leave him stranded at sea amid his recovery, though. John Danowski personally drove him to the hospital. Matt Danowski, an assistant coach and a former star attackman, stayed with Badour all night in the hospital since his parents were still in Canada. His teammates, even from afar, were always there to talk and provide words of encouragement. In all respects, his team was there for him even if he couldn’t be with them himself.
After a 2021 season that had many questioning team cohesion, Badour’s experience shows that this group is a tight-knit one that sticks together even through the toughest situations. Sometimes that’s an abundance of bruises, and other times it's comforting an injured teammate in the hospital on the road to recovery.
“You just have to keep pushing and battling,” said Badour. “It happened. The only way to get through these things is to just really work through it.”
It’s been a road fraught with speed bumps, but if this same philosophy carries throughout the season, chances are high we’ll finally see Badour at his electric best.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.