Lindsey Buczkowski suffered a severe Lisfranc injury to her left foot during a high school soccer game. The injury required two surgeries and months of rehabilitation, and some wondered if she would play soccer again. But instead of giving in, Lindsey buckled down in her recovery and made it back to the soccer field. Now she plans to become a physical therapist and use her own experiences to help others. Learn more about Lindsey’s story in episode 2 of “Ryan Shazier’s 50 Phenoms.”
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Announcer: Phenomenal comeback. Phenomenal story. Next, on Ryan Shazier’s 50 Phenoms: from injury to inspiration.
Lindsey Buczkowski: So I was in a game, just a normal night, normal game. Everything was fun. I went to go trap the ball, I was turning, and instantly I just went into shock.
Announcer: In this episode of “50 Phenoms,” Ryan Shazier interviews Lindsay Buczkowski. Lindsey recently graduated from high school, where she played varsity soccer. In her sophomore year, Lindsey was seriously injured in a game, and she feared the worst.
Lindsey Buczkowski: We found out that it was a Lisfranc injury, which meant that I had to have two surgeries with a plate and five screws, and I’d be off of my foot for a decent amount of time.
Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing that this injury really helped you define who you ended up being, helped you find out what you want to do in your major, helped you find out what you want to be in, and helped you be a better person.
Announcer: This is the story of how she overcame big odds to get back on the field and how the experience shaped her future.
Ryan Shazier: How you doing, Lindsey?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I’m good. How are you?
Ryan Shazier: I’m doing good. I heard you’re going to Penn State.
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yes, I am.
Ryan Shazier: Unfortunately, you guys are going to see the Buckeyes every year, so you know I’m going to have to hit you with a “Go Bucks” every now and then. So I heard you and your sister going to get an opportunity to play soccer?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I’m going to try and play just for fun, but after my injury it’s kind of difficult and my body can’t really handle it anymore.
Ryan Shazier: So you had Lisfranc, right?
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yes, I did.
Ryan Shazier: So can you tell me what happened?
Lindsey Buczkowski: So I was in a game, just a normal night, normal game. Everything was fun. I went to go trap the ball, I was turning, and instantly I just went into shock.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah, I know that feeling. You know, I made a routine tackle. Once I hit the guy, I tried to get back up and then unfortunately I couldn’t. I went into shock also. When you got off the field, you said your foot was flopping or hanging down. Did you guys go to the hospital immediately, or did you go on the ambulance? How did they take precautions on that?
Lindsey Buczkowski: So once I got off the field, they put me up on the bench. The trainer removed my shoe. But I was kind of nervous because I thought it was going to be deformed because that’s what it felt like.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah.
Lindsey Buczkowski: So she got it off. It wasn’t deformed, it was just very swollen. So she said I could go to the emergency room just to get it checked out. When I got there, they did x-rays. They said they couldn’t really see anything. They kind of put me on like a soft cast and told me I’d be able to walk in about three or four days. So we had an orthopaedic appointment the next morning and they wanted to do an MRI, but because my foot was so swollen, he said it would be best to wait a while. So from that night is when I was on crutches. So we waited a while, got an MRI and found out that it was a Lisfranc injury, which meant that I had to have two surgeries with a plate and five screws and I’d be off my foot for a decent amount of time.
Ryan Shazier: Lisfranc: Every time I hear that, I know it’s a tough recovery. Is that a common injury for people that play soccer?
Lindsey Buczkowski: No, it’s not really common at all. That’s why when I even heard of it, I was shocked. I didn’t know what it was. I’ve never heard of it before, and they informed me that it happened mainly in car accidents. That’s how serious it is, and a lot of people that sustain the injury don’t come back from it. So that was another reason why I knew that I had to try my best to come back from it.
Ryan Shazier: You seem like you’re competitive. If anybody doubts you, it seems like you’re going to find a way to overcome whatever they said.
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah, and like I said: I mean, I have people that are on my side, but you always have people that aren’t on your side. I remember I found out a few days later after I initially got injured, people were already going up to the trainers and the coaches asking, “Is she going to be able to play again? Is she going to be the same that she used to be?” And, I mean, as a player for the game you love, that makes you angry.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah, it definitely does.
Lindsey Buczkowski: It’s devastating to me, but it’s also devastating to other people. I remember having to call my coach for my Cup team and telling them that I wasn’t going to be able to play the whole season. I remember my mom had to tell me that she thinks it was time to hang up my cleats, and hearing that as a young athlete, and, I mean, a pretty good athlete, that was just unacceptable to me. And it just, it wasn’t an option.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah, no, I definitely understand. I get the same question a lot of times: “Are you going to play a game? How’s the recovery going? You shouldn’t play anymore.” At the end of the day, you know a lot of people are looking out for your best interests, but sometimes it is frustrating because you know where you want to be, what you want to be doing, and how much you put into it. So I know it was a very frustrating time for you, but it also shows how much heart you have because you just continued to fight and then you were able to play again. Right?
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah. I came back after about a year recovery, and throughout my recovery, I mean, I trained five days a week just to be able to possibly play again. I stayed every day after school for two hours. I went in increments, did what I can, and I was excited to be able to make improvements. And once I was allowed to swim, I did pool therapy just to really learn how to walk again because I was off my foot for so long. It was amazing being able to come back from something so devastating, and I had so many people next to me, motivating me, pushing me. My trainer and I came up with a motto, and it was, “No surrender.” And whenever I was frustrated, whenever I didn’t want to do an exercise or workout, she would make sure to send me a text and it would say, “No surrender.” And I just kind of lived by that for what it was worth, and it got me where I needed to go.
Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing. Everybody has to come up with something. When I first got hurt and I was in the hospital and it was constantly doing rehab, we would think the smallest milestones would be some of the biggest achievements we had. And from the outside looking in, you might take the babiest step in the world, but it’s a huge improvement to you. But everybody else said, like, “That’s not that big of a deal.” And the one thing that we used to do, we used to like to relate everything to football. Even though I played defense, I always used to like to say, “Oh, that’s another first down because it takes four plays sometimes to get a first down. So every time you get a first down, eventually you can get enough first downs and you could score a touchdown. So that’s the one thing that me and my dad and my family came up with.
Ryan Shazier: We just thank the Lord, say, “Thank you Lord for another first down,” and then just try to get another one. So the way you had “No surrender,” we had, “Hey, that’s another first down.” So you’ve just got to find ways to motivate yourself, motivate others to help you keep pushing. What are some other goals that you may have?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I hope to play at Penn state. Not club, but just recreationally for fun. I enjoy the game, I love the game, and I’m able to get out there. So why won’t I?
Ryan Shazier: That sounds amazing. Hopefully, one of your goals is to graduate, too. (Laughs) I’m in the same boat right now. Hopefully, I get to play soon. I really think I will. I’m hearing a lot of great things, and one of my goals is to graduate from Ohio State, too. So I’m doing what I had to do to finish up there. So we might be graduating together. So you said your trainer is the one that told you and you guys came up with the “No surrender,” right?
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah.
Ryan Shazier: So is that somebody you used to lean on a lot when you were dealing with some type of adversity or pain?
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah, she was there for me through it all: since the beginning and all the way till the end and if I ever need her. She was there the night I got injured, and she actually knew right away what type of injury it was. And I got to the hospital, my parents mentioned it to the people, and they didn’t think that it was a Lisfranc, but they wanted me to go get it checked just to make sure. And it was. I knew I had a long journey ahead of me.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah. You know, the moment they tell you the injury that you have, sometimes you try to think it over and be like, “Hey, I know I’m going to be OK right away.” Then sometimes you just have to have a reality check and understand, “Hey, there’s going to be a little longer process than I want, but if I really want to get better, this is the route I have to take.” So I know a few times I’ve been at practice or I’ve been watching football games, and I’ll just start crying or just be in tears. And sometimes I’ll talk to my wife. Sometimes I’ll talk to my trainer. Sometimes we’ll talk about the, the way I used to play, or the old things that happened, or the route that I have in the journey that I have ahead of me. Is that the same things that you used to do with your trainer and your family?
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah, so my family knows I’m not much of an emotional person, but when it comes to my injury I can talk about it. But if I’m looking at my coach or if I’m talking to any of my coaches about it, I instantly like start to tear up and it’s just a very hard subject for me. And not everybody knows exactly what I went through. And I think that’s hard for them to understand where I’m coming from and for me because it was so difficult. But if you don’t go through something, you don’t know how to handle it.
Ryan Shazier: You’re right about that. And honestly, I feel that the fact that you played soccer really helped you overcome a lot of this because in soccer, just like football with any sport, you have to be disciplined, work hard, and constantly push yourself every day to get where you want to be. And even when it comes to injury or anything, you have to just constantly push. And I feel once you found out what you had, (you knew) there’s going to be some tough times. Just like in practice, there’s some tough days, but once you get through it and you see where you want to be, you’re in the game and you’re performing like you were, like you always wish you would. So I know it was just always a tough time and it was a long recovery, but now you made it. And I know sometimes you probably go back to the people that doubted you and be like, “See, I told you so.” And I don’t want to say “I told you so” to your mom, but how did that make you feel when your mom told you, you should hang up your cleats?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I think that comment was more the heat of the moment. She was devastated. I mean, she’s been watching me since I was 4. And I understand everybody deals with it in their own ways, but at that moment it made me angry. And I just proved it to her, and she was more than happy to see me back on the field. I mean, that’s where her and my dad loved watching me the most, and it was nice to be able to step back on the field again and have their support.
Ryan Shazier: I know it was amazing. And my parents, they’ve always been there for me, and my wife’s been there for me, and there’s times in the back of their head they’re probably like, “Man, I don’t know if Ryan should go back out there and do it.” But there’s also times when they see you doing the recovery and see you during the rehab, they’re your strongest supporter. So I know it really made her feel good just to see you back out there, sitting in the stands and just seeing her daughter out there playing again. But in those tough moments, people are just speaking out of emotion and scared because you just never know the situation, never know how bad things are going to be. And then when people will tell you, “Hey, it’s over,” most people, they’re close-minded and they’re scared.
Ryan Shazier: So I’m not saying that she is, it’s just a scary moment and you have to just try to figure a way to get over it. But honestly, you’ve been pushing and fighting every day, and look where you are now. So Lindsey, what are some of the things that you feel that help motivate you to keep pushing?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I mean, you have the people that are in your corner, but you also have the people that are going against you. And that really motivated me to prove to myself. I mean, I had coaches who knew the type of player I was and could be and the potential I had. I was training to go (Division) 1. That was my goal. Soccer was my life before. Once I got hurt and seeing that like flash before your eyes and just be taken away, it was devastating. And I knew I had to prove to myself that even if I wasn’t the player that I used to be, I can become a better person and I can let my injury not finish my soccer career, but just push me into the field that I want to go into and help motivate me and just show other people that sports aren’t your life. They can be a part of your life. And that’s what I learned from my injury.
Ryan Shazier: Oh, that’s amazing. I honestly don’t know exactly how old you are, but I know I played football since probably older than you are now. And, you know, I played football since I was 4 years old. And I’m 26 now, and last year was the first year I didn’t play football. Just being able to fight through and constantly be motivated by the people around me, like you said, and just trying to be a better person and trying to be a better teammate, be a better friend, and be a better father, I think those things really helped me get through it. And that’s amazing that this injury really helped you define who you ended up being, helped you find out what you want to do in your major, helped you find out what you want to be in. It helped you be a better person. And I think the same for my injury.
Ryan Shazier: What is some of the things that you had to overcome in high school? Because I know being injured at high school is tough as it is. And then if you’re already a star, it’s like, coming back from something is not the same life you lived before. So was that pretty hard to overcome?
Lindsey Buczkowski: It was difficult. I mean, especially because the teachers knew the type of athlete I was, how serious I was about it. And I was on crutches for three and a half months, and that’s how I had to get around the hallways. And I’d have teachers say, “When are you going to get off those things?” or “What injury did you even have?” And nobody really understands what you go through unless you go through it or you’re close with someone that goes through it. And it was difficult hearing certain teachers ask me those questions because they didn’t know how difficult it really was for me because not only are injuries like physically tough, but there’s a big mental part in it, too. And once you get over the physical pain, you still have so much mental obstacles to get through.
Lindsey Buczkowski: And I’m not much of an emotional person, but any time I would have to talk to my coaches about my injury or why I wasn’t playing like I used to and why am I not playing as much, and they would give me the answer. But in that moment you just think, “I am that player.” I’m still that player because your mind is where your athletics used to be, but your body is something different, and it changes. And I realized that over time.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah, that’s definitely harder to get over with. You want to be who you were. It’s your body’s adjusting, and you have to really just mentally prepare yourself for something new, something different. And a lot of people don’t understand what you’re going through. A lot of people just see it, but they don’t feel it. And they’re always trying to rush you back to something that you were before, but they never really know what you’re going through. All the time people ask, “When are you going to be back? When are you going to play again?” And, hey, man, if I could just click my finger and play again, I would. And I promise you I would. But it’s just a grind, and then I constantly see that you’re motivated, and you have great people around you. So it’s amazing to see how well you’ve been recovering and how well you recovered. So are you looking forward to going to Penn State now?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I am looking forward to it. It’s something new. I’m so excited to start my major, start my life, and to just keep helping other people. Possibly I’ll see the same injury that I went through and know exactly how to help them mentally and physically or see something else that’s challenging and just be there for people. Because you don’t know: Everybody handles things differently, and just giving them some input on how you went through your injury and how you recovered is amazing. Because everybody sees when you get better. That’s what they see. But they don’t see you when you’re in the training room for two hours or doing your exercises by yourself and this and that. They just see that you got better. And I’m glad that people watched me get better and saw me get better. But once again, they didn’t see the hard times that I went through.
Lindsey Buczkowski: And just for you as well. They don’t see what you go through on the daily, the challenges. I’m sure your back gets sore and hurts, and my foot does the same thing. I can’t do everything that I used to without it being an inconvenience. I mean, there’s times that I forget the injury happened, but then you’re just doing normal daily activities, and you get a reminder. It starts getting sore, there’s a sharp pain, and you just have to know how to handle it without other people knowing because you’re not going to project your everyday feelings when they don’t understand.
Ryan Shazier: You’re right about that, and my dad had a great saying to me: He’s like, “Life is like a roller coaster.” Everybody looking in, they say, “Man, it’s going fast,” but when you’re on the ride, it seems like it’s taking forever. So, man, what you said is really powerful. When you said that you’re able to help a lot of people that you never thought you’d be able to help before: What are some of the things that people ask you and some of the people you feel like you’re able to help?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I actually just love helping people, and I learned that even more after my injury. I mean, I’ve worked the Pittsburgh Marathon the last two years in the medical tents. I’ve just learned so many things. People have reached out to me through social media. They saw my commercial, or they saw the broadcast, and they went through the same injuries and asked me how I handled it, or is it normal to feel this type of pain, or what kind of exercises did you do, or if I got back to running or not. And I would answer all their questions because I know what they’re going through, and it’s not easy. I just really enjoy being there for people, and I want to be an inspiration to others to get back to what they love doing. And it just means something to me that even though I went through that and it was so difficult for me, if I can help other people, if they’re going to the same thing or even something similar and it makes it easier for them, I love that.
Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing. I always felt that I was an inspiration to people even before I got hurt. In football, I’m not saying, “Oh, man, I’m such an inspiration.” But I know I would help motivate people to try to be where I’m at when it came to football. And the fact that I’ve gotten injured, now I’m able to motivate people and inspire people to get up every day and just fight every day. Because the same thing I’m going through somebody else is going through that, or if they’re not even going through that, (there’s) just the struggle to get up every day and to be the best person that they can be.
Ryan Shazier: And just to know that you’re really able to help people, just to know that you’re really able to get the best out of people is an amazing feeling. Because sometimes I know I needed others to help me out to get where I’m at, especially with my injury. And now that I’m able to help others that I don’t even know, it’s an amazing feeling. And I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to do the same thing because I don’t think the Lord put us here just to help ourselves. So I’m really glad that you’re doing these types of things and helping people a lot. So you do the marathon, or you just help out?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I just help out. So I worked in the medical tents, just helped people when they came in, got them help, got them ice, whatever they needed. But a teacher in my district actually reached out to me the other week, and his daughter was a soccer player, and she just recently had a Lisfranc injury. And it’s a very rare injury, and she luckily didn’t tear anything. So she didn’t have to have any surgeries, but it’s still very hard to go through and fix the ligaments and repair them. So he texted me and asked if things were normal, if it was supposed to hurt when she ran. And I answered all of his questions, and I told him I am willing to train with her if she wants me to, just be with her if she wants me to, talk to her, tell her what to expect: the truth about it. Doctors tell you the truth, obviously, but they do it in a way that it’s not, not as serious, but it doesn’t impact you as much.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah.
Lindsey Buczkowski: In that moment.
Ryan Shazier: Yeah. They don’t want to make it burn.
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah. They don’t want to throw it all in your face at that point in time, but I would just be there for her and help her train, help her get through it, get back to the sport. Luckily, she didn’t have to have surgery, so she can fully recover, and I’d love to see her be able to get back to the sport that I love and have this injury, but not let it stop her.
Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing. Just the fact that you had surgery and you were able to get back to where you’re at. I heard some things about Lisfranc, and I know people that play soccer and do Lisfranc. Sometimes they don’t have the same outcome that you have, so to hear that you’re doing so great and helping others is amazing, and it’s always a good feeling to help people in your same position or same sport just to be the best person they can be. I know I have the same situation. We have a guy here that that plays the same position as me, or even some of the guys that don’t play the same position as me. I try to help those guys out as much as I can and be a mentor or big brother or even give them knowledge that I have that they didn’t have. And just the fact that you’re able to help somebody in the same scenario is amazing. How was the surgery? Were you nervous when you had to get surgery?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I was nervous for it, but I knew that my surgeon was going to do the best that he could. When I first found out about the injury, he told me, “You’re in luck.” And I said, “Why?” He goes, “You get a two for one deal.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “You have to unfortunately get two surgeries.” So he was trying to be funny about it, and I knew that’s what I had to do to get back. I had a plate and five screws put in the first surgery, and if I wanted to play again, I had to get them removed. And I wanted to play again, so I knew that’s what I had to do. And the surgery went well. I was nervous before, but once I was in the operating room and prepping, I was fine. And whatever happened was going to happen, and that’s what my attitude was throughout the surgery.
Ryan Shazier: So did you have to rehab after the first surgery and then after the second surgery also?
Lindsey Buczkowski: Yeah, so I started rehabbing right after I got the injury. So I started rehabbing just to keep as much quad strength as I possibly could because I knew I was going to be off of my leg for months. So I rehabbed before. After the first surgery, I did every day after school for two hours. And then after the second surgery, I also rehabbed. But luckily after the second surgery, it wasn’t as intense as the first.
Ryan Shazier: So about how long did it take you to rehab for the second surgery?
Lindsey Buczkowski: The second surgery, I luckily only really had to be on crutches for about two weeks, but it probably took about four to six weeks before I could really run again.
Ryan Shazier: So what did you end up doing with your crutches after you got rid of them?
Lindsey Buczkowski: I got them out of my sight. I did not want to see them again. They were my life for that amount of time. I mean, I didn’t really have any other way of transportation around the house, around anywhere I wanted to go. So they were a part of my life for months, and that’s what my life turned into. And it was just a routine.
Ryan Shazier: I had a walker, and I don’t remember how long I had it, but I had it for a while. And it was so funny because I’m learning a lot from the coaches and one of the coaches was like, “Hey, we think is going to be funny.” One of our coaches had a hip replacement, and he was like, “Man, does anybody know where we get a walker with little tennis balls on it?” I was like, “Hey, I have one of those. You can have mine. I don’t want it anymore.” I thought it was just a funny way to just literally let that part of my life go and move on. Those things (can) be with you for a while, especially (because) a lot of people don’t understand you’re in this process and going through something. And it, it just, it seems like it’s so long to you.
Ryan Shazier: So once you get past it, it just feels like such a relief. And whenever you get the opportunity to do something to move on, it’s just one of the biggest, most grateful feelings that you have. So I truly understand where you’re coming from. I understand you had a cane. I had a walker and a cane, so it’s just an amazing feeling. So I’m glad to hear that, that you’re really feeling great and you’re doing so much better.
Lindsey Buczkowski: Thank you.
Announcer: “Ryan Shazier’s 50 Phenoms,” in partnership with UPMC.
Ryan Shazier: I’m Ryan Shazier. I want to thank you for listening to my “50 Phenoms” podcast. Today you heard the story of Lindsey Buczkowski, who battled back from a rare foot injury and found her calling in the process. Don’t miss my next “50 Phenoms” podcast with kidney transplant donor Clay Warfield and recipient Omar Foster, two friends who would do anything for each other and prove it. You can follow along with me by visiting UPMC.me/50phenoms. Sign up to receive our emails and SMS alerts, too.
Based in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and more than 700 doctor’s offices and outpatient centers. Our expert physicians are among the leaders in their fields, and we are leaders in groundbreaking research and treatment breakthroughs. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside ranks as “One of America’s Best Hospitals” and No. 1 in Pennsylvania in U.S. News & World Report’s listings.