'I was really, really scared': Cambridge athlete overcomes misdiagnosis to earn NCAA scholarship
It seemed like a simple sprain at first, but that kicked off a nearly two-year ordeal for April McDonald, who worried her dream of a soccer scholarship in the U.S. would become just that.
“I was scared. I was really, really scared,” recounted McDonald about the ankle injury she suffered while playing basketball in Grade 10 in the fall of 2019.
That began a series of trips to the doctor’s office for the 17-year-old from Cambridge. The injury was initially assessed as a sprain – three weeks of recovery should do.
McDonald says three months later, nothing had improved. Subsequent medical appointments and an MRI uncovered a broken talus bone, a torn ligament and two other severely strained ligaments.
She opted for surgery, but pandemic-induced measures meant months-long delays in scheduling until finally McDonald was on the operating table in May 2021.
All that time spent hobbling instead of on the field had the young teen worried she was missing the most important time of her soccer development – and her opportunity to play stateside.
“I was watching my team play and other girls sign for the States so, it was really hard mentally watching that happen,” said McDonald. “I was really angry. I was angry at everyone.”
McDonald longed to be back on the pitch – describing it as her therapy.
“Soccer and sports [were] my outlet for stress,” said McDonald. “Not having that, it was really hard to express any of my emotions. Whenever I looked at my ankle, it was just a constant reminder that, ‘Oh, I can’t play.’”
A summer spent in a cast meant McDonald was back on the pitch in the fall – kicking and scoring all over again.
“[It was] amazing. Waiting those two years was really hard, but the first time I stepped back on the field there was so much relief and happiness,” said McDonald.
She was able to play in enough games to create a sizzle reel of goals, which included a looping shoot from outside of the 18-yard box that sailed over the ‘keeper and under the bar. Another was scored straight from the corner flag while another screamer was sent in from 30 yards out.
She sent off the highlight video to U.S. schools and got an offer out of Buffalo, but when Lafayette College came calling – her dream had come true.
“I remember being so happy. I was like jumping with my brothers,” said McDonald. “It was finally happening.”
McDonald signed her dreams into reality at her high school, Jacob Hespeler Secondary, and accepted a full-ride scholarship with Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania – about an hour outside of Philadelphia – where she’ll play Division 1 soccer.
After nearly two years of resilience, McDonald gets her first tour of the campus later this month before moving in the summer.
Looking back, McDonald said the hardship made her stronger.
“Things have a way of working out, even when you don’t see that it’s going to work out,” she said.