Contributed by Justin Lafleur, Lehigh University Athletics Senior Assistant Director, Sports Communications
In the final minute of Saturday’s (Dec. 9) 75-60 win over Mount St. Mary’s, junior Caleb Sedore walked onto the floor for his collegiate debut.
The moment was a long time coming.
After suffering a torn ACL as a freshman, then re-tearing the same ACL as a sophomore, his debut was two years in the making.
“When I first ran onto the court, I was pretty excited,” said Sedore, a Pulaski native. “It felt good to check into a game again. It was fun to see and feel all of my hard work come together.”
The moment was special for not only Sedore, but also the entire Lehigh team and even the fans. Sedore entered the Stabler Arena floor to a standing ovation.
“To see him get on the floor, I’m honestly lost for words,” said classmate Kyle Leufroy. “It was unbelievable. Just knowing everything he’s gone through these last two years, I got a little emotional myself.”
Sedore’s journey began two years ago as a freshman, trying to make a strong first impression in college basketball. He was struggling a bit to adjust, but was making progress.
“I was really young,” said Sedore, who entered Lehigh at 17 years old. “I was a little overwhelmed at times and still had a lot to learn about myself, basketball and how life works in general. I felt like it was a little rocky in the beginning, but things were coming along overall.”
That’s when it happened… at a preseason practice in mid October.
“I knew what it was as soon as it happened,” said Sedore. “I was driving, went to plant and jump towards the hoop and my right leg just gave out. I felt that pop, was on the ground and felt some pain.
“ACL pain is interesting because when you initially tear it, it’s only painful for a few minutes, then it essentially goes away. But once the swelling begins, that’s when it becomes really painful.”
Everything changed for Sedore in an instant.
“It was the first time I was getting to play college basketball and it ended… just like that,” he said.
Sedore was actually one of three Mountain Hawks who would miss the entire 2015-16 season due to injury.
Those injured, Brandon Alston, Matt Holba and Sedore, created a support system to help each other stay positive throughout the year, while working towards getting back on the court.
“We really got close over that time period and relied on each other for strength,” said Sedore.
Caleb credits all his teammates even beyond Alston and Holba, for helping him through the year.
“I tried to be there for Caleb any way I could,” said Leufroy. “At the same time, there’s only so much I could do because I hadn’t gone through the same situation. I told him to stay strong, level-headed and keep the faith.”
Sedore faced many challenges on a day-to-day basis.
“In the surgery when you tear your ACL the first time, they use a graft from your patella tendon, which is the long incision you’ll see at the front of your knee (if somebody’s had ACL surgery),” he said. “That long incision takes a little while to heal and it can be very painful for a while. That was one of the biggest challenges.”
Rehabbing a torn ACL takes time, so it’s important to let the body heal then take things slowly when progressing forward.
“Your surgery is fine and it’s over, but then it’s a waiting and strengthening game,” said Sedore. “You have to wait for the graft to take hold in the bone while also strengthening your legs to help protect the graft. For the next 6-9 months, that’s what you’re doing. It can get mentally tiring.”
Doing the same rehabilitation activities for weeks and months straight can be tedious, so the mental hurdles can be just as challenging as the physical hurdles.
“I was definitely impatient at times,” said Sedore. “When I got impatient, my parents helped me refocus. My classmates Kyle [Leufroy] and Matt [Holba] also helped refocus me a lot as well. Rachel Kennedy was the athletic trainer at the time and we had a good working relationship, too.”
Sedore’s hard work began to pay off. He came back late in the preseason and was rewarded by suiting up for the 2016-17 season opener at top-10 Xavier.
“I was really excited to dress for Xavier,” he said. “I had only been practicing for a week or two, and Xavier’s a big-time program, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get any minutes. I wasn’t banking on minutes by any means.”
Sedore didn’t play, but it was a big moment nonetheless. He was on the bench in front of a sold-out Cintas Center and back where he belonged, alongside his teammates.
There was the high of the season opener, and Sedore’s birthday the following day, but it quickly came crashing down.
Less than 48 hours after the Xavier game, it happened again in a practice.
“Similar to the first time, I was driving to the hoop, went to do a spin move, planted on my right side to get back to my left and it just gave out again,” said Sedore.
Sedore was devastated. Months upon months of patiently rehabbing went down the drain in an instant.
“The second time hit me harder than the first because I knew what it took to get back on the court,” he said. “When you tear your ACL a second time and aim to get back on the court, the time period is even longer. It’s almost a full year of recovery and I knew how much effort, energy and commitment it took.”
“My heart was absolutely broken for Caleb,” said Reed. “The fact that he worked so hard to rehab and build everything back up to be able to compete in a game he loves, then, to have the physical, emotional and mental pain that’s associated with an injury, I couldn’t have been more crushed for a kid. That was really hard for me to deal with because Caleb has been a tremendous representative for our program.”
Sedore could turn the negative of knowing what to expect throughout the rehab process, into a positive. There wouldn’t be surprises.
“My second rehab was a lot more goal specific,” he said. “For certain portions when I was only allowed to form shoot, my goal would be to improve my form, fix a little kink in my shot or something like that. That may be 2-3 months, then the next 2-3 months, maybe I could shoot jump shots. Then it would be spot shooting until I hit 10-of-10 shots from a spot. Towards the end of my rehab, I lost a lot of body fat and transformed my body a little bit in hopes of making it easier for me to come back and adapt to playing at a high level after two such significant injuries. It took a lot of hard work, grit and determination.”
It would’ve been easy to quit and officially “retire” from playing basketball, but Sedore loves the game too much.
“I don’t think there was ever a thought that I wouldn’t come back, but there were some points in time when I was really down,” he said. “At my darkest points right after I tore it again and in the first couple months after surgery, I definitely thought about my future in basketball a little bit, but I wouldn’t say not playing was a specific thought that I ever focused on.”
As he’s always done, Sedore fought through those dark moments and has gradually gotten himself into game shape. He practiced for a great deal of preseason, slowly doing more and more. Lehigh’s medical and coaching staffs were cautious, understanding he essentially hasn’t played in two years (other than a few segments), so they didn’t rush him back.
Sedore would need time to get his feet back underneath him.
“My first day back in practice, everything was a blur – from shooting a jump shot to finishing a layup, sliding into my help side rotation and playing defense,” he said. “Everything was very, very quick, then it’s slowly gotten to a place where I’ve adapted to the speed of the game a little bit. There’s still some adaption that needs to happen to continue to compete and achieve our team, and my personal, goals.”
Either injury could have devastated Sedore. But, instead, he’s grown as a student, athlete and overall young man. Because of what he’s been through, Sedore has gained tremendous perspective, and an even greater love, for the game of basketball.
“Most people wouldn’t go through the pain, the difficulty and the anguish that comes with an injury such as Caleb’s. For him to be able to do it twice tells you a lot about his character,” said Reed. “This is a kid who will have a lot of success in his future, especially because of some of the challenges he’s faced. Caleb has done something that most people are unwilling and some unable to do.”
“When you physically can’t do something that you love, it really impacts you as a person, but it also gives you some time to understand yourself and who you are as a person,” said Sedore. “Basketball had always been my identity and what I identified with. Now, I have a wide variety of things that I enjoy, which I can attribute to that time away from basketball.”
Sedore is living in the moment.
On Saturday, that moment of entering the court for the first time was a culmination of two years of pain and frustration, which led to hard work, persistence and a desire to get back to the game he loves.
“I had told Caleb that at the end of the day, just trust God’s plan,” said Leufroy. “God has a plan for all of us. His journey was a lot tougher than others, but I was confident that he was going to make it back.”
Now that he’s back, Sedore is taking it day-by-day.
“I’m sure as time goes on, I’ll establish more concrete goals like I did in my rehab, but for right now, I’m really enjoying every day that I’m out there, seeing it as a blessing and seeing it as an opportunity to compete,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun just being out on the court again.”