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Accepting Help & Overcoming Challenges

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2021) Permanent link   All Posts
Felicia Lombardi

We learn the most about ourselves through unexpected challenges. For me, that challenge was knee surgery. In April 2019, I went down in a spring soccer match. I had cut back to receive a pass and my knee just decided to quit on me. After hearing a “pop”, I was scared that my ACL was a “goner” and so too was my entire summer. Thankfully, none of the medical professionals I consulted could affirm a diagnosis. Feeling like I had somehow cheated an injury, within a week I was back up and training. My knee felt weird, and internally I knew something was wrong, but I figured that if I trained harder, eventually it would be as good as new. The entire summer passed, and through intensive trainings and adventurous excursions, I certainly put my knee to the test. Having survived the summer, I kept moving forward straight into soccer season. Once again, my knee held up, for the most part, minus a “wiggle” here and there. Nevertheless, about 10 games into the season and 6 months after the original injury, I finally got my weird knee checked out. As the MRI results showed, my ACL was in fact a “goner” as I originally feared. But I had made it this far, why stop here? I somehow convinced the doctor to let me finish my season before surgery. He warned me that my meniscus might give out eventually, but that if it does, he will make sure to fix that too. 5 games later my knee got mad at me and “crunch”… there goes my meniscus.

The injury was painful. The surgery was intrusive. The recovery was long. However, the most challenging part of this experience was my vulnerability and dependency on others. I pride myself on my independence and self-sufficiency. Most cadets at the Academy do. After all, how can you serve others if you need help yourself?

The truth: this kind of thinking is a trap. Being in the Coast Guard is not about being perfect and correcting the imperfections of others. On the contrary, being in the Coast Guard is about understanding that there is no perfect and that everyone needs help from time to time. Moreover, being able to accept the help of others adds a deeper meaning to the act of helping others.

After my operation I was on crutches for a month. I could not bear weight and I could not bend my leg. Consequently, without assistance, I could not shower, do my laundry, carry my food trays, climb the hills on campus, or even complete the daily physical therapy I was instructed to do. I needed help, and lots of it. Although, after priding myself on my independence for so long, I didn’t know how to ask for help. Asking for help seems so simple and easy, but we often let our desire to help others supersede our need to also help ourselves.

My surgery has helped me learn that it is okay to need help, and it is okay to ask for it. Everyone has their challenges, and everyone’s challenges are hard to overcome. We can achieve so much more when we stop worrying about being a burden to others and ask for help when we need it while offering help when others need it. I am so thankful for all my shipmates who jumped in to help me out when I needed it, and I cannot wait to return the favor when they need it.