December 01, 2022

Jacksen McNeal was playing the game he loves when he was injured. A 15-year-old starting center back of the St. Louis CITY Academy 16U team, he is passionate about soccer. He was thrilled by the opportunity to join CITY Academy to take his game to another level, dig deeper, push harder, and improve.


Jacksen's parents, Sara and Roz, were overjoyed for their son and his opportunity to grow as a soccer player and as a young man. They talk about the soccer resilience program that they participate in as a CITY Academy family. This program focuses on the mental side of the game, teaching players, coaches, and parents how to handle situations. "The investment in mental well-being is huge. The whole community is being educated and we are all growing." 


Practice makes an athlete. Jacksen was putting in the work at practice, as he so routinely does, when he jumped for a ball in the goal. The quick move caused a "twinge" in his knee, dislocation and swelling. The medical staff at practice popped it back in place, and the next day he had an appointment with Robert Brophy, MD, sports medicine specialist and Medical Director for St. Louis CITY SC. Jacksen had three vials of fluid drained from his knee causing instant relief. However, routine imagining showed the need for surgery, a devastating diagnosis for an athlete preparing to travel with his team. The soccer player had a loose body in his knee which had to be removed from the joint.


As a dedicated athlete, Jacksen refocused his dedication to recovery. He saw surgery as the first step of healing and he had a great attitude towards the process. He followed Dr. Brophy's orders for post-surgery recovery and was eventually cleared to begin physical therapy. At the St. Louis Childrens and Washington University Young Athlete Center, Jacksen started working to rebuild his strength with Joe Hannon, PT, DPT, PhD, and Camden Cripe, LAT, ATC. Joe helped him understand that building the structure of a great athlete is much like building a house. It requires a strong foundation and multiple levels of construction. Jacksen understood that the work he was putting in to regain strength and ability were building blocks for long-term success. 


No one ever wants to see their child get hurt, but Sara and Roz were grateful for the access to the medical services they needed when their family found themselves in that unwanted situation. They're thankful for the community of support from "one of the best surgeons in the country," the facilities like the Young Athlete Center, and the focus on their son's mental wellness CITY Academy nurtured. Jacksen was even connected with a national soccer team player who had faced a similar injury and could relate to his situation. "Fluid teamwork built this young athlete back up." 

The Athlete 

Jacksen has always been an advocate for health: physically, mentally, and emotionally. The process of injury and recovery made him even more well-rounded and able to help others. Now, as a team player and leader, he can connect with an injured athlete, or talk to the guy who's down. While the injury may have knocked him down for a while, he knocked recovery out of the park and he's back to lighting up any room he enters and having success on the pitch. 

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