Reality is a phone call at three in the morning with bad news, getting laid off at work and, for Lizzie Clough, Sept. 7, 2010, in Sartain Hall.
The Trojan volleyball player went up to hit the ball in the Auburn match when her life was turned upside down with a big dose of reality.
“I went up, I hit and then when I landed, I landed funny,” Clough said. “My foot went one way, my knee went the other, my thigh went the other, and it was awful.”
Clough had blown out her left knee. Her ACL had exploded.
“Honestly, I came in with the perception of just it is going to last forever,” Clough said. “One minute you are playing in a game, which that was me, that was how it happened to me. I’m playing in a game, I’m athletic, I’m Lizzie the athlete and the next minute I’m Lizzie the was-athlete now she can’t even take a shower by herself.”
The sidelined defensive specialist struggled to find her identity in the wake of the injury.
Clough turned to friends, talking about it and sometimes just shutting her brain off to cope during the rehab process.
As a junior in 2011, Clough returned to the volleyball team where she would record 268 digs for the Trojans, which was second most on the team, all the while being on the women’s track and field team as a javelin thrower for Troy.
“Volleyball is such a team sport,” Clough said. “You can have a great game. It doesn’t matter as long as the people to the left and right of you are having a good game too it’s all about each other. Whereas track and field, it’s all on you, it’s all on the individual.”
Clough looked at having both sports as having the best of both worlds.
“Lizzie was always a steadying force for us,” Troy volleyball coach Sonny Kirkpatrick said. “When she was in the game, we knew our ball control was much much better and our defense was much much better.”
But after the volleyball season in the fall of 2011 had ended, Clough was focusing on her javelin throwing when reality reared its ugly head for the second time.
While throwing in a competition in the spring of 2012, Clough’s left knee failed her for the second time, with the ACL trashed once more.
“I walked over to my mom, my grandma and my grandpa, and I just lost it,” Clough said.
All of the thoughts she felt during the first rehab process had crept back in her head but this time Clough was determined to come back better than ever.
“It was a second chance to do it better this time,” Clough said. “To go about it differently and you don’t really get many second chances and that’s what I viewed it as.”
The broken athlete was taking redemption in stride this time.
“I didn’t dread going to the training room,” Clough said. “I didn’t dread working out, I didn’t dread seeing people.”
After the second knee injury, the defensive specialist’s days on the court as a player were over but Clough made to choice to become a student coach for her volleyball team while continuing to throw javelin for Troy.
“Just tremendous amount of character,” Kirkpatrick said. “Highly motivated, brutally honest when she needs to be. The kind of person I hope my girls grow up to be like. Couldn’t be more proud of her as a person or player. She means a lot to our program and has meant a lot to our program over the last three and a half years.”
Now Clough is seeing the game of volleyball on an entirely different level as she tries to help the current team with words of wisdom.
“Appreciate it, appreciate it,” Clough said. “Don’t take it for granted. 6 a.m. practice in the morning. It sucks, yeah it really does but you know what though? You are going to spend more time looking back on it and wishing you were still there than you are dreading being there right now.”
As for her javelin throwing, Clough is just ranked No. 31 in the country entering the 2013 season.
“When you decide to become an athlete at a Division I school you’re competitive,” cross country coach Jill Lancaster said. “That does not change and if you are going to be good you are going to live on the edge sometimes and you going to get hurt. It’s how you deal with that, that brings you to where you are.”
Lizzie Clough has faced adversity and for her it has only made her stronger.
“It’s not a pity party, it’s a learning experience,” Clough said, with a long T-shaped scar exposed on her left knee. “It’s your life it’s what makes you who you are.”