There’s an old adage that adversity builds character. That may be true, but—given a choice—high school hockey players Dylan Gast and Jeanette Bealke would probably opt for a less painful character-building experience than the one they have each been dealing with.
The seniors and co-captains of the White Bear Lake Area High School boys’ and girls’ hockey teams have both missed their senior seasons due to torn ACL injuries they suffered while competing or practicing. But along with the pain and sense of loss, they both acknowledge they have learned some useful lessons about coping with adversity.
n September 26, Dylan was getting ready for his final high school season playing in an elite showcase league game at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine. Dylan was carrying the puck across the opponent’s blue line when he was checked at what he calls a “weird” angle, and went down with his left leg caught underneath him. Still, he got up and continued skating until “the knee kept giving out, and I knew something was wrong.”
Along with the physical pain, he felt sudden emotional pain. “In the first couple of hours, I got mad at first, thinking that everything was over,” says Dylan. “Then I realized there was more to life after hockey.”
The following Monday, the Gasts took Dylan to a local HealthPartners clinic, where he was examined by orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Cooper and given an MRI exam, which revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). (The ACL is one of the four main ligaments within the knee that connect the femur to the tibia.)
Dylan had surgery on October 12. He couldn’t walk for six weeks after the operation, and then began twice-weekly physical therapy. By late November, he was able to walk without crutches. And he began skating on an indoor treadmill, twice weekly, at the Acceleration North training center in Arden Hills. He eventually rejoined the team as an additional coach, attending practices, games and any other team functions, just as he would as a player.
In early March, Dylan planned to start playing practice games in preparation to try out for a summer junior league, and competing for a local team in either the USHL or NAHL, all with an eye to eventually playing college hockey ... somewhere.
Dylan had experience dealing with hockey injuries; he had twice broken his collarbone in what can be a rough sport. He’s found that, in recovering from a temporarily disabling injury, attitude is at least as important as the physical aspects.
“My coaches just tell me to be positive and that’s there’s a life outside of hockey. All my injuries have not lessened my love for the sport, and I do believe that it will make me a better person/player. The key is to always stay positive and realize that it’s not the end of the road, just the end of a hockey season.” He hopes to play with a junior team this summer.
hockey player since age 4, Jeanette Bealke was hurt playing soccer in early October. “I knew right away I had torn the ACL. But I didn’t want to believe it, so I got up and kept playing. At first, I was naive about it; I thought I could just play through it and get surgery after the season,” says Jeanette. “Then it sunk in that I was going to miss my senior season.”
It was a major disappointment for Jeanette, who has had to deal with much more serious adversity—the death of her mother, Pamela, in September 2014.
On October 22, Jeanette underwent surgery at Summit Orthopedic in Vadnais Heights. In a more than two-hour operation, surgeon Jack Skendzel took a graft from one of her hamstring tendons and fashioned a new ACL.
After the initial shock wore off, Jeanette realized she could still play a role on the team, off the ice. “I knew I could be there for the team in other ways,” she says. Since she has been able to resume skating in January, she has enjoyed passing on her knowledge of the game to younger teammates at practice, as an ad hoc coach.
Jeanette’s father, Mike, says his daughter has handled the experience “like a trouper. She really wants to get back out there. Fortunately, she has a lot of good friends in and out of sports who have helped her though this. And her coaches have been really supportive.”
As she looks forward to playing Division III college hockey next season at Augsburg College, Jeanette says she’s learned a useful lesson: the importance of “appreciating what you have in front of you, and seizing every opportunity, because you never know when it might be gone.”