Field Hockey Canada > Hannah Haughn's Road to Recovery: From ACL tear to World Cup

Haughn fights back from torn ACL to make her return at Hockey World Cup

Hannah Haughn remembers the moment that it happened. It was March 2021, at national team carding camp. It was a perfect storm of factors. End of the day dry turf combined with a lateral collision, as her and a defender challenged for a ball. It was a nothing play, the type of challenge that takes place every game. Haughn was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the combination of factors worked against her.

The diagnosis, an athlete’s worst nightmare: Torn ACL, torn meniscus, strained LCL and MCL 

“There wasn’t too much pain at the moment, but I knew from the second it happened, that I had done something serious,” Haughn said. “Unfortunately, this type of thing can happen to anyone. It just happened to be me that time.” 

Those first few weeks after the injury were the most stressful, according to Haughn. The laundry list of logistical items was long: find and consult a surgeon, get an MRI, get the right recovery equipment, decide on the correct procedure, all while trying to recover on her own, not to mention the uncertainty of what lay ahead.

“As an athlete, my body is my main tool. In this situation, I was nervous about the surgery and I have no control over how that goes and there’s uncertainty around the recovery time. It all made that time really stressful,” she said.

Haughn said she struggles with generalized anxiety. She is an advocate for mental health in the community and has a blog and active social media presence that talks openly about her struggles. She said suffering a major injury during the COVID pandemic added a layer of isolation to an already challenging time.

“At that stage, I couldn’t work or drive, so it just became about finding distraction every day for six weeks leading up to the surgery,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I was in the best shape as I could be prior to surgery, to give myself the best chance at a good recovery.”

Back in action

Haughn has been a staple in the Canadian attacking corps since her debut in 2011. She has 191 career appearances. Although she was cleared to play in time for the Pan American Cup (World Cup qualifier), she wasn’t selected to the touring roster. She said there was disappointment, but she understood that she hadn’t played a game in two years and needed that extra time to get back. Still, it was a bittersweet moment as she watched at home as the team punched its World Cup ticket.

“I was at home watching with my family. I was so wanting to be there for the moment that we qualified and there was definitely a little disappointment in not being able to share that moment with the team,” she reflects. “But at the end of the day, my dream is to go to the World Cup. To watch our team achieve this, whether I was there or not, was a special moment.”

That qualifying moment set Haughn on a new path. She said she knew if she focused on her recovery, that she would be contending for a spot on the World Cup roster and have a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Haughn said one obstacle during her comeback process was deciding when she was ‘good to go.’ She didn’t want to rush the recovery but also said that being overly cautious or fearful is a major barrier. Working with team trainer Simon Taylor, Haughn said by the time she stepped fully into drills and scrimmages, she was 100 per cent ready to go.

“We were working together three days on field and two days in the gym. We were doing mobility, change of direction, ladders, jumping,” she said. “I anticipated to be a bit fearful, but in reality, I had put in so much work, I honestly had forgot I had been injured. It took someone to ask how I felt, to even remember.”

When the World Cup roster was announced internally at the beginning of June, Haughn saw her name on the list and felt a particular proudness in the work she had put in and the obstacles she had overcome in the process.

“I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, mentally and physically. I’m playing well and having fun. All these things coming together is a huge confidence boost and I know I’m going to be able to achieve my goal,” she said. “Seeing my name on the roster was a really exciting day for me and my family.”

Opening Night and Beyond

This team is the first Women’s National Team to qualify for the World Cup in 28 years. For Haughn, she can’t picture a more poetic and perfect opening night matchup than against Spain in the Terrassa Olympic Stadium.

“It’s a prime-time game against the home team. It’s the biggest hockey event in the world. I couldn’t be more excited. It is going to be an awesome challenge. Spain is a great team with a lot of speed and skill and I can’t wait to see how we match up,” Haughn said.

Haughn is on track to play her 200th international cap at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK, following the World Cup. When she does, she will become one of the few women in Canadian history to do so, a feat she wouldn’t have thought realistic when she first put on the National Team jersey 11 years ago.

“If I could go back in time and tell my 16-year-old self that she’d play 200 games for Canada, I would have told you that was impossible. To be able to play for my country and wear the maple leaf. It never gets old, I’m so grateful for these opportunities. Every game is a gift and you never really know when you’re going to play your last.”

Hannah Haughn and her Team Canada teammates will get the gift of competition; the privilege of pressure, when they step on the field to take on the hosts, Spain in the opening game of the tournament.

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