Anna Whitworth’s “tenacity tale” just got a little more interesting. In late February, she had broken into the starting lineup for her Amherst College team, playing midfield for the #15 ranked squad, when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament: the ACL. It was a scrimmage day, and the opposing team’s Head Coach, Katy Dissinger–Anna’s former Tenacity Team coach, as luck would have it–ran out on the field to offer encouragement, as soon as she saw her go down. As Anna says, “I was so lucky to have her there and hear her words. It is hard to play across the country away from my family but having my Tenacity Family there at the lowest of low was the best.”

Anna has not previously experienced a serious injury through sports, however, she is no stranger to obstacles standing in the way of her goals.

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon, Anna had to be tenacious in her pursuit of opportunities to train and compete in lacrosse. Talent and commitment varied widely throughout the state, so no single club team existed that offered a nationally competitive grade-pure experience. In order to chase her dream of playing college lacrosse at the best academic institution possible, Anna joined a Tenacity 2022 team based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She credits Tenacity for sending out virtual workouts that encouraged players to record themselves and keep each other accountable. She used those resources to guide her moments getting better on her own in high school. She ran on country roads and in fields near her house and did a ton of stickwork because that is “controllable, and people don’t expect girls from a non-traditional lacrosse area to have good stick skills.”

The global pandemic layered in a level of adversity in 2020. Anna and her classmates were in their prime recruiting period and the extreme flexibility, resilience, and grit that she gained while maneuvering through that time are the tools she now uses to manage the emotions around her ACL tear. The taste of “absolute joy and freeness I feel while playing,” she says, is something she had returned to after some confidence difficulties and performance anxiety during her freshman year at Amherst.

Whitworth credits the Tenacity Project with helping her grow into a confident and independent woman. The community she found with her Tenacity teammates has even translated to her college lacrosse career. In addition to her beloved 2022 Coach “Diss,” she has friends and former teammates in conference at Tufts University. “Seeing their parents at games that my parents couldn’t make made it feel a lot like an extended family,” she says.

Whitworth says she still uses some of her Tenacity “mistake rituals,” to help her stay focused in games. As she shifts to managing her injury, Anna uses similar reframing inspired by one of her first coaches, her dad, to maintain a healthy perspective. “He told me this only happens when you push your body to the absolute limit in sports,” Whitworth says. “Playing at an elite level comes at a risk and you put it all on the line. I pushed my absolute limit… it’s not what did I lose from this but what can I gain from this experience?”

Off-Field Identity and Passions

Whitworth is involved in the Gregory S. Call Academic Internship which is an opportunity to work closely with Amherst College faculty on original research. She is currently pursuing research in political sciences with an emphasis on politics in Latin America. Whitworth is also an EcoRep on campus, helping with the food recycling program which packages leftover food from the cafeteria and brings it to food banks and various places of need. Whitworth says the built-in community that comes with being a part of the lacrosse team is incredible but that “it is also important to her to have friends outside of lacrosse.” She makes an effort to connect with classmates and make the time to share experiences outside of sports and the classroom and even plans to study abroad in Madrid next semester with one of her best friends not on the lacrosse team.

Anna’s identity as a student-athlete, an activist, a leader, and a community-minded teammate, are going to be crucial to her recovery and return to play. Her advice to girls coming up behind her in the Pacific Northwest, and around the country, is to “find your joy and fire every time you play. Play loose and gritty and free. There’s no guarantee you get to do what you love tomorrow.  If you experience an injury like this, remember that joy and fire and use it to get back to where you were, BETTER. Use it to fuel the comeback–I know I will.”