Two of Union’s men’s soccer athletes pushed through ACL surgeries to return this season better, faster and stronger.
Kim Lunardelli, senior business management major, and Leonardo Santin, senior sports management major, are both from Brazil.
Lunardelli said he was playing in Florida last November in the National Christian College Athletic Association nationals for Union when a forward from a competing team fell on his leg and bent his knee inside.
“It was really painful; I tried to go back to the game but I was not able to,” Lunardelli said. “The very next day, my knee was so swollen that it looked like a pumpkin. I knew I had an ACL tear, so my MRI scan was just a confirmation of the diagnosis.”
Lunardelli has been in rehabilitation since March 28 and will finish in the next couple of months. He is in rehabilitation training five days a week for two hours each session.
“The first months were based in decreasing the swelling and recovering the movements of our knees,” Lunardelli said. “After that, we built the strength of the leg and started running. The final period is based on strengthening, conditioning and recovering the game movements we lost.”
Santin hurt his knee during a spring practice in the Fesmire Field House.
He said he tried to change directions quickly and felt his knee twist.
“It was hard, and it was the second time that I had to do rehab for an ACL surgery,” Santin said.
Santin has been in rehabilitation for nearly eight months and is still in it. Santin has rehabilitation training every day during soccer practice hours.
“I usually start with some stretching then move to some technical work with the ball, some sprints or long runs, and then I finish with a gym session for my lower body,” Santin said.
Both Santin’s and Lunardelli’s rehabilitation was at Union and given by Oscar Orengo, Union’s athletic trainer. Some exercises were given by assistant men’s soccer coach James Landham or men’s soccer coach Clovis Simas.
Lunardelli and Santin agree the recovery process was long and stressful. They both wanted to practice and play but knew their knees were not ready.
“The last months are the worst because we feel like our knee is ready when it is not,” Lunardelli said. “[Rehabilitation] was really useful to help us get our game movements back in order.”
Santin will be able to play again this month; however, Lunardelli is having to wait until the beginning of next year to play again due to a minor tibia fracture.
Lunardelli said his father traveled to Jackson from Brazil to help him cope with the first part of the rehabilitation process.
He added his mother and sisters gave him the support he needed to go through the long process and his friends even offered support from near and far away.
“My friends here and in Brazil were always concerned, too, by offering support and help as much as possible. I really have to thank my teammates though,” Lunardelli said. “I could see in their eyes how much they care every time I was asked, ‘When are you coming back?’ which was a lot.
“Also, Leo and I made a great team through this — always supporting each other and encouraging each other.”
Santin said his mom came to the states to help him after the surgery, along with his girlfriend.
Both Lunardelli and Santin agree Coaches Clovis and James were supportive throughout the recovery process as well as when they got back to practices by encouraging them and helping them to improve.
“I was really touched by the way [our coaches] were concerned not only about the athlete in me but the person in me,” Lunardelli said. “An ACL injury is a psychological scar you carry for life.”
Both players grew up watching their fathers play soccer and developed a love for the sport at a young age. Santin started playing soccer at age 5, and Lunardelli attempted to play professionally at one point.
“My dad was a soccer player and coach, so he was always taking me to games, and I fell in love when practicing it,” Lunardelli said. “It is a great sport to watch and a wonderful sport to play. After a few years I tried to become a professional player in Brazil, but it is a long way to get to the top.”
Santin said he loves playing soccer for Union and loves being a Bulldog because of how the university interacts with international students as well as supporting them while they play sports.
Lunardelli added he thinks being a Bulldog is fun.
“People at Union really look up to you for being an athlete but treat you like one of them,” Lunardelli said. “I feel really special, but mostly for being part of a community than for being an athlete.”