Kylie Ohlmiller

Kylie Ohlmiller: Celebrate the Little Wins

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2024 / Credit: Kait Devir
Kylie Ohlmiller
Mar 01, 2024

In the midst of fulfilling a lifelong dream, Kylie Ohlmiller tore her ACL on July 7, 2022 at the Women’s Lacrosse World Championships. She shares her 12-month comeback journey to return to professional lacrosse on July 11, 2023 and the three biggest lessons she learned along the way. 

Three of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout the ACL Recovery process:

  1. There is beauty in the struggle, as long as you’re willing to discover it. 
  2. You are never alone in the struggle, as long as you’re willing to open up to it.
  3. The little wins throughout the journey will be what make the big wins even bigger in the end.

I have been fortunate enough to play on many teams throughout my vast athletic career so far – from PAL Town Lacrosse and CYO Basketball, to varsity volleyball, basketball and lacrosse, to club lacrosse with the Long Island Yellow Jackets, to my years playing for the Stony Brook Seawolves, and multiple women’s professional lacrosse leagues.

But there is nothing like playing for your country. Playing for the World Championship U.S. Women’s Senior National Team in 2022, I learned something about playing on teams that I had never fully known before.

The opportunity to play for the U.S. at the 2022 World Championships was a dream I had since I was a little girl. It was something to aspire to, something to dream about, and something to resonate with when I watched the Olympics every two years and felt chills up and down my spine thinking about the possibility of being in those athletes’ shoes one day. 

My first opportunity to try out for Team USA came when I was a junior at Stony Brook in 2016. From that first tryout, it took me six years to make the final roster for a World Championship in 2022. 

Throughout those years, I learned that the beauty within competing for a spot on a team at the highest level, whether that be professionally or for a national team, is that everyone there deserves to be there. You have to bring your A-game (or at the very least, your A++ effort) every time out. I fully understood and still understand that challenge, and it’s what keeps me fired up to compete within my own training every single day.

The other beauty that comes with competing at the highest level that is oftentimes overlooked is that everyone steps on the same field, plays the same sport, and has many of the same dreams. Yet, at the same time, everyone comes from a completely unique story to one another. Every single person out on the field has had their fair share of challenges, championships, and setbacks – high moments and low moments alike. Each of those moments has contributed to their story, and ultimately who they are as lacrosse players and people.

This particular aspect of playing at the highest level wasn’t completely prominent to me until July 7, 2022. After the six years it had taken me to work my way onto the final Team USA roster, I was playing in the World Championship with absolutely incredible teammates. 

We were well on our way to a semifinal win against Australia. Imagine it’s the fourth quarter, we’re up by about 15 goals – you’d think you’re home free! 

My left knee begged to differ that night.

One moment, I’m carrying the ball through X looking for cutters, and the next I’m on the ground at GLE (goal line extended), half blacking out from pain and half looking at the sky begging for what was happening in my left knee joint to not be real.

I tore my ACL, MCL, and both lateral and medial menisci that night; and I was sidelined for our gold medal game against Canada less than 48 hours later. 


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Over the last two years, a lot of people have asked me what the hardest part of the ACL recovery journey is. Though surgery and the grueling days that follow it are definitely up there, nothing was more difficult than getting off that bus on the day of the gold medal game and crutching my way across the field knowing I wouldn’t be able to physically contribute to the outcome that day. 

What I realized in those particular moments of sadness, pain, and disappointment was that I was surrounded by teammates who, to me, always have presented themselves as the inspirationally strong, empowering, and superior athletes that they are. What I didn’t know at the time was that each of those same teammates had endured a challenge of this magnitude throughout their careers, too. The emotions they shared with me, the support they showed me through little actions in big moments, the inclusion they provided me with on one of the most difficult days of my career – those are the things I will never forget about this injury.

We won the gold medal that day 48 hours after I tore up my knee and we celebrated the World Championship together. When we all retreated back to our respective homes, I took with me the feeling that I’m not alone in the struggle

That perspective was the best gift my teammates could have ever given me, because the next 12 months proved to be a journey during which I would need every ounce of it.

Fast Forward from Gold Medal Game Day on July 9, 2022 to the first day of Season 3 of Athletes Unlimited Pro Lacrosse on July 11, 2023. 

The 12 months between those two dates held a great deal of ups and downs, little wins, and way too much patience (if you ask me).

For one, immediately after the World Championship was the start of Athletes Unlimited Pro Lacrosse Season 2. Due to this injury, I had to sit out for an entire year of my professional lacrosse career. That was devastating for me, and caused so many unanswered questions in my head as I started the recovery journey.

The biggest question that continuously lingered internally was, “Will I be able to play at the professional level again in less than 12 months?”

I fought through every week of rehab with the haunting version of that answer – the one that I couldn’t possibly allow to happen. My goal was to get myself as strong as I could physically and as prepared as I could mentally in order to take on that tall task. But in order to achieve a big goal, I knew I had to crush smaller goals along the way. I broke down my rehab journey into little challenges to overcome, and checked off little wins every day, week, and month – as I slowly but surely journeyed my way back on the field.

Though I had my goals to check off, what ultimately kept me motivated throughout every setback, every minute of pain, and every moment of fear during the recovery process was the people I knew were waiting for me to get back on the field: family and friends who helped me daily, teammates who sent check-in texts on the regular, supporters who sent messages that they missed me on the field, and girls I coach who would be cheering me through the shooting workouts I would hop in with them as I got cleared. 

It’s the people that kept me going. 

When I got back on the field officially in July of 2023 with AU, the teammates who celebrated my first start back on the field like it was their own had me overcome with emotion. My first goal back held even more magnitude because of the way everyone at AU celebrated that play. Those moments proved to be my ‘why’ throughout the 12 months of rehab it took to get healthy. And when I was lucky enough to be living through those moments again last summer, I couldn’t find myself more grateful for the motivation it gave me when I was struggling. 


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So, if you’re reading this and can resonate – ACL injury or not – I hope it inspires you to find your people, and lean hard into their energy. When you think you can take on the world all by yourself, I promise it’s way more fun and a lot more meaningful when you have people around you who dedicate themselves to the fight alongside you.

And don’t forget to celebrate your little wins, because most of the time they’re actually the big ones.

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