Playing vs. walking: Cocuzzi chooses

Amanda Vasil

Women’s club lacrosse player risks long-term health for lacrosse love

Despite injuries, Liz Cocuzzi manages to stay optimistic as she still receives support from her teammates on and off the field.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Ignorance is not always bliss.

Especially when it comes with a lot of pain and sacrifice.

Liz Cocuzzi, sophomore women’s club lacrosse player, has been suffering from back injuries since high school but continues to stay involved with the women’s club lacrosse team because she loves it so much — even if the consequences may result in her not being able to walk in 10 years.

Cocuzzi has always been very active in athletics. She spent eight years playing softball, two on a cheerleading squad and 15 competing in gymnastics.

Making the varsity lacrosse team sophomore year of high school wasn’t much of a surprise to Cocuzzi, but it did make her work harder.

“It was difficult because a lot of the girls were older and were skeptical of why I was starting at such a young age,” she said.

Her positions as middie and center both required speed and endurance, two qualities Cocuzzi was willing to work at.

Her time as a pain-free player, however, was short-lived.

Injuries begin

During her junior year of high school, Cocuzzi began to notice some discomfort in her back and feet.

“I went to the doctor because I would go to jump, and I wouldn’t be able to feel my toes,” she said.

Test results showed she has a pinched her sciatic nerve and herniated a disc in her back.

Cocuzzi finished the season, which caused many of her friends to question her good judgment. They said she was ignorant for continuing to be physically active once she found out about her injuries.

She has learned from her decisions and has a become a different person because of them, Cocuzzi said.

“I’ve learned so much about myself from going through this,” she said. “I’ve learned that even though it’s something you want, it might not be the best for

your health.”

As a result, Cocuzzi decided not to participate in lacrosse or gymnastics her senior year, but she continued to cheerlead.

“Giving up gymnastics was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Cocuzzi said. “That’s who my friends were. But it’s what I had to do.”

She chose cheerleading over gymnastics because gymnastics is a higher impact sport and put more pressure on her injuries, she said.

Another trip to the doctor during her senior year showed two more herniated discs and two pinched sacroiliac joints.

“I was living off pain pills just to be able to walk,” she said.

But the injuries didn’t stop there.

“After high school, I went to the doctor, and they told me that 13 vertebrae are out of position,” she said.

Also during the summer, Cocuzzi discovered her hips are out of position and there are two minor fractures in her vertebrae discs.

Despite the diagnosis of all her injuries, however, doctors still can’t tell her what went wrong.

“I’ve been to thousands of specialists and been sent away so many times with people saying, ‘We don’t know what’s wrong with you,’” she said.

Long-term prognosis

The one thing doctors do tell her, however, is that she has the most arched back they have ever seen and predict she won’t be able to walk in 10 years. They don’t operate on her because they are hoping time, along with monthly shots, will fix it, she said. Most patients have gotten better after their first or second shot, but Cocuzzi has not.

“It either needs to get better or worse before they can do anything about it,”

she said.

Taking cortisone shots is the only thing Cocuzzi can do to relieve some of her pain, but they require her to stay on bed rest for three days. She has also attended eight therapy sessions and wears a specially molded plastic back brace at night in an attempt to correct her injuries.

Cocuzzi said she doesn’t like to say much about her injuries because she doesn’t want people to think she’s complaining or seeking any kind of special attention.

“I just keep it to myself,” she said. “I’ve learned to deal with pain.”

Playing through pain

On the women’s lacrosse team, Cocuzzi plays home, which is a key offensive position. She said she tries not to let her injuries affect her performance.

Elaine Wirtz, senior cultural anthropology major, has managed the Kent’s club team for the last five years and acknowledges Cocuzzi’s hard work and dedication.

“Liz is a great attack player who brings a lot of energy to the team,” she said.

Wirtz said she hasn’t seen Cocuzzi’s injury affect her performance.

Cocuzzi, however, has.

“In my game, everything is affected,” she said. “I can’t run as fast I want to. Everything I used to do seems worse than it was.”

But no matter how hard a day she’s having, teammates are always very supportive, she said.

“They’re very sympathetic and understand why sometimes I can’t do suicide sprints with them,” she said. “They don’t say anything if I sub out or want to stay in.”

An active member of the Delta Gamma sorority and Fashion Students Organization, Cocuzzi said she finds it hard to make all practices, which are held Monday through Friday.

“She wasn’t really around that much this year because she has a lot going on. She stretches herself really thin,” said teammate Rachel Aslaksen, junior English major.

With her involvement in school, athletics and organizations, Cocuzzi said it is difficult to balance her time.

“I have my planner, and that’s what I live by,” she said.

Unless her injuries cause her too much pain, she plans on playing lacrosse through college. She looks forward to taking on a leadership role and would love to have the opportunity to coach. Slowing down has never been an option for Cocuzzi. She also plans to study abroad in Florence next fall. Although she is not sure how her injury will affect her experience, she is very optimistic about her decisions.

“Ultimately, I’m choosing what I want to do,” she said. “If I’m not going to be able to walk in 10 years, why should I sit down and do nothing now? You only live in college once.”

Contact sports correspondent Amanda Vasil at [email protected].