Imagine you are 15-years old with your whole life ahead of you, except you can’t play any contact sports and you are already contemplating the best options for knee-replacement surgery. For Sam Solis, now 22, that is what he was confronted with seven years after suffering a devastating knee injury.
Solis grew up in Chicago and was always active, playing baseball in Chicago Park District leagues and frequently playing basketball with his friends. He also attended St. Patrick High School in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, where he was a midfielder for the school’s soccer team.
“I started my freshman year on the freshman team, then played some games on the bench for the sophomore team. Sophomore year I started too,” Solis said.
One unfortunate play changed it all.
Solis recalls his injury occurred during a Saturday soccer game and while he does not remember what team he was playing, he remembers the injury all too well.”I went to kick the ball and somebody pushed me from behind,” Solis said. “My foot stayed planted and my body fell the other way. I looked down and my knee cap was dislocated.” As Solis was lying on the ground in pain, he managed to pop his own knee back into place. “It just tightened up and I couldn’t bend it. I felt it literally pop back in. For about 6 hours, it felt like someone was lighting my leg on fire. It swelled up to the size of a softball,” he said.
Solis was later diagnosed him with a torn meniscus and a dislocated patella. It was his first knee injury and it was serious.
He missed the remainder of the soccer season due to injury and “retired” from the sport at the end of the season. Barely in his sophomore year of high school, Solis was given the option of either getting knee replacement surgery, which he was told entail a 10 month recovery process leave the knee alone and never play contact sports again.
Solis, not wanting to face 10 months of recovery and the rest of his life with an artificial knee, chose to forgo the surgery and focus on the one sport doctors said he could still do: swimming.
“The only one I couldn’t do was breaststroke,” Solis said. “Something about the motion of how my legs move in the water could cause it problems. So I just didn’t do breaststroke.”
Even though Solis was a talented soccer player, he found even more success with swimming, which he began the same year he suffered his injury, though there was a bit of a learning curve.
“I wasn’t that good my first year. Junior and senior year is when I got a lot better,” he said.
A lot better in fact. Solis ended up swimming for St. Patrick’s varsity team for two years and garnered all-conference honors. He even began attracting attention from some colleges, though the interest was not reciprocated.
“I had a small scholarship offer from a community college in San Jose, California. I turned it down though,” Solis said. “I also had one from a school in Michigan, but I honestly didn’t bother looking at it.”
By the time Solis graduated, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to swim on the collegiate level. He said he would rather go swimming for fun at a local pool in the summer than to wake up at 5 in the morning for practice.
Most of all though, he turned down the scholarships because he had found a new passion: video games. It was that interest that led him to Columbia College in Chicago.
“I picked Columbia because it’s close to home, right in downtown, and because they have a really good video game design department that I wanted to get into,” Solis said.
Today, Solis is in his senior year of college and pursuing a career in video game design but he still feels the effects of his injury.
“Sometimes in cold weather I get some pains. If I’m kneeling in church for a long time, I feel like I’m 107–years-old when I stand up. If anything, I just try to sleep off the pain, maybe ice it and rest,” he said.
While he still can’t play sports, Solis said he doesn’t feel his life has changed too much since the injury and he doesn’t really miss being able to play competitively.
“It’s whatever,” he said.