St. Luke’s Extraordinary Athlete Comes Back Strong Following Knee Injury

Jake  van Lierop knew something was wrong.  So did his mom, Kim.  And  Jake’s soccer coaches.

Jake, a 10-year-old from Schnecksville, was coming back from an injury to his right knee, but something wasn’t quite right.

“I couldn’t really play like I used to,” Jake says.  “I kept my leg really still, so I’d just hobble around and tap the ball.”

Jake plays for an elite age group soccer team with Lehigh Valley United, and through LVU’s partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network, athletic trainer Dave Keeler is assigned to LVU’s program. Keeler checked out Jake and then referred him to Jeff Baker- Director, St. Luke’s Fitness & Sports Performance.  Then the magic happened.

Jake went from a stiff-legged gallop to a full-fledged soccer run in a few short weeks.  Part of the success is the program and the way Baker was able to identify Jake’s needs, but the other part of the success formula is Jake’s unending desire to get back to full function.

For that reason, Jake is one of St. Luke’s Extraordinary Athletes.

“Working with Jake is one of the most rewarding things for me,” Baker says.  “He’s the nicest kid, the most willing kid- sometimes you forget he’s 10.  He walks into St. Luke’s West End, waits patiently, goes through his warmups and then pushes hard.  It’s a really good feeling knowing that he’s back on the field moving the way he’s used to moving.”

“We walk into the Sports Performance facility, and all the people working out there are older than Jake, and he is just 10,” remembers Kim van Lierop.  “Jake starts working out, doing the jumps and runs, and some of the people are just amazed by his focus and work ethic.”

When people think of 10-year-olds playing soccer, they think of magnet ball or beehive soccer, with players clustering around the ball.  LVU takes players to a much higher level with almost the same instincts, skills and ability to close space as 16-year-old players.

“It’s a completely different level and kind of training than people expect for that age,” Kim says.  “No matter who we spoke to in terms of getting Jake back to himself, they didn’t understand the expectations, but because of St. Luke’s relationship with LVU- they’re there all the time- they understood the training expectations, what Jake needs to recover, and how to keep him safe during the process.”

Baker tapped into a database of baseline testing St. Luke’s did for LVU last December to see where Jake was then, and where he was when he met him for evaluation this summer.

“The strength was there,” Baker explains, “but putting him in position to force the knee to move the way it should took a lot of re-training the nervous system to fire the muscles.  We took it back down to the basics like how to sprint, how to run, how to drive up your knee.  The goal was getting him to move the muscles that hadn’t moved in a while.  Like anything else in the body, the more you do it properly, the more it becomes ingrained.  It becomes second nature.”

Kim admits that many of the parents had no idea what was going on or why when St. Luke’s did the baseline testing back in December, but understands completely now that it’s been put to good use with Jake.

“Jeff was able to use that testing as a comparison before the injury to how he was performing after, and that helped him create a training program for Jake to get back to those original numbers.  Jake would not have completely recovered as quickly without the baseline testing data. I truly believe that.”

Now that Jake is back to 100 percent, he’s focusing on what’s next, like juggling to the 18-yard line and back, dribbling and shooting better with his left foot.

“And also finishing,” says the St. Luke’s Extraordinary Athlete.  “I’m not the greatest at that.”