In the summer of 2013, University of Connecticut midfielder Julie Hubbard returned to the soccer field after sitting out two seasons because of surgeries to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
On that July day during an exhibition opener against the University of Massachusetts, her comeback could not have been more satisfying.
She scored on a 30-yard free kick early in the second half. It was the winning goal in the 2-1 game.
“It was like finishing a really long race,” recalled Hubbard. “My teammates were thrilled for me, and we all just hugged for a while. It was an amazing, euphoric, feeling.”
A transfer from Penn State, Hubbard went on to play at a high level in all of her team’s games as a UConn junior and senior in 2013 and 2014. On Senior Day, with her family in the stands, she scored the game-winner against Central Florida.
“What I thought would initially be a two-year commitment at UConn turned out to be a four-year tenure,” she recalled, “with two medical redshirts and countless hours spent in the athletic training room.”
That experience, plus a season lost because of her first ACL tear her junior year at Abington Heights (Pa.) High, stiffened Hubbard’s resolve and shaped her career path.
Now a sports physical therapist who specializes in treating ACL patients, Hubbard, 31, opened her first private clinic Jan. 15.
The Framingham clinic is called the New England Return to Sport Center. The title reflects Hubbard’s expertise and empathy.
“Some of my clients are healthy and never had an injury and come in for strength training, and others have been through what I have been through,” said Hubbard, “I’ve tried to create a resource that I needed when I was younger.”
While growing up, Hubbard would hone her skills in the driveway of her home in Waverly, Pa., maneuvering a soccer ball around automobile tires and using a tipped-over wheelbarrow as a target.
“She was dedicated right from the start as a player, she was in tremendous shape, and then she had to work her way back from adversity,” said her father, Dr. Charles Hubbard, a retired orthopedic surgeon who was an invaluable mentor throughout his daughter’s ordeals.
A hockey and lacrosse player at Harvard University, Dr. Hubbard was preceded at the university by Julie’s great-grandfather, Charles Hubbard, Harvard’s 1923 football captain and All-American, who after graduation, wrote an analysis of Crimson football games for the Globe.
Her great-uncle, Wynant Hubbard, was a starting lineman on Harvard’s 1920 Rose Bowl champion team that defeated Oregon, 7-6. He later wrote articles detailing his exploring expeditions in Africa.
"It’s really cool, since athletics and writing have been important to me," said Hubbard, who started a blog called "Just for Kicks," and also wrote a touching story in 2019 for the Top Drawer Soccer website about her highs and lows.
Both were published not long after she tore the ACL in her right knee in a recreational league game when she worked at an outpatient orthopedic clinic in California. It was her clinical rotation assignment from the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.
“The blog was my way of coping and it focused on ACL basics, tips for the first few weeks’ rehab, and how to cope with the psychological side of injury,” said Hubbard, who had moved to Boston after graduating from UConn and enrolled at Northeastern.
In her memoir for Top Drawer Soccer, she wrote that “I’ve always wished that life would give out Mulligans … My Mulligans would coincide with four instances where I cut or pivoted in a soccer game, heard a loud ‘pop’ and then found myself lying on the ground.
“This ‘pop’ was not only the sound of my anterior cruciate ligament tearing, it was also the sound of the next six, or nine, or even twelve months crumbling beneath my feet,” she added. “While I certainly wish this were not the case, I can proudly say that I had a pretty good career.”
An All-State selection in high school, the Medfield resident has stayed close to the sport as an assistant girls coach at Dual County League champion Acton-Boxborough Regional High the past two seasons, and as a member of the Boston Dream Soccer Association that offers women education and training in leadership, coaching, and career development.
“I’m a very competitive person,” she said, “and that has driven me to prevent others from going down a painful path like mine.”
Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.