BY KYLE BRENNAN
BEACON FALLS — Woodland’s Christian Hotchkiss thought that blowing out his knee right before his junior soccer season was as bad as things could get.
Then, just minutes into his senior season, it happened again.
Hotchkiss, a senior at Woodland who co-captained the soccer team this fall, suffered tears of his medial patellofemoral ligaments in consecutive years — his right knee as a junior, his left in September. But he refused to allow the second injury to end his career.
In August 2020, Hotchkiss was playing in the final minutes of Woodland’s final summer league game before high school practices were set to begin. With just 30 seconds left in the game, he got tied up with an opponent and not only tore his MPFL, but also “split the kneecap in half,” Hotchkiss recalled.
Knowing the 2020 season wouldn’t be a normal one due to COVID-19 restrictions didn’t make the injury any easier to handle for Hotchkiss.
“It was a huge disappointment for me,” he said.
The injury also knocked him out of action for a few months at Beacon Hose Co. No. 1, where he was the captain of the junior corps, a firefighter, and an emergency medical responder. He underwent reconstructive surgery, endured rehabilitation, and eventually returned to playing soccer eight months after the injury.
“I was not going to give up,” Hotchkiss said. “With the support of my family, teammates, and coaches, I was able to go through months of physical therapy and conditioning to hopefully get back on the field for my senior season.”
He led the Hawks during their summer league schedule and conditioning workouts, and he was ready to take on the leadership role that Woodland coach Kenan Collins was prepared to bestow upon him.
“Being chosen captain my senior year after months of hard work and determination, and having the opportunity to step out on the field again, meant more than anything to me,” Hotchkiss said.
And then, just a few minutes into Woodland’s season-opening match Sept. 9 against Brookfield, Hotchkiss did it again.
This time, the injury was to his left knee — almost identical to the injury he suffered the previous summer, tearing the MPFL. However, he eluded a kneecap fracture, which gave Hotchkiss some hope of returning to play.
Nobody shared that hope at first.
“After asking doctors if I would ever see the field again, they were a little skeptical,” Hotchkiss said. “Little did they know that I was not going to give up on myself or the team.”
His parents and Collins didn’t see any way forward except surgery and another lengthy rehab, which wasn’t in Hotchkiss’ plans.
“When I first got hurt, (Collins) and my parents didn’t want me to play again,” he recalled. “(But) the surgery was optional; it’s only if you break a bone that you’re required to have surgery.”
After missing a month of action, hobbling around on crutches and cheering his teammates from the bench, Hotchkiss made his decision.
“I decided to play through my injury and do whatever I could to help my team win games,” he said.
Of course, he still needed to convince Collins, who is also Hotchkiss’ history teacher, to allow the co-captain to return to game action. After all, the Hawks were 7-0-2 and leading the Naugatuck Valley League standings without him.
“He was not going to let me play,” Hotchkiss said. “I told him that all I wanted to do was play and that I didn’t care if I got hurt again.”
Eventually, Collins relented enough to allow Hotchkiss back on the field in small doses. Hotchkiss knew his physical limitations would force him to change how he played and how much he could contribute without hindering his squad.
Hotchkiss returned Oct. 13 at Holy Cross, the Hawks’ rival atop the standings.
“(Collins) told me that if anything was hurting, I had to tell him and he’d take me out,” Hotchkiss said. “It was rough. I started, but I couldn’t really cut. I had to turn in a full circle to make turns. I usually went in when somebody need a sub or to play in the middle for five minutes. Then I’d ice it.”
His return didn’t end with a league or state championship, but he achieved his goal of finishing his final season.
“I just played through it,” Hotchkiss said. “I didn’t want to miss my senior year.”
Hotchkiss, who turned 18 on Dec. 18, said he will probably undergo surgery to repair the torn ligament in his right knee at some point. First, though, he’s focused on completing his Firefighter I certification and continuing to serve Beacon Hose as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
Starting next fall, he will attend the University of New Haven, where he’ll study paramedicine and continue to gain experience as a firefighter and EMT. He plans on pursuing a career in emergency services.
“I’ve developed a passion for helping others,” Hotchkiss said.
He’ll be served well in that career by the character he’s developed in overcoming a déjà vu type of adversity over the past year and a half.
“After many downfalls and struggles throughout my soccer career,” Hotchkiss said, “I’m proud to say that I never gave up thanks to my friends, family and coaches, who I’m proud to say have made me become who I am today.”
BY KYLE BRENNAN