After undergoing one unsuccessful knee surgery in October 2017, Joey Sankey had to have a second surgery in the fall of 2018 to repair a patella tendon that caused him pain throughout the 2017 season. After the surgery in October, Sankey had hopes of playing in the upcoming season but those hopes vanished when the pain still lingered in early spring of 2018.
About half way through the ten-month recovery, Sankey encountered another obstacle: testicular cancer. Rehabbing from two knee surgeries is one thing, doing it between sessions of chemotherapy is another. In an article in US Lacrosse Magazine, Sankey described how he worked out every day, battling the nausea and fatigue that are common side effects of chemotherapy. Standing 5’5 and weighing 160 pounds, Sankey has never confronted an opposition he feared; cancer was no different. Three weeks after his diagnosis, Sankey took to Instagram to let his fans know that he will “beat this and move on.” That’s exactly what he did as he was considered cancer-free this past winter.
Sunday marked exactly 666 days since Sankey last took the field. After the game, the attackman recounted the feeling of stepping back on the field.
“To be playing lacrosse again on that stage was something I didn't think was ever going to happen again,” he said. “It wasn’t like most warmups I’ve had in the past. I was enjoying every second and was grateful to be there and soaked in every second of it.”
Sankey wasted no time making his presence felt. On the Redwoods’ second possession, he dodged Atlas defender Callum Robinson, got to the front of the goal, and missed just wide as Robinson got a last-second lift on Sankey’s hands.
Just over a year removed from his second knee surgery, the attackman showed no signs of slowing down. Later in the first quarter, Sankey’s relentless pursuit of loose balls led to an unsettled goal for teammate Clarke Petterson. He continued to have an impact on the game, coming up with clutch ground balls and quarterbacking a talented Redwoods offense.
In the fourth quarter, his untiring determination and an assisted ground ball from Sergio Salcido led to Sankey burying his first goal in nearly two years.
“To be able to get a goal in my first game back was something I really wanted,” he said. “It was a weight lifted off of my shoulders and somewhat of a validation for me. I think if you see my reaction after I score, you can see a lot of emotion come out of me and see how excited and relieved I was.”
When asked about his unrelenting hustle and toughness, Sankey said, “My game is never clean. I always scrap for any positive plays I am able to make… my style has always been a blue collar mentality and I think that’s the identity that our entire team wants to take on this season.”
Sankey was proud of how the Redwoods played against a star-studded Atlas team.
“We had contributors all over the offense last weekend, which is something that we will need to continue to have,” Sankey said.
He also knows that it’s a long season and that learning from their mistakes is pivotal for season-long success.
“If we continue to share the ball and shoot a little better, then we should be successful,” Sankey added.
As Sankey and the Redwoods prepare for the Archers next weekend in New York, he can take a step back to appreciate the fact that he's back playing the game he loves at the highest level. And that fans, players, and coaches across the league are excited to have him back, too.