What Comes Next?
Facing off against rivals Ridgewood in North Jersey on a windy, rainy Tuesday evening in April, Junior Long-Stick Midfielder (LSM) Joe Destro Jr. collected the ball for Don Bosco Prep and paced forward across the field, aiming for his second goal of the game.
Growing up in Mahwah, New Jersey and like many other kids, Joe played football and basketball before picking up his first lacrosse stick in 5th grade. Within a year, he became a natural as an LSM, falling in love with the speed of the game. For the next years of his life, he lived and breathed lacrosse, enjoying the physicality and intensity of games.
In 9th grade, Joe verbally committed to playing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and played varsity for Don Bosco Prep. Starting as a freshman, Joe became an anchor on the defense, using his stick to rip the ball away from his opponents. His physical strength and tough play made him a force in the middle, and his presence eliminated the best players on other teams. In the open field, Joe was tireless in his transitions, taking the ball up the field and flying past opposing defenders before unleashing a hammering shot to the ground that ricocheted past any goalie - the same shot that had already led to his first goal of the game.
Just before the start of his junior year, Joe was entrusted with leading the defense on the field as an LSM as well as contributing to goals up on offense. A dominating win last week over Ramapo was already a showcase of his leadership and elite play on the field.
Joe was fully committed to lacrosse. He knew that he would continue to improve upon his success in high school during his senior year. And he knew that he would have the opportunity to play lacrosse with some of the best in the nation at UNC.
But as he prepared to shoot, he took a check from his opponent, misstepping and losing his balance as the ball was released from his stick. Falling to the ground, Joe experienced the worst pain he would ever feel in his life up to that moment.
“From then on, I just knew my life was going to be different from there,” Destro said.
After coming off the ground, Joe was evaluated by his trainers, who reported that his pain could be related to a hyper-extension. But as he left the field after cheering on his team from the sidelines while they won the game 9-4, a twinge of uncertainty and a glaring question wavered in the air for Joe.
What comes next?
Over the next few weeks, Joe visited numerous doctors in New York, and after an MRI, the conclusion was cold and grim.
He had torn his ACL. His junior season was over; he would need surgery for his right knee. His rehab would last at least eight months.
“As soon as I found out it was an ACL [tear]. My first initiative was that I want to get the surgery as fast as possible, so I can start my rehab and start getting things starting from day one,” Destro said.
While he was away from the team, Joe focused on his rehab, relentlessly doing what he could to recover faster and be on the field again. The first two weeks after surgery focused on bending his knee, trying to improve his flexibility and stabilize his joints. In addition to physical therapy, Joe iced his knee for every moment of the day and walked around on crutches.
“First couple of weeks were just pain, and I'll always remember the feeling of my knee being bent,” Destro said.
“The pain was just so bad at first, but I looked at it as another way to work out and enjoy the day-to-day process.”
As weeks turned into months, Joe began to move around without crutches and walk normally, and with more exercise and rehab, he was eventually able to start jogging and lifting, working out whenever he could.
“It was just nonstop workouts because I wanted to do anything I could to be back out on the field for senior year,” Destro said.
As he got closer and closer to recovery, the pressure was on to make up for a lost junior year. Returning to a stacked Don Bosco Prep team, the expectations for his senior year performance to be elite heated up. Future goals of keeping up the duties of being a captain and leader for his team, being one of the best in the country as an All-American, and protecting the reputation for being committed to a D1 Program at UNC surrounded his return to the field.
“Every time I'd be on the sideline, it was just really hard to watch because I wanted to be out on the field with my teammates and be a big help to everyone,” Destro said. “Especially since defense is all about communication and teamwork.”
Eager to prove his commitment to lacrosse, Joe continued to push his limits, and he made it back to the field in time for his senior year. As he worked his way in practice, he felt great and his speed was back. He had rehabbed every day for the last eight months, his movement and play were still stellar, and he was back on track toward playing in the season opener. All his work and effort put into recovering was paying off.
And then it happened again.
Just before the spring season began, Joe was moving side-to-side in a practice until he collapsed on the field.
It was the exact same feeling he felt on his right knee only eight months before.
“Once it happened again, I just knew it,” Destro said. “And that's when I got really upset."
"Now it's a big setback.”
His high school career was over. All the days spent rehabbing and preparing for a huge return for his senior year were gone. The spring nights with his lacrosse team went from promising realities to distant memories.
Once again, another long road to recovery remained ahead of him. The pain of having to bend his knees after surgery, the weeks spent walking around his house and school on crutches, and the feeling of being on the sidelines watching others play the game he loved all flooded back into view.
At the same time, though, the road took a different turn.
“After the surgery, I knew what to expect going into the recovery,” Destro said. “I was able to work really hard with that and know the timelines.”
Throughout the season, Joe continued to support the team, showing up after school for practice and then getting a ride from his parents to get physical therapy. His dedication to the sport allowed him to still be a part of the team as a coach and a leader of the defense. On the sidelines, Joe captained his team to runner-up in the state championship tournament.
Off the field, Joe continued to rehab and work out in order to prepare for college lacrosse.
“Before my first surgery, one of my coaches said to me ‘This is the time to find your passion and discover what you’re interested in,”” Destro said. “And I'm like, ‘I don't really know what I'm truly interested in. So that was just something I remember because lacrosse was my life.’”
Joe worked on discovering his passion through the business world, learning to use his work ethic in understanding more about investing and finance. By the time he was recovering from his second surgery, he had already started to network and tap into his high school’s alumni system, reaching out to learn more about working in the industry. He maintained these connections over the course of the last four years, and as he transitioned from high school to college, he began to think about his career after lacrosse.
“I remember telling my dad when we were just driving, and we're looking at New York,” Destro said. “And he was like ‘Goldman Sachs is the best place you can work. If you could do that, you'd be really lucky’”.
“And from then on, it's always been something in the back of my head that I've always wanted to achieve.”
After a freshman year in college that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a sophomore year that ended early from a meniscus surgery, Joe came to another crossroads.
During his junior year, Joe was getting back into the flow of lacrosse, adjusting to his role on the team and playing like his old self.
And then he went down again.
“Probably one of the most frustrating things was that I'd go out there every day, completely giving it all I got, whether I was just making it out to the field or feeling good for a day,” Destro said. “There was still just a lot of inconsistency. It came to the point where I had to realize what's best for me. My knee just kept getting in worse shape and I needed to prioritize my long-term health.”
After nearly ten years of playing lacrosse, Joe Destro Jr. medically retired from lacrosse.
From playing with his friend in the backyard of his home in Mahwah, NJ to playing with the best players in the country on Dorrance Field, Joe had achieved a career that was made up of the proudest moments of his life, as well as his darkest.
“That decision was definitely one of the hardest decisions of my life,” Destro said.
“But I was happy I stuck with it for that long because it allowed me to develop my relationships with friends and coaches even more, and show what you can do with kind of working hard everyday and battling through challenges.”
"I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity I had here. I gave it my all and loved every moment of being on and off the field with my teammates."
Since committing to Chapel Hill, Joe was always grateful for the opportunity to play in Carolina Blue. He had come to associate his team with being family and the area as being home.
“From the start, I had a really good support system behind me - my family, my girlfriend, my friends - they were all so helpful,” Destro said. “My coach was very supportive about my decision and made as I spoke to him honestly about where I was mentally and physically. We both agreed that it was the best option for me and he prioritized my health as well.”
But as he gave up his cleats and helmet, leaving behind the field for good, the question at hand after all his injuries once again filled the uncertainties of his life
What comes next?
Filling up the physical nature of his life that lacrosse once commanded, Joe took up boxing as a hobby, finding it as a good way to stay in shape and take out stress. During his freshman year of college, Joe learned how to use a DJ board during quarantine, and by the next year, turned his love for music into a business, titling himself as “DJ Destro”.
When I first DJ'ed in my room freshman year, it was a hobby. I enjoyed it. This hobby then turned into a side-hustle that I love doing.
“I think what really stood out to me here at UNC was Coach Breschi. He mentioned family, academics, and lacrosse. And he really stood by from the day he recruited me and all the way into my retirement,” Destro said. “Now being in business school, it's really helped me to really take the next step of what it's like to take classes that can be relevant to the business world.”
At school, Joe works on constantly improving his grades and creating meaningful relationships, becoming the president of the UNC Finance Society. This January, he founded the Fixed Income Association, which focuses on teaching undergraduate students on the world of fixed income.
After reaching out to the connections that he made throughout lacrosse, college, and in networking, Joe accomplished his goal of working with Goldman Sachs in New York City by becoming a Global Markets Intern this summer. He plans to graduate from UNC in December - entering as an athlete driven to his sport and leaving as a man with many passions, hobbies, and exciting opportunities.
As he enters the next chapter of his life, Joe has stopped worrying about the expectations and future consequences of each day.
“I see myself as a person that is able to deal with challenges and always has a good outlook on it,” Destro said.
“I like to describe myself as gritty, determined and relentless.”
With this view, Joe took his work ethic from lacrosse and applied it to discover other interests in life, changing his position but still maintaining the same mentality that brought him to Carolina. Despite his injuries, Joe continued to push forward in different fields, meeting new people and gaining connections. With each challenge, Joe has finally found his identity outside of the lacrosse field.
“I think that's what having injuries does to you,” Destro said. “It changes your mindset and makes you appreciate the little things.”
“But throughout all these things, I was able to find my passions and develop myself, becoming well rounded and a better person.”
"Without all the adversity I've faced from lacrosse, I wouldn't be who I am today."
- Joe Destro