I was born into a soccer-loving family. I grew up on the soccer fields, first as a spectator at my brother’s games, and then as a player: small and clumsy but fast and fearless.
It took a few years – I was not naturally gifted like my brother – but I started making the cuts. First, in sixth grade onto our YMCA’s first-year premier team, then in seventh grade as one of three girls on the coed junior high team, then in eighth grade on a travel team that won tournaments across the southeast. (The coach of that team was the highest-ranked coach in the state and moved on to coaching a professional indoor team the following season.)
By my senior year in high school, I was selected as one of three female All-State student-athletes representing my school in the sport of soccer. (There was a banquet and everything.)
My soccer-related injuries in all those years were: numerous face balls, a broken toe or two, sore ankles and knees, and six tight stitches just below my knee from running into a metal bench on a water break. (A cute senior on the boys’ soccer team wrapped my leg in his white tee-shirt to staunch the bleeding. Someone should probably make a rom-com about this.)
I worked hard to become the player I wanted to be, a fast right midfielder with the full 90 minutes of endurance in me and a strong kick to set up goal after goal. Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.
I love and have loved this game my whole life.
Chapter One and Only:
I picked the game back up in my twenties, joining an adult league with some co-workers, mostly to get back into shape and fall back in love with the game. A few weeks into the season I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, so I quit.
Nearly seven years later, I joined the same league again, different team, higher age bracket, worse shape, but still crazy about the game. I had grown antsy on the sidelines all over again watching my kids play, wishing I could be out there running the midfield and setting up the offense.
My first game in almost a decade went all right, all things considered – for the first twenty minutes. By then I was ready for an inhaler (I don’t have asthma), and to just go home and cry myself to loser sleep (even though my team had won).
The second game, however, went a little differently.
My endurance was still a joke, but the strategy of the game was starting to come back to me. I still had my speed (for an EXPLOSIVE ten seconds or so), and I knew where to play to space and managed to get a few decent touches in. (Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.)
About thirty minutes into the first half, one of our strikers dropped the ball back to me. It looked like it had a weird spin on it, so I backed off to let it bounce. I was wide open, and a quick glance up the field showed lots of open space for our front guys to make a fast break, if only I could get a good kick past their defense.
So I stepped off the pass to line up my kick. I was near the sideline, so when I stepped backward on my left leg and heard a loud pop, I thought I had accidentally stepped on some ice near someone’s water bottle or cooler. Cleats on crushed ice, that was the sound I heard in my head and that still makes my skin crawl.
For a split second, I turned around to apologize or excuse myself, but then immediately felt the fire racing up my left leg. I fell to the ground, wondering what the H just happened. I couldn’t process it. Did I pull something? Did I step on something? Did my ankle guard crack somehow? What was that popping sound?
Turns out it was me, the popping sound loud enough that nearby players heard it, wondering if I had stepped on a rock or somehow knocked my cleats together. It was a sudden pain, an intensity I had never, ever felt before, like someone had lit me on fire from the bottom of my heel to the top of my calf. Two teammates had to carry me off the field, and I nearly burst into tears when someone tried to pull off my cleat.
They finally got my cleat and my sock and my shin guard off, and I remember apologizing profusely because I hadn’t gotten a pedicure in MONTHS. Someone stuck my foot in a cooler full of ice, someone else’s sweet kid offered me his seat and ran to fill my water bottle back up, everyone was kind and attentive and assured me when I apologized over and over in embarrassment.
By the end of the game, I still couldn’t bear any weight on my left foot, but the pain had subsided. Teammates, opponents, neighbors, my husband and kiddos – it was a collective effort to get me to the car and then home, certain ice and rest and painkillers would do the trick.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to the doctor that I found out my Achilles’ tendon had ruptured in two, and the sickening pop that still nauseates me every time I think about it is precisely what that sounds like, and the fire shooting up my leg was the tendon ends unraveling as they came apart. (You’re welcome.)
There were some speculations, of course, sideline diagnostics, some WebMD site-trolling, but I figured it didn’t hurt badly enough or long enough to be anything serious. And I wasn’t playing NEARLY hard enough to tear something. PUH-LEASE. This is weekend soccer with a bunch of over-30-year-olds.
GUYS. Did you know weekend athletes over the age of 30 are EXACTLY the people who will tear their Achilles’ tendon?
Epilogue, In Pictures:
(Of a 10ish-week road to recovery, a road that probably doesn’t lead back to the soccer fields any time soon.)