The Long Road Back
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia women’s soccer player Caroline Szwed doesn’t have much of a poker face. In fact, the senior midfielder has been known to wear her heart on her sleeve on a regular basis.
So, when less than two weeks ago on “Senior Night” at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium, it didn’t surprise many when Szwed held back tears on the field during postgame remarks to the Mountaineer senior class.
But on this day, things were different. The occasional tears were mixed in with clapping and smiling for her teammates, not Szwed.
After three standout seasons on the soccer field, Szwed has been forced to watch from the sidelines this year, missing out on her true senior season following offseason surgery to her right knee. This past January, Szwed had Patella Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation surgery to correct deteriorating cartilage on her patella.
“It happened in our game against Seton Hall last year,” recalls Szwed. “I remember turning a girl on the touch line, but our legs got caught between each others. After the game it was pretty painful, and I had a lot of clicking and locking in my knee.”
Szwed, an Oakville, Ontario, native was hoping for a less-invasive surgery that would allow her to compete her senior year, and then have follow-up surgery at season’s end. When the doctor went in for a scope, the damage had been done.
“We were hoping it was just a torn meniscus, but the MRI came back and it was a hefty cartilage issue; it had deteriorated and formed a hole,” says Szwed. “As last season progressed, the cartilage wore down more and the hole got larger. By the end of the season, just going up and down stairs became difficult.”
With a surgery date marked on her calendar, Szwed began to doubt her decision to continue with the more intense surgery.
“I was like ‘No way. I need to finish out my career with my senior class,’” laughs Szwed, who was voted the team’s MVP in 2011. “It was hard, and still is, not being able to be out there with my best friends and finish what we started.”
Szwed has spent the past nine months, creating short and long term goals, to position herself for a return to the pitch wearing the Old Gold and Blue once more.
“I realized I needed the surgery immediately, because I probably wouldn’t have made it through the whole year (healthy),” says the journalism major. “This surgery allowed me the full recovery time to get as close to 100 percent for 2013.”
Instead of a final year of training and strength and agility workouts, Szwed’s time was demanded in the athletic training room.
“I’ve been trying to focus on the positive,” shares Szwed. “I will remind myself where I was six months ago and how much better I am getting now. I’m bending the knee, I’m walking, I’m walking underwater on the treadmill.
“But there are also times when I get frustrated, wanting so bad to contribute out there on the field.”
Pushing Szwed through these rough patches have been her teammates.
“My team is the best. About a month ago, they made a countdown chain to the number of days until I am scheduled to be cleared to run,” smiles Szwed, envisioning the moment in her mind. “The first time I saw it, I just started crying. At the end of each day of rehab, I cut a link off the chain and it has a motivational quote or saying from them.
“Our team is so selfless, and for them to be able to think of me through all of this, it truly means so much.”
Throughout the recovery process, Szwed also has leaned on athletic trainer Amy Hile to put the 5-foot-7 midfielder back to normal.
“Amy has been awesome at mixing up my rehab, and I actually look forward to trying new things,” says Szwed of her recent workouts. “It’s been kind of fun to use these new machines instead of hopping on a bike day after day.”
The two are taking advantage of the latest in technology to make sure Szwed returns better than ever.
“West Virginia athletic training has a lot of resources with state of the art equipment,” says Hile. “We are able to put Caroline on an underwater treadmill and an anti-gravity treadmill, in addition to traditional workouts in the weight room.”
“It gets challenging at times, but I am constantly seeing improvement from the workouts Amy is designing,” notes Szwed.
“I was told the rehab was going to be a long one. Fortunately, there have been no setbacks and I’m gaining back muscle and the flexibility is improving. We are getting closer and closer each day to me getting back on the field.”
Szwed remains restricted to simple activities like juggling a soccer ball. Continuing to build muscle and returning to jogging are next on the short-term goal listing.
For now, it is Szwed’s attitude that pushes her through these final few months of rehab to again make an impact on the women’s soccer team.
“She had a great mindset from the very beginning, knowing the surgery would require a redshirt season,” says Hile. “She has worked so hard, and is doing all the right things to make a full recovery.”
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