Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Nearly two months after her season with Sky Blue FC was cut short with a serious ankle injury, Kelley O’Hara is taking big steps on her way to a full recovery.
The U.S. Women’s National Team defender elected to undergo reconstructive surgery on her right ankle in mid-July, ending her inaugural season in the National Women’s Soccer League and forcing O’Hara off the field for one of the rare times in her career. Now seven weeks on from the surgery, O’Hara has happily ditched the crutches and boot she had to wear to move her rehabilitation forward.
“I had my six week post-operation appointment last week and that’s when I got to start putting a little bit of weight on (the ankle),” O’Hara told SBI in a phone interview. “So over the next week and a half, I’ll just be progressively putting more and more weight on it. It feels really good (at the moment).”
O’Hara admits that around five games into the NWSL season she rolled her ankle and it wouldn’t heal as expected. The 25-year-old O’Hara only made 12 appearances (10 starts) in total for Sky Blue in her first season at the club before the injury forced her to take serious action.
Though soccer players at the professional level are no stranger to injuries, O’Hara estimates that the ankle damage was the worst in her young career and she underestimated how frustrating it would be to be away from the field.
“Going into this, being non-weight bearing for six weeks on crutches and a boot, I wasn’t prepared for it,” said O’Hara. “It wasn’t enjoyable, that’s for sure, but I made it past the hard part, so now I can start to do more rehabilitation and progress with the recovery.”
While she was leaning on crutches for six weeks, O’Hara revealed that she leaned on her former Boston Breakers teammate Leslie Osborne for advice on how to mentally overcome the challenges ahead.
“I talked to Leslie Osborne, she’s had both of her ankles (repaired) and she basically told me ‘You’re going through the hardest part at the moment and once you’re off crutches and you can start putting weight on (the ankle) and trying to walk, it gets a lot easier and it’s much better.'”
For O’Hara the surgery came less than a year after she helped lead the U.S. to a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. O’Hara was one of two U.S. players (the other was goalkeeper Hope Solo) to play every minute of every match as the Americans dazzled crowds in six matches, including the thrilling 4-3 victory against Canada in the semifinals and the defeat of Japan in the final, a rematch of the World Cup final from 12 months earlier.
Since then, while the U.S. has continued to win, they’ve also undergone a transition after Tom Sermanni took over for the departing Pia Sundhage. Under Sermanni, O’Hara has continued to stay in the picture when healthy but a number of new players have been called into the squad as well, as the new head coach looks to expand his pool of players. In O’Hara’s absence, Kristie Mewis has deputized in the left back role for the team.
“Tom has brought in a number of new players and has been giving a lot of people some significant looks, which I think is great,” said O’Hara, who has made 41 appearances for the United States. “He’s done a wonderful job in transition and I think everyone has really enjoyed it. Not that we wanted a change or needed one, but it’s always good to have new blood and a different vision and different leadership.”
The converted forward who scored 57 times and won the coveted MAC Hermann Trophy in 2009 during a decorated collegiate career at Stanford University was first moved to left back in January of 2012 during the U.S.’s successful defense of the CONCACAF Olympics qualifying tournament. O’Hara made the left back position her own with her blend of athletic ability and precision passing, but she says she’s happy to play wherever Sermanni decides to place her.
“Wherever he wants me to play, I’m going to play,” said O’Hara. “It all depends on who’s on the team and who he wants playing different positions. I can obviously play a bunch of different spots and hopefully he’ll find the best one for me that he wants and go for there.”
While O’Hara says she’s still not sure what next season will bring for her, she has full intentions of returning to Sky Blue for another year in the NWSL. And though she missed a good chunk of the season, the Georgia native was complimentary on the level of the play across the league and especially within her team.
“Even though I was playing injured, I did enjoy being able to play and having competition in games every week,” O’Hara said. “I really enjoyed my team and the people that I played with.”
When O’Hara underwent surgery, the announced recovery period was placed at four to six months. However, O’Hara isn’t exactly going by the timetable, instead using her own personal timetable and seeing how her ankle reacts before she declares herself fit for action.
Luckily for her, she should have plenty of time. If it starts at the same time as this year, next season’s edition of the NWSL won’t begin until next April.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day, week-by-week, and it’s crazy how much a week will change how I feel, how it looks, and everything that’s involved with it,” explained O’Hara. “So I’m really happy with where I’m at at the moment.
“I’ll just go with how I feel and make sure everything is taken care of and I’m back to 100 percent if not more before I get back on the field.”