BRAD SMITH/ISI PHOTOS

A week before the 2008 U20 Women’s World Cup, I blew out my knee in our last scrimmage against Argentina. I was devastated. I cried the entire flight home, knowing that I was missing the World Cup and would have to undergo surgery to reconstruct my ACL and repair my meniscus. I was also dating my first girlfriend and was certain that my family hated me for it. Though I was hopeful that they would grow to be more accepting over time (as they have), I would have given anything that summer to be out on the field rather than laid up at home.

As disappointed as I was, I knew I’d come back stronger. What I didn’t know was that that was just the beginning of my injury woes.

In January, 2017, a week before training camp with Mexico, my body went into shock as a result of overtraining. I had to miss camp and another opportunity to represent my country. June of that same year, just before another national camp, I fractured my back.

Bad luck, I told myself. Nothing was going my way, but I was determined to push through. By February, 2018, I was finally back on the field for Apollon Ladies FC, with World Cup qualifiers just around the corner.

Then I tore my Achilles.

WHOA.

Fucking whoa. That’s all I could think. I was sitting outside the imaging center in Cyprus when the doctor told me.

I immediately called my brother, 7,000 miles away back home. I cried into the phone. I couldn’t even breathe normally. I was gasping for air as I sobbed and tried to explain to him that my soccer career was probably over, which meant that my life was, too. He was able to talk me down, and his voice put me at ease for a few minutes. Then we hung up and I started hyperventilating again. I just kept thinking, there’s no way I can do this again.

But I knew I had to.

Because all I ever wanted was to make the World Cup roster and represent Mexico. And I had come so close, only to have the opportunity ripped away by injury. But after the initial shock, I knew I still wanted to play soccer. And I knew that I just needed to be healthy in order to play at the highest level.

Still, after having my Achilles repaired in a foreign country, far, far from home, it wasn’t just my body that I had to rehab. Sitting on the sidelines and dealing with PT, all while living halfway around the world from my friends and family, had caused me to fall into a depression.

Today, I can tell you that no matter the injury, the mental and emotional pain is always greater than the physical. There are programs for rehabbing all kinds of physical injuries, but there aren’t any guidebooks for dealing with the heartbreak and the self-doubt that comes with them.

What carried me through it all was my love of soccer. Even when I wanted to quit, I refused to, knowing that all the hard work, both mental and physical, would be worth it once I was back on the field. Five months after my Achilles surgery, I was starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

So of course, I immediately tore the labrum in my right shoulder, missed World Cup qualifiers, and had to watch from home as my country failed to qualify.

Back came all the doubt and depression. All I could do was ask myself, Why?

Why does this keep happening to me?

Why am I always fighting just to get on the field?

Why do I keep coming this close, but only this close, to living out my dreams?

I still don’t have the answers to these questions.

What I do know — what I’ve always known — is that soccer remains my greatest, truest love. No injury has or ever will change that. It is a love that drives me forward whenever life gets rough. A love that is unconditional. A love that lets me live freely, without judgement.

When I’m on the field, totally consumed by the game, there’s no better feeling. And no matter how many times I get knocked down (at this point, I can’t even keep track), that feeling always drives me to get back up.

All of the heartbreak — the inexplicable pain, the emotional struggles, the tears that stream down my face even as I write this — has made me as resilient as they come. Every physical scar has left a mental scar that has made me stronger, wiser. I know I can’t always control what happens to me, but I can choose how I respond. I can choose to dwell on the negative, or I can choose to be proactive. I can choose to give up, or I can choose to persevere.

I know that someday, maybe soon, my playing career will be over. But until then, I choose to enjoy the time that I have. I choose to play and to go out on my own terms. I choose to fight.