U.S. women’s national team and Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Swanson hasn’t had much time to think about anything other than her rehab these days. The 25-year-old phenom has been hard at work on her journey back to the field after suffering a torn patella tendon in an April friendly that kept her off the USWNT 2023 World Cup roster.
Swanson’s injury was one of the cruelest twists of fate, as one of the USWNT’s most in-form strikers saw her whole year change in an instant. Just last week, Swanson posted her first rehab update to Instagram. The video showed her getting touches on the ball with a member of the Red Stars training staff.
“First touches in three months,” read the caption, suggesting the forward’s recovery has remained on a linear timeline, something not all of her injured USWNT teammates have been granted.
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Speaking with Just Women’s Sports on Wednesday, Swanson said she has been focused on not getting too ahead of herself in her recovery, instead taking everything one day at a time.
“It’s been good, recovery has been good,” she said. “I think that being able to kind of take a break and recover and rehab, and also still be a part of something that’s bigger than that rehab process, like being here, that has been really, really good for me.”
“Here” is a gallery in New York City’s Meatpacking District, at a four-day exhibit set up by Women’s World Cup sponsor Frito-Lay and Women’s Sports Foundation to celebrate the game and its culture.
Despite having the opportunity to play abruptly taken away from her, Swanson has stayed connected to the tournament by continuing her work with committed brands. In addition to juggling her rehab, she’s stayed involved with Cracker Jill (an offshoot of Cracker Jack) to interact with young athletes in women’s sports.
“Being able to connect with them because I was once in their shoes, and now I’m here (is) cool, in like a full-circle moment,” Swanson said.
Those brand relationships can sometimes be awkward for an athlete who is managing the emotions of not being able to be on the field themselves. But for Swanson, the opportunities are a welcome connection to the larger movement of the World Cup.
“I think sometimes when we’re so involved on the field, obviously we’re busy and everything, so it’s been nice to kind of take the time away to do that off the field,” she said.
Outside of helping grow the game in a new way, Swanson is living a life parallel to her teammates in New Zealand. She hasn’t watched much of the action so far, catching just the second half of the USWNT’s 3-0 win over Vietnam on Saturday (she has a good excuse, having spent the weekend at her best friend’s wedding).
She also hasn’t connected much with her teammates across the globe, instead giving them the space they need to be at their best.
“I know firsthand how (important it is) to focus on the games and that’s what you have to do,” Swanson said. The person she kept in closest contact with prior to the tournament was newly-named co-captain Lindsey Horan, but Swanson said she has since let her teammate focus on the task at hand.
“I’m excited just to see some of my best friends go out on the world stage, and just continue to show how great they are and continue to inspire so many people,” she added.
Swanson is rooting for the U.S. to bring back their third straight World Cup trophy. And in typical fashion for an elite athlete, Swanson is focused on returning to her sport’s biggest stage with the same intensity that she approaches games.
“I don’t have downtime. It is all rehab, just focusing on that,” she said of her day-to-day schedule.
“I’ve learned that it’s just a process, and yeah, I think that you can just enjoy it. As much as it might not be fun, I think that there’s still so much positive that you can get out of it.”
Swanson is excited both to get back on the field and to see how the biggest Women’s World Cup in the history of the sport takes hold in the U.S. For her personally, the journey isn’t over yet, and she’s learned to let go of what she can’t control.
“I think if there’s one thing that I have learned, it’s that any plan that you have can get flipped upside down real quick,” Swanson said. “I have no idea what the rest of the year holds. I’m just taking everything as it comes.”
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.