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‘It’s pure joy’: Merritt Mathias returns with authority after 18-month knee rehab

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

When the injury first occurred, Merritt Mathias completely underestimated how long and difficult her ACL recovery would be, one that was bad enough that it even required a second surgery — on her meniscus — to clean up additional tears.

In total, she spent 572 days on the sideline between suffering the injury in the fall of 2019 and her first game back for the North Carolina Courage in this spring’s National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup.

“I was experiencing still a lot of pain in the lateral side of my knee [last fall] and it didn’t feel right and I couldn’t explain it,” Mathias told The Equalizer. “The pain had kind of been there [and] I had progressed through all these things, but I’m like, ‘I’m hitting up against this ceiling that I can’t really break.’ No rehab, no strength training, no fitness [was helping], and the more I tried to get more fit and get stronger, the more I’m in pain and it’s not really going away.”

“I had a lot of anxiety around what my return was going to look like and if I was ever going to be able to play again because I [couldn’t] perform at the level I need to perform at with this type of pain, especially in this environment, in knowing what that expectation was.”

But Mathias did eventually make it back after a year and a half.  She scored in her first match back — a wonderful chipped effort against the Washington Spirit.

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