Behind Cat Parkhill
You have to PLAY EVERY GAME LIKE IT’S YOUR LAST (PEGLIYL) because you never know when it might be. I learned that attitude the hard way, through my experiences with injuries and setbacks. I now have that attitude throughout all areas of my life, and I try to give my best effort in everything I do, because I’ve learned that we need to make the most of our opportunities while we have them.
In the early years of my soccer career, I seemed to be on the fast-track to the pros. I played club soccer. I made the ODP team. I made the Regional and National teams. I played at the University of Minnesota and I was fortunate enough to make the U20 World Cup Squad in 2008 that won the world cup in Chile. It just seemed natural that the next step would be for me to play professional soccer. But, it didn’t come that easily.
My career path took a drastic detour when I tore my ACL and Meniscus in December 2011, my red-shirt junior year. I had the surgery a month later, and I began a long recovery. The Meniscus repair is what made my recovery especially complicated, because it meant that I couldn’t put any weight on my leg for 6 weeks after surgery, whereas the down time for a simple ACL repair or a Meniscus “clean‑up” surgery is only a few days.
Because of my extensive injury and the complicated recovery, I wasn’t able to rehab my knee adequately before I had to return to finish off my red-shirt senior season at the University of Minnesota. My right leg was still only half the size of my uninjured one. Because of my injury and my uncompleted rehab, I was just not able to play nearly as well as I had the year before. I wasn’t nearly as fast, nor as quick, nor as athletic. And so, it was a very difficult, frustrating, and disappointing season for me. It was hard to face the new reality of my diminished athletic skills. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get my skills back to the level I’d had before my knee injury—not even close. What’s worse, it seemed that my diminished skills were going to be a permanent part of who I was.
After that disappointing season, I thought my hopes for a soccer career were lost. So, I considered alternative ways to continue to pursue excellence through athletics. I had some pretty good hopes for making the first USA Women’s Sevens Olympic Rugby team, because I had already made the u20 rugby national team for several years before my knee injury. So, I put all of my effort into getting ready for a tryout for that Olympic team. As part of that effort, I had my surgeon do another surgery on my Meniscus to try to improve its function. That surgery worked much better than we had expected. My knee got a lot better. And I trained very hard for another year after the second surgery to get ready for the rugby tryout. Unfortunately, my rehab didn’t go as quickly as I would have hoped, and so I wasn’t able to fully recover my athleticism before the rugby tryout date. As a result, I just wasn’t yet ready to compete at that level again, and so I didn’t make the cut for the team.
I was devastated by what seemed to be my lost opportunities in sports, because sports had been such a big part of my life, and had even been a big factor in my definition of who I was. Before my knee injury, I had been a rising star in both soccer and rugby. I had seemed to have a clear path to the highest level of play in both sports. But then my injury changed all of that. It seemed as if I had lost all of those promising opportunities. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow. So, very regretfully, I decided to retire from sports and move on with my life.
My focus shifted from being an athlete to getting a job, figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and just rehabbing my knee well enough to be able to walk again without pain. I got a job as the Youth Director at a local soccer club in Eden Prairie, and I started making plans and preparations for the academic career that interested me. I hated the bitter note on which my soccer and sports career had apparently ended, but I didn’t seem to have any choice about it.
Surprisingly, after 4 months into my 3rd attempt at rehabbing my knee, I saw improvement that went far beyond any of the previous attempts. I hadn’t rushed this rehab at all, because I no longer had any athletic try-outs to get ready for. And maybe that un-rushed, un-pressured rehab is what made the difference. My athleticism began to return. It gave me some hope that I might be able to get my skills back. But I still didn’t have much hope for reviving a sports career, because it seemed like I had missed my chances for that, and especially because I hadn’t actually played on any team for several years.
After another 4 months into that 3rd rehab, my improvement had continued so well that I realized that I had a good chance of fully recovering my athleticism, and that I might therefore be capable of playing soccer at the elite levels again. I decided to try for it. So, I quit my Youth Directors job (which was sad for me, in some ways, because I really enjoyed coaching the little kids) so that I could put more of my time and energy into training for soccer again. Because my athleticism was coming back so well, I realized that I could perform at the highest levels again, if I could just get the right training. So, I started working with GameFace Training to improve my quickness, agility, and strength. I worked hard at getting back into top form in case I ever got a chance to play again.
Last spring, I got my first big break through a lucky coincidence. One of the trainers at GameFace posted on Facebook a video of one of my training sessions. Chris Sydney (one of my former coaches from the u17 National Soccer Team) happened to see the video, and thereby saw how hard I was training, and how athletic I had become again. He consequently invited me to play on his WPSL team in California. I, of course, gladly jumped at that opportunity. I didn’t know whether it could lead to anything more. But I was very grateful for the chance to play a high level of soccer again. And I was determined to make the most of that opportunity. Because I hadn’t played on a team for a while, it took some adjusting, but I got back into the swing of things pretty quickly. I really enjoyed playing again. And I especially enjoyed playing on that team, because of the friendliness and full-hearted efforts of their coaches and players.
After only a few weeks, I got my other big break. Out of the blue, Coach Chris called me at 9pm one night to tell me that FC Kansas City was interested in bringing me in. Apparently, they had asked Chris about potential replacements for the backup goalkeeper that they were going to trade. And Chris had told them how well I’d been playing, and about my long history of earlier accomplishments in soccer. Chris told me to expect a call that night from the General Manager for more details on the offer and how to make it happen. Less than 48hrs later, I was on a plane for Kansas City.
I couldn’t believe how quickly it all happened, and how quickly and dramatically things changed for me, first by my trip to California, and then to Kansas City. It was quite a lot to adjust to. But it was all to the good, and so I’m grateful for it. After over 4 years of the ups and downs of my difficult rehab and all the missed opportunities, I had finally made it as a professional. I would never have guessed that my path to the professional level would have taken so many twists and turns, and that it would have required such a long and difficult effort. But I am so glad that I made that effort, and I am so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given. And I will do my best to make the most of these precious opportunities—I will PLAY EVERY GAME LIKE IT’S YOUR LAST (PEGLIYL).
- Cat Parkhill, Team PEGLIYL Goalkeeper