I trained through both of my pregnancies. I tried to stay as fit as possible because I knew that I wanted to come back fast. I had my daughter (my second) on June 28, 2019, and I played in my first game 93 days postpartum. She didn’t take a bottle, so I’d breastfeed her before the game, at halftime, and directly after each match.

You don’t really think about it when you’re doing it because you’re in it. Now, I look back at myself and I’m in awe of what I did. As an athlete, you expect perfection. Thing is, you’re always going to want more, and I learned the hard way that recovery and rest are game changers. I like to push my body to its absolute limits, but there’s a limit even to that.

Last year, I got a really bad foot injury. Basically, I was playing on a
broken foot for months. I’d just wait for adrenaline to hit so I could push through the pain in a game. For a while, people would ask how I felt and I’d say, “It’s fine, I’m good to go.” But I was not fine.

“Being honest about my body saved me… and my career.”

After another MRI, the doctor told me there’d been no change in two months, even though I was in physical therapy. I remember sitting there and thinking, No, I have to be honest, it really hurts. So, in November 2022, we did exploratory surgery through my foot. Turns out, the injury could only be fixed through surgery; they repaired my cartilage and did lateral reconstruction of the ligaments.

If I’d continued, it would have gotten worse and possibly ended my career. I’m currently in the midst of a four- to six-month recovery, which is no joke. I’m proud of myself for being honest, though. That honesty saved me. Ultimately, I’m thankful I’m able to do the work to heal, although it’s hard and it sucks and it’s tough. My kids can’t wait to see me play again.

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This year has taught me that, after everything I’ve put my body through for 30 years, it’s time to stop and take care of myself. Allowing my body to heal the way it needs to so I can be who I need to be and who I know I can be is difficult. But the process has been quite beautiful because I’ve found myself through it.

No one talks about how lonely an injury can be, and how “in your head” you can get when injured. I dealt with this by going to therapy, which has taught me how to deal with my feelings and process thoughts that get in my head. For so long, I could barely walk. I’ve learned, for the first time, to be really, truly honest with myself.

And that’s why, for me, strength is not about how strong you are physically. It’s about how strong you are mentally when you’re in a dark phase—and holding tight to the belief that you are going to be okay. Whether it’s an injury or a breakup, strength is telling yourself that you are capable of working through it to figure out how to come out better: a better athlete, a better mom, a better version of yourself.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Women’s Health.

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Abigail Cuffey
Abigail Cuffey is the Executive Editor of Women's Health. Abigail has more than 10 years of experience writing and editing for national women’s publications, and more than 12 years of experience working in the health and medical journalism field.