“I know my injuries won’t get the better of me,” says Australia and Arsenal goalkeeper Lydia Williams, who has injured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) twice in her professional football career.
Both injuries required knee reconstruction surgery but Lydia bounced back to star for her country at a World Cup and take her professional career to new heights.
In The Secret Balance of Champions she shares how she maintained her mental health while getting back her full physical fitness.
“I was only three games into the season when I injured my ACL for the first time. That was really hard,” says Lydia, who was playing in Sweden at the time, but spent the first three months of her recovery in Australia.
”The worst thing for me was just being home without a team, as I get my energy and drive from being with my teammates. Even if I’m not training, I’d rather watch them train than being stuck at home feeling sorry for myself.”
“Usually you probably wouldn’t be back playing before twelve months of rehabilitation, but I had to make it back for the 2015 World Cup”
Lydia was born 33 years ago in Katanning, Australia, to an American mother and a father of Aboriginal descent. Her father passed away when she was only 15, but his philosophy on life helps her to this day.
“Owing to both my parents’ outlooks and how they raised me, I always felt that keeping busy and being around people would help me get through tough times. I approach my injuries and failures in this way too.”
After successfully returning to play, the goalkeeper’s second injury happened while playing overseas again in the United States. This time her recovery had a tighter deadline.
“Usually you probably wouldn’t be back playing before twelve months of rehabilitation, but I had to make it back for the 2015 World Cup (which was less than a year away).”
Lydia found working toward a clear goal and surrounding herself with a positive team to be helpful.
“I actually called my National Team from the bench: “I need to come home and you need to fix this.” Two days later I flew home and I went straight into surgery the day after landing.”
“The second ACL injury was different to my first one. Because we had such a tight time frame, I had no opportunity to doubt anything. I had to just do everything and trust my coaches that they knew what my body could do.”
When rehabilitating from serious injury, athletes are often confronted with a mental barrier they must break through before competing again. Lydia was assigned a psychologist to speak to weekly.
“The first time I competed again was scary”
“My mental health during this rehabilitation period was actually quite good. There were good days and bad days, but I was so focussed on the World Cup that it didn’t matter if anything else was bothering me.”
“The only question was: ‘Can my mind do it?’ I remember being told to jump the first time. The coach was like: “You can do it,” and I said: “I don’t think I can,” and he replied: “You can do it, jump!” I just had to trust that I could do it.”
“The first time I competed again was scary. My coach said: “You just have to get hit. You’ve done everything and you’re fine.”
Shortly after, she played against male players and passed the test.
“One of the men hit me and it was fine, and I was like: “Okay, it’s fine now.”
Undaunted, Lydia completed her recovery in time to live out her childhood dreams.
“I think I’m probably proudest of the way I came back from my second ACL. I returned after nine months and made it to the World Cup, during which we achieved our highest ranking for an Australian National Team ever, for men and women in football. That was probably my proudest moment. I also loved playing at the Olympics - it was one of my dreams.”
Lydia states journaling and speaking with her goalkeeper coaches helped her deal with the highs and lows of her sport. She also maintains an attitude of appreciation for the journey she is still on as a professional.
“Even if injuries happen or there are moments in games that don’t go your way, for me it’s always been about appreciating my work and how I got there in the first place. I think you can achieve everything and anything as long as you put your mind to it, and you continue to love what you do.”