Oct. 12, 2006
Story and Photo by Brandon Hansen
On Oct. 8, Eastern Washington University women's soccer player Jen McMullen suited up in Eagle red, white and black for the first time in nearly two years, marking a triumphant return from a potentially career-ending injury.
The last time McMullen was out on the field, it was to help the Eagles clinch the Big Sky Conference regular season championship in 2004. She assisted on a goal in the 19th minute of the game en route to a 4-0 victory over Sacramento State that made EWU co-champions of the conference.
"That was a good memory," said McMullen.
But in preseason practices the next season, McMullen suffered a "Liz Frank" injury, meaning that she tore the ligament that connected to her big toe, essentially pulling all the bones in her foot apart.
"They told me it was going to be a career-ending injury," she said. "They said the surgery was just so I could walk properly again."
McMullen, who also had to redshirt her freshman year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, would have to endure being in a cast for three months to see if her foot would heal by itself.
It did not, and not only did she have to endure a major operation on her foot, but also being in a cast for another four months. She then had to begin a long, perilous road in rehabilitation.
"My calf was the size of my arm when I got out of the cast," said McMullen. "They said the recovery time is one to two years after the surgery."
She knew that she might not be able to ever play soccer again, but she wasn't going to give up a sport she loved dearly.
"I decided I wanted to try," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to play or not but I was going to do everything I could."
During the summer, McMullen served as a public relations intern for the Spokane Shock Arena2 football team, and also rehabbed at the Rockwood Clinic, where she received personal training.
"That was one of the best things I could have done," McMullen said.
She worked on calf raises and range of mobility exercises. Anything she could do to get back out on the field. Helping her through this process were her friends and her teammates -- the EWU women's soccer team.
McMullen said that they were a shoulder to cry on and a constant source of support.
"They said `you worked too hard and too long to be part of the team,'" she said. "`You can't give up now.'"
Another big help for McMullen was the soccer team's head trainer Angie Taylor and coaches George and Tamara Hageage. They kept McMullen informed about the injury and helped with rehabilitation.
"They have all done a lot for me," she said.
It definitely must have helped because McMullen stepped out to practice much sooner than doctors had expected. But she still had a long way to go.
"I couldn't cut or stop or do any huge change of motion," she said. "I knew what I wanted to do, but physically I couldn't do it."
But she continued to improve, and during Eastern's game against Northern Arizona on Oct. 8, she suited up for EWU.
"I missed that competitive spirit," McMullen said. "Sitting on the bench watching when you're not part of something is tough."
There was also someone extra special in the stands for the British Columbia native. Her dad had driven six and a half hours to see her suit up.
Her sister Kim, who graduated from EWU last year and also played on the soccer team, was competing for British Columbia Premier Team in the Canadian Soccer Nationals the same weekend that McMullen was suiting up. She told her parents, Terry and Debbie, that the Nationals were more important, but got quite the surprise on Sunday when her father showed up.
"I definitely cried when I saw him," said McMullen. "He said he had to be here. He said he wouldn't miss it for the world."
Her dad then made the six and a half hour drive back to watch Kim and the B.C. team win the national title.
"My family has been supportive of anything I was to do," McMullen said. "I could not ask for a better family -- they have given everything to support me."
She had surgery on her foot last November and she's already out on the field this October. Her goal now is to continue to make progress and be 100 percent soon.
"I would love to play soccer after college," McMullen said. "I'll always be around soccer I think."
McMullen already has a degree in public relations from EWU and is going for her second degree in visual communication design. She is looking to move into a long career in professional sports and hopes to own a team some day.
"I have a lot of plans," she said.
And after the injury and rehabilitation she has endured, it's only a matter of time before her plans become reality.