Sept. 19, 2004
Kerry York’s Florida State career got off to a brilliant start. The 2001 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year started 37 matches her first two seasons, she set a freshman record for shutouts with three and she was in goal during FSU’s first ever run to the ACC Championship final. While there were some setbacks due to injuries along the way, it was nothing compared to what she has experienced since.
The senior has gone through six surgeries and incurred injuries to her foot, ankle, leg, wrist and even her jaw. She has had a tooth knocked out, undergone root canal and seen her leg turn blue while swelling up to twice its normal size. She has spent countless hours in rehab and more hours than she ever thought not even able to practice.
“It is funny cause you kind of learn to deal with some pain,” said York. “The worst thing over the last three years has been the frustration level. I rehab two or three times a day sometimes starting as early as 6:00 a.m. You get back and still have to deal with the pain, not knowing if you have caused something else even worse.
“During my career I accepted the fact that not having surgery or playing through injury could make things worse but I never took into consideration the snowball effect of those decisions. It is hard. It is not something you want to talk about.”
York hasn’t spent much time talking about her litany of injuries so her struggles have flown somewhat under the radar. Not only has she closely guarded her roller coaster injury history but she has also done what she hoped she wouldn’t do and that was see one injury snowball into more.
York came into the 2001 season as the unquestioned starter. Florida State had three keepers all of whom were freshman and York came to campus with the longest list of credentials. She started the first seven games of her rookie campaign as FSU went 4-2 but the first sign of trouble came before an ACC contest with NC State.
“During NC State warm-ups I dislocated my fibula,” recalls York. “We didn’t know it was dislocated so I played on it through the first half. In the second half I pushed off on it and my whole leg popped out. That started a six-week recovery because I tore all the muscles and soft tissue on that side of the leg.”
During that time York was rehabbing teammate Ali Mims took over goalkeeping duties and started 10 straight games and appeared in 11 while posting a 7-4 record. The Ponte Vedra, FL native exceeded expectations and when York came back six weeks later the two were sharing time. That wasn’t a problem for York though.
“Six weeks later I was able to play because the staff at FSU and TOC (Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic) made a special brace for me,” said York. “I played versus Maryland at home and won a big game and recorded the shutout. It was awesome for me. I played the first half of games the rest of the way. We (she and Ali) made a good team and had a lot of success that year.”
The two keepers combined on one of the greatest goalkeeping moments in FSU history as the Tribe held second-seeded Virginia scoreless for 150 minutes in the ACC semi-finals and York and Mims combined to make 18 saves while facing 35 shots. She was the first keeper to ever start an ACC Championship final for FSU as the team got past UVa in a shootout. She went on in to the NCAA Tournament and didn’t allow a goal in 90 minutes of tournament play that season. She recorded victories over Clemson and hometown school Maryland, shutting out an ACC opponent for the first time in her career.
“Those experiences with the team freshman and sophomore year are things I will always have,” said York. “The run to the ACC Championship final, beating Clemson at Clemson, which was a school I almost went to, that was so exciting. I remember the expressions on the girl’s faces. Beating Maryland just miles from my house was special but overall, I just remember being with the girls. I would do anything for them.”
Things really started to get bad for York after her sophomore season that saw her start all 23 games for FSU. That spring she had a screw fixation in her foot. She was told she needed a fusion but it was just one of many occasions where York passed up a needed operation so she could get back out on the pitch quicker.
“I missed the entire spring because I had to have a screw fixation on my foot,” said York. “They told me I needed a fusion but they had never had an athlete make it back from a fusion so I didn’t want to do that. They also had to repair my ankle because at some point I tore it up. I missed the whole spring. I was on crutches for three months. That summer I had the screws taken out and attempted to start coming back. When I got back to Tallahassee, the love of the game prevailed and I tried to play again.”
Despite the screw fixation, York still wasn’t right as she attempted to get back for the start of her junior year. She remembers tripping a lot in preseason and not having the mobility she was used to. At that point she became frustrated by not knowing what was keeping her from returning to the form she showed her first two years.
“Frustration set in because we didn’t know what it was,” recalls York. “We figured it was muscle weakness so I trained and played as much as I could while still rehabbing. I knew I wasn’t playing like myself but I thought it was just a setback and I pushed through.”
York appeared in just six matches last season making only four starts. She watched as the team she came to in hopes of helping turn the program around went to its first ever College Cup. All the while still having no idea what was keeping her sidelined.
“By Christmas time after the College Cup, I saw my foot surgeon in Maryland and even he was stumped,” said York. “We found that I had suffered a stress fracture in my foot and was in a boot again last spring. I was able to train that spring and earlier than I had since coming to FSU, so there was some hope at least.”
The hope didn’t last long. While her foot finally felt normal, her leg started swelling to twice its normal size and turning blue after short training sessions. On top of that, she was losing feeling in her foot. With a trip to Australia approaching and senior season not far off, York spent her spring break back in Maryland with her surgeon and not in Cancun or Panama City like most college students.
“During spring break I saw my foot surgeon again and had a pressure test,” said York. “They discovered I had compartment syndrome, which sometimes comes from infections or a direct blow. With Australia coming up, this was another huge setback. I was told I could have a permanent loss of function but the surgery brings all sort of complications as well. I saw that first hand with Ali Mims and how many subsequent surgeries she needed for the same problem.”
York wanted to put off the risky surgery until after the team’s Australia trip so she could at least enjoy one great experience with her teammates without being on crutches or limping around. Just before the team left, she finally got some good news.
“Before we left for Australia I saw a doctor who used to work for the Baltimore Ravens and is now the head surgeon at Duke,” said York. “We talked to him and he and another doctor had come up with a less evasive operation. That gave me some hope. I decided to do that surgery after Australia so I could at least enjoy the trip with the girls.
“I had the surgery and they found that three of the four compartments had compartment syndrome. I was losing muscle function. After they did the surgery, I remember waking up and feeling good for the first time in a long time. It was a relief.”
As was the case so often before, the good news didn’t last long. The day she went into surgery the doctor commented that her ankle was swollen. She told him that was normal because she sprained it all the time and didn’t think much of it. It turned out that her ankle joint was hanging on by a thread and she needed an ankle reconstruction along with a foot fusion that was also on the horizon.
With her senior year fast approaching she had another decision to make. She could get the surgery and end her career, take a redshirt and keep trying to rehab and make it back or live with the pain and finish out her career with the class she started with.
“Being it’s my senior year I wanted to be with my class,” said York. “I came here to get the program to the next level and I still want to do that any way I can. I am hoping to be able to play again. Knowing there are more surgeries on the horizon, I know this will probably be the last time I ever play if I am able to come back.”
York is trying to play through the pain and get one last chance to see the field again. She just began working out with goalkeeping coach Rob Thompson this past week. At this point she is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I have been trying to do whatever therapy I can that will allow me to at least start to get ready to play one day,” said York. “I am wearing a brace but I don’t know how mobile I can be. I also have to manage the swelling and the level of pain. It felt good because it was the first time I dove since May. We’ll see what happens.”
The biggest question you ask yourself is why she keeps going through this. What makes York keep fighting the battle to come back when every obstacle she clears just seems to put another three hurdles in front of her.
“The biggest reason is because of how much I love this game and this university,” said York. “I love Florida State and this program. My memories from freshman and sophomore year are awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better program or team. I am obsessed with everything about being here. I found that out through this experience.”
The other thing she learned is that the hardest part of her experience wasn’t dealing with the pain, it was letting her teammates down even if it wasn’t her fault. York knew how frustrated they must have been that she wasn’t there for them but worse was the fact that she couldn’t tell them why.
“One huge thing was the frustration that the coaches and your teammates have,” said York. “It is one thing for me not to know why things kept snowballing but to have them not know what is going on is worse. You want to live up to their expectations. It was hard. People don’t know how much is involved with rehab and during that time you feel so separated and isolated. There is so much frustration that goes along with that.”
Due to her reluctance to talk about her struggles and the confounding nature of her injuries, she often suffered in silence and tried to push through the pain to prove to her teammates that she was willing to do whatever it took to rejoin them.
“Because of my love and desire to be out there, it has been hard for me to say `I can’t do that today’. That may have hurt me as well but I don’t think that is any different than any other athlete. We never want to admit we can’t or shouldn’t do something,” said York.
After three years of putting off surgeries in hopes of playing despite the damage it caused, York has finally started to look at the bigger picture. She now knows that life isn’t just about soccer and she will have a lot of years left after her career comes to an end in December.
“I never thought about anything but soccer,” said York. “Over the last year, I now wonder will I be able to chase after my kids one day. I used to ride, will I ever be able to do that again. You realize that when your wrist gets sore just taking notes in class. What will it be like in 10 years?
“Despite all that I don’t want to walk away from it. I love the game and my team that much. It makes you think though, if I had this train of thought three years ago, I might not have been so stubborn. It was my competitiveness to get back out there.”
If that sounds like regret, its not. Nobody is more thankful for the time she had and the role she played in helping establish FSU as a top five program.
“It is totally worth it and I would do it all over,” said York.