Sept. 9, 2004
By Chuck Walsh, FSU Sports Information
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Ali Mims has been through 20 surgical procedures on her leg in the last two years. She has been asked why she hasn’t given up playing the sport she loves countless times. She has cried herself to sleep more times than she wants to remember since her last game in 2001. To this day, and for the rest of her life, she will feel pain in her left leg with each step she takes.
But the pain she feels has not slowed her down nor has it lessened her desire to regain her spot in Florida State’s starting lineup, and more importantly, rejoin her teammates. As a freshman in 2001, she became the Seminoles’ starting goalkeeper midway through the season and enjoyed one of the finest seasons of any player at her position in school history. Mims led Florida State into the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history as she won eight games and recorded a 1.59 goals against average – both school records for freshmen.
But disaster struck at the beginning of the 2002 season as she fractured her left leg in a scrimmage against Georgia and was forced to miss the entire season. After spending the entire year in rehab it looked like Mims was ready to complete her comeback in 2003 but complications from her surgery and rehabilitation forced her to miss another full season. Mims had to sit on the sidelines as the Seminoles played in the ACC Tournament championship game and advanced to the College Cup for the first time in school history.
Since that fateful night in Athens, GA two years ago, Mims has endured a surgical procedure to correct the initial fracture, another because of acute compartment syndrome caused by an abnormal amount of swelling in the lower leg, 12 procedures to rid infection that had enveloped the area and even more surgeries to correct tendon problems caused by nerve damage and scar tissue suffered when her leg was broken. Just as she was set to return in 2003, the chronic infection in her leg became active once again forcing her to the sidelines for another year. More rehabilitation was needed to repair her body of the subsequent tendon problems and nerve damage.
She continued to be part of team – in mind only because her body had betrayed her.
“The toughest part of the last two years has been watching my teammates play and knowing I was unable to contribute,” said Mims who actually looked forward to the three-a-day practice sessions which began the 2004 season. “It was also hard to hear bad news after bad news after bad news and to take two steps backwards and only one step forward during my rehabilitation.”
While many players would have simply hung up their cleats and walked away from the game when they lost yet another season to an injury that you thought was healed, Mims continued to work her way back into shape. Because of her love for the game of soccer, her teammates and coaches, Mims persevered through setback after setback on her way back to the Seminoles’ active roster.
Her last surgery was in November of 2003 and she was cleared to begin training again in January of 2004. She opened fall camp with a green light from the Seminole training staff to practice as hard and as long as she could.
“The day the doctors cleared me was the best day ever,” said Mims. “You can never say never but hopefully that was the end of my problems. It then became up to me to decide that I wanted to play again. The doctors looked at me cross-eyed when I told them that I did.”
As one of the most experienced goalkeepers on the roster, Baker welcomed her back to the field this fall and was delighted with the fact that she could compete for the starting assignment on the last line of defense.
“There have been one or two little speed bumps where she has to listen to her body and do a little less, which if you know Ali is easier said than done,” said Baker. She has made great strides and has gone through things that would have made most players quit a long time ago. She believes in what we are doing and believes there is a lot of good soccer left and wants to be a part of that. She is going to be a nice addition to our team both on and off the field.”
Mims’ addition to the active roster will be less about the competition than it is about rejoining her family of teammates. Because more than competing, Mims missed just being with her teammates while she was injured. She missed the camaraderie of spending time with those who have become her closest friends.
“I missed being a part of the team because that is a very special thing,” said Mims. “When you are injured and are not contributing on the field you kind of drop off the team. You miss being with the girls especially when you know it is solely because you physically just can’t do it. You go to the field and leave straight afterwards. I wasn’t in the locker room hanging out and I couldn’t physically just sit there during practice. Being around the family is what I really missed and it was the support of my teammates that enabled me to push through the hard days.”
That sentiment is echoed by her teammates.
“It’s so important for us, especially my class, to see Ali back out on the field practicing and playing at such a high level,” said senior midfielder and team captain Jez Ratliff. “We all came in together as freshmen, and saw her develop. She was on the verge of a spectacular sophomore season then we all witnessed that injury and we have seen what she had to go through every step of the way. She did so much behind the scenes that we didn’t see as well. Just to see her back out is amazing for the whole team throughout her recovery. It’s great to have her with us every day.”
It is for those reasons she continues to play soccer despite the pain she feels on a daily basis.
“All of my doctors have asked me why I want to continue playing. They have asked me why I want to continue to go through all of the surgeries. They have asked me those questions since I first began the process and I keep giving them the same answer. I want to continue to play soccer and I love it too much to give up on the game.”
If Mims didn’t have the desire to return to the pitch, she could have probably avoided a lot of the pain and hard work she put in over the last two years. Due to her single-minded focus to play again, the surgeries she underwent were aimed at giving her the best chance of playing the game she loves. They were not aimed at just getting her back on her feet as quickly as possible.
Through many long nights of crying herself to sleep or not being able to sleep at all because of the pain, she has learned a great deal about herself. Two of the biggest things she has learned are perseverance and that God has control over her life and the humility that comes with that.”
“I have learned what a privilege it is to play a college sport, because that privilege can be taken away in a split second,” said Mims. “I am a living example of that. I think about the times in the hospital when I couldn’t even walk and think about what I have now. I feel blessed to be able to participate and not watch. I really feel blessed this year to be out there again. It isn’t about me though. It is just a blessing to be part of this team again.”
Because of the injury she suffered and related complications she has endured, Mims has been granted two medical redshirts by the NCAA giving her two additional years of eligibility. She will complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in business in April and begin working on her master’s degree during the summer of 2005.
“I’m not coming back to prove anything to anyone,” said Mims. “I have had soccer in my life for my whole life. It’s what I do. I can’t imagine not doing it. You have a certain number of years you can play in college and two years of that were taken away from me. Why not try and utilize the time that you do have left?”
Ali Mims will never tell you how much her body hurts because its feels too good to be part of the Florida State women’s soccer team.