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MOUNT VERNON — Alina Merlak was having a successful freshman soccer season.
She was a starting forward for the Mount Vernon varsity team. She was the second best scorer for the Mustangs and was a key to their success.
Her season was going great until a hot day in May when she suffered an injury that ended up costing her almost a year.
Merlak attended a Kansas City soccer tournament in May of 2016 with her CRSA club team. During the final game, she was dribbling the ball past a defender, getting ready to score, when she tripped and fell, landing wrong on her left leg. Merlak tried to get back up, but fell in excruciating pain.
Looking down at her leg, she noticed it did not look right. There was a large bump at the end of thigh, right above her knee. Coaches rushed on the field to address her injury. The coach thought she just needed to get tougher and finish the game, but a teammate’s father, who happened to be a doctor, came onto the field and informed them that she needed to be taken to a hospital.
Merlak was transported to a hospital in Kansas City by an ambulance. There, X-rays were taken of her leg and showed Merlak had snapped her femur in half.
Surgery was scheduled that day to place a rod in Merlak’s leg with screws to keep it in place.
The feeling of devastation came across Merlak as she realized her season was over. She was worried about her high school coach being mad at her since she wasn’t supposed to be playing for the club. But Merlak was mostly upset about not being able to finish her season.
Merlak knew she would have to go through a lot to come back from this injury, but she was more determined than ever.
Merlak remembers waking up after her surgery and being very discombobulated. To her, it seemed like much more time had passed than only a few hours.
“I remember waking up after surgery and thinking that it was the next day and being very confused,” Merlak said.
It had already been a very long day, but she had yet to endure the five-hour drive back to Mount Vernon that night.
The next year was the toughest for Merlak emotionally and physically. She missed school the first week after her surgery and came back in a wheelchair.
Three weeks after her surgery, Merlak started physical therapy. At first, her physical therapy consisted mostly of the doctor moving her leg around for her, trying to get the muscles used to moving again. After Merlak was able to transition to crutches, she started putting some pressure on her leg. Besides trying to walk again, part of Merlak’s therapy was using multiple machines to help work her muscles and get her mobility back. Even after doing all that, her leg will never be back to what is what before.
Along with the surgery, her leg suffered nerve damage and she has recurring pain in her hip.
Going beyond her physical therapy exercises to help her come back quickly, she worked at the Mount Vernon Swimming Pool over the summer. She was able to get in the water and help teach swim lessons.
“Being able to get in the water and to stand while putting minimal weight on it, plus swim around a little, was able to help me come back faster,” Merlak said.
As soon as she was able, Merlak went outside and got some touches on a soccer ball. Day after day, Merlak would go to her backyard practicing her dribbling and also trying to get back into shape by going for walks. In August, she was able to start running again.
Now, she is back on the field for her sophomore season. In her first game back, she scored a goal in a 2-1 win over Marion on April 7.