At 5'10" and with tremendous speed and athleticism, Nandi Pryce is one of the top, young defenders in the world. She was a member of the USA's 2000 Olympic Residency Camp, has eight appearances for the full U.S. Women's National and seven for the U.S. Under-21 WNT. She will be a junior at UCLA this fall, but missed most of her freshman year and half of her sophomore season with a broken leg and the ensuing complications. It's been a long road back for the Casselberry, Fla. native, but when she represents the USA at the Nordic Cup this month (July 22-28) as the Americans try to win the tournament for the fourth consecutive time, it will represent a return to big?time international competition after her severe injury. This is her story of "The Long Road Back".
"I heard it snap.
I was playing for UCLA against Vanderbilt and I knew something was wrong. I got kicked in my left leg and I went down in heap. I looked at my coach Jillian Ellis on the bench, and I just started yelling. The referee called Jill onto the field and as she was running towards me with the trainers, I screamed at them 'I broke my leg! I broke my leg!'. I knew it was broken and thus started a long, long period of rehabilitation.
Even though I was playing with a stress fracture in my leg that I had worked very hard to come back from, as the trainers were looking at my leg on the field, all the thoughts of the warnings I had been given flashed through my mind. Still, I couldn't believe I'd actually broken it because I had been playing with it for about nine months. As they were carrying me off the field, the first thing I thought was 'How long am I going to be out? What happens next?'
As it turned, it was a long time. Way too long for a player like myself who can't stand watching from the sidelines. I had emergency surgery about an hour and a half later to place a titanium rod in my tibia, two screws at my ankle and one in my knee. Sound gruesome? Yes, it was.
It was even more traumatic because not only had I never been seriously injured, I had never undergone surgery before. I was in the hospital for six crazy days. I couldn't move and I was in tremendous pain for the entire time. It was one of the toughest things I've ever had to deal with.
Of course, I missed the rest of my freshman season in 2000, but I tried to stay as positive as I could for my teammates even as I shuffled around on my crutches for four months. My teammates were awesome in helping me get through it, and I had a lot of work to do. I rehabbed at least three hours a day, every day, because I wanted to make it back to at least play for the Under-21 National Team in their events in 2001. At about five months, I was able to run and starting playing again, even though the pain was intense. But I told myself the only way I could come back was to work through the pain. So I had to grin and bare it and took a lot of Advil. I got back to the point where I was called in for a U-21 trip to Mexico in February of 2001.
It was only a five-day, two-game trip, and I was the only person to not play in the first game. I started the second game, and I was a disaster. I felt like I was running in quicksand and I had the touch of an elephant on the ball. I made it through the event, which was a positive, but it also showed me how much farther I had to go.
I spent the next two months trying to regain my fitness and form and then went back to Florida to play for my old club team in a tournament in Ft. Lauderdale. Well, in one game, I stepped wrong and I felt the break move. It is not a feeling that I would want anyone to experience.
I flew back to California and had more x-rays, which looked good, so I thought that maybe it was a mental thing and I had just imagined that feeling. So I continued to train through the end of the school year in June. After school, I flew out to Denver to see my brother Trevor who plays for the Broncos and he, being the great brother that he is, was worried about me and took me to see a specialist in San Francisco. This doctor told me that I was not getting the proper healing in my leg and that the tibia needed to have a new rod put in to stimulate bone growth.
Ahhhhhh!!!!!! Are you kidding me!?!?!
I was bummed, but if that was what I needed to get it back to 100%, I said, 'Let's do it.' So I flew home to Florida and had a new and bigger rod inserted in my leg. Within a week and half after the second surgery, I knew I was on the right track. It felt great and strong and I could just tell it was healing well.
I rehabbed all summer and missed the first part of my college sophomore season, but got to play in the last 10 games and felt progressively stronger in each match. By the end of the season, I felt that I was well on my way back to my pre-injury form.
I've been called into all five U-21 events so far this year and it's been great to be back playing for my country and actually contributing a bit. Making the Nordic Cup team this year represents a milestone for me because it's been a long two years. I can't wait to play in those games in Finland because I know they will be highly competitive and I will be playing in my best shape in a long time.
So after two years, two surgeries, two rods, numerous screws and a lot of hard work, I know I still have a long way to go to achieve my goals on the soccer field with UCLA and the USA.
If there is one thing I've learned throughout this ordeal it’s that as bad as things may seem, you will always get through it if you just keep working hard and looking ahead. For now, I'll look to Finland."
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Lasting Images of Korea/Japan 2002)
2) Word Association (w/ WNT midfielder Lorrie Fair)
3) Reyna Reminisces (w/ MNT midfielder Claudio Reyna)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ WNT/U-21 WNT defender Cat Reddick)
5) The Long Road Back (w/ U-21 WNT defender Nandi Pryce)
6) Superstar!! (w/ MNT defender Tony Sanneh)
7) Mark That Calendar (U.S. WNT vs. Norway -- July 21, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (NEW World Cup trivia)
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