U.S. Women’s Soccer defenseman Ali Krieger’s body tells many different stories. The scar running down her knee weaves the tale of her ACL injury just a few months before the 2012 Olympics. The tattoo (one of many) on her left forearm, liebe, means “love” in German, and represents the years she lived there playing for a now-rival team. But she doesn’t have much to show—at least, on the outside—for the pulmonary embolism that almost took her life at age 21.
Krieger, who posed for the upcoming ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue 2015, explained to the magazine that she “once thought I would never be able to kick a ball again.” Two days before the former Penn State athlete was set to play in the NCAA tournament, Krieger broke her leg, requiring surgery. On a flight before Christmas, a few months later, she unknowingly developed blood clots in her leg and lungs.
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“I didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t feeling right,” she told ESPN The Magazine. “I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without feeling out of breath.”
Luckily, Krieger realized that something was wrong, and headed straight for the doctor once she got off the plane. “When I went to the doctor they told me it was a good thing I came in, because if I would have gone to sleep that night, I probably would never have woken up. I was 21 years old and just thinking, ‘This wasn't even my fault.’ I had no idea if I was even going to live through this.”
Pulmonary embolisms occur when blood clots travel to the lungs, typically from the leg if a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) develops. They’re often associated with long plane rides, when you’re seated for extended stretches of time.
A pulmonary embolism comes with sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing that produces blood-tinged mucus. In some cases, it leads to wheezing, leg swelling, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, and fainting. If you experience these symptoms, get to a doctor stat, as Krieger did.
Another female sports star, Serena Williams, experienced the same scare back in 2011, when she also developed a pulmonary embolism following the combination of a sliced tendon in her foot, and a plane ride from New York to Los Angeles. Thankfully, Williams and Krieger both fully recovered.
And for Krieger, the health scare helped her appreciate her time on the field.
“You never know when it’s going to be your last time to step onto the field,” she told ESPN The Magazine. “Injuries give you perspective. They teach you to cherish the moments that I might have taken for granted before.”
It's safe to say that mental toughness is at least part of what carried Krieger and the rest of the U.S. Women’s Team to victory last night in their semifinal match against Germany. They are now set to play in the final on Sunday.
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