Alex Rodkin looks back on her historic, injury-plagued career as a Ram

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Rodkin opens up about her six-year career, leading the Ryerson Rams women’s soccer team to its first playoff victory in program history.
Words by Marco Sasso

Alex Rodkin didn’t know the scientific terms, but she could see blood.

It started on the field of Varsity Stadium during the Ryerson Rams women’s soccer team’s third game of the 2018 season against the University of Toronto.

Ten minutes in, Rodkin tore her meniscus, and a piece of her cartilage got stuck in her knee joint. The Rams forward couldn’t move her leg. She needed surgery—again.

Her fourth knee operation in four years, Rodkin knew the routine when she arrived at Rouge Valley Centenary Hospital two weeks after the match. But when the surgery began, her body’s reaction to the anesthesia she was given was anything but routine.

“My heart rate went really low during my [knee] surgery, so they gave me medication to bring it up and then it went up way too high,” said Rodkin. “My heart couldn’t handle it and my lungs flooded with blood.”

When Rodkin woke up, she was in the intensive care unit (ICU). She couldn’t breathe and was coughing up blood. Doctors were howling at each other—clueless.

Elisa Lapadula, Rodkin’s roommate and Ryerson Rams goalkeeper, recalls hearing about the incident. Just days earlier, the two had joked about the supposedly routine operation. But now, Lapadula was fearing for her best friend’s life.

“A slew of memories went through my head,” said Lapadula. “Like, ‘Whoa, what am I going to do now? How am I gonna get through the rest of university? How am I going to get through soccer? How am I going to experience milestones in my life without my best friend?’”

Eventually, Rodkin’s heart settled. Looking back, she considers the incident to be a “fluke thing.”

“It could have been worse,” said Rodkin.

Rodkin has been at Ryerson for six years now, overcoming a laundry list of setbacks on her way to leading the team to its first-ever playoff win this season. At the age of 23, her career marks one of the most successful—and longest—careers in Rams women’s soccer history.

Growing up in Whitby, Ont., Rodkin began playing soccer when she was three—and she never looked back. Among her three older sisters, Rodkin was the only one who stuck with the sport past her teenage years. Soccer was the only time she felt in the zone; it was “an escape” from every other aspect of life.

A mixture of the allure of the big city life in Toronto and a $1,000 athletic scholarship lead Rodkin to enroll in Ryerson’s sociology program and join the Ryerson Rams women’s soccer team in 2014.

Rodkin made an instant impact in her freshman year, leading the team with seven goals and 28 shots. Her biggest memory of that season: scoring in their 3-2 win against the Queen’s Gaels—Ryerson’s first win against them since 1975.

The Rams missed the playoffs by one point that season.

In her second year, Rodkin met Lapadula. Lapadula remembers the two were “standoffish” at first, but a mutual need to find a place downtown led to the two becoming inseparable.
So inseparable, Lapadula said she has learned how to express Rodkin’s emotions off the field.

“If something bad happens, I’ll be the first one to cry,” said Lapadula. “Like, when she’s injured, I feel for her, I’ll feel the [emotional] pain for her so that she doesn’t have to.”

From the first moment Lapadula saw Rodkin play, she knew she was among Ryerson’s best.

“She is your ideal striker,” said Lapadula. “She’s a threat in up top, she’s a threat in the air, she’s a threat when taking players on one-on-one, and once she sees the goal, she gets the ball at her feet, and it’s a goal 90 per cent of the time.”

In her second year, Rodkin tore the ACL on her left knee in the Rams seventh game of the season against Royal Military College.

The tear kicked off a long recovery for Rodkin including three surgeries over the winter and spring. She sat out the following season.

”My team was there for me,” said Rodkin. “They would come to my appointments and help me if I couldn’t walk and stuff, and they would help me make food and help me wash my hair. Yeah, they were really supportive.”

Back on the field for preseason in her fourth year at Ryerson, an “extra hard” header in training camp didn’t sit right with Rodkin and she started to feel symptoms of a concussion shortly afterwards. She ignored it for the first weekend of matches, but shortly after, she couldn’t run straight after 15 minutes of being on the field.

Rodkin missed the next 11 games of the season—and a month of university courses. She was medically cleared for another weekend of playing in October 2017 but shut it down after symptoms returned.

That season, the Rams finished fifth in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East and made their first playoff appearance in six years, but Rodkin was still on the sidelines. All year, Rodkin watched her replacement, Ryerson forward Victoria Watson, dominate the OUA with nine goals on her way to being named USPORTS All-Rookie and Ryerson’s Rookie of the Year.

Rodkin came into 2018 with hopes that she hadn’t lost her touch.

Anastasia Grekos, Rams co-captain, said Rodkin still had all of the qualities of a top striker.
“She’s always in the right spot at the right time,” said Grekos. “Even if there’s a really difficult ball coming in the box, up in the air, someway, somehow, she’ll get her head or some type of flick on it.”

Rodkin scored in the team’s home opener—a 1-0 win against Ontario Tech.

In June 2019, when Rodkin healed from the meniscus tear, she asked Rams head coach Natalie Bukovec if she could start coming back to practices. Her teammates’ reactions weren’t quite what she was expecting.

“My teammates were like, ‘That’s crazy! Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’” said Rodkin. “Especially because that one [injury] was scary in a whole other way.”

“It was a long recovery. But it’s being around the team, [that] has always made me happy at Ryerson. That’s my main support system and my main group of friends. I just couldn’t imagine not seeing those people every day,” added Rodkin.

Lapadula, however, told the others Rodkin knows her body best. “I knew how strong she was, and I knew that coming back to soccer wasn’t a bad thing,” said Lapadula.

Rodkin scored her first goal against Queen’s in Ryerson’s season opener. She scored her second—a screamer from 30-yards out in a 3-0 win against Ontario Tech—two weeks later. And to wrap up her first month back in play, she faced up against the University of Toronto—twice—pushing past last seasons ICU scare, as the Rams closed into their first playoff berth since 2017.

“Part of me was a little bit shocked that I made it so far,” said Rodkin. “I never think I’m going to get injured when I’m actually playing, but when I’m thinking about it outside, part of me almost expected that I would [get injured]. It was weird to think about.”

Rodkin played every game this season, scored two goals, and led the team in shots with 21. Over her five seasons with the Rams, she’s taken a total of 78 shots, scoring 13 goals in 44 games. And finally, Rodkin made her first career playoff appearance in October, a penalty shootout win against the Nipissing Lakers in North Bay—the Rams women’s soccer team’s first-ever playoff victory.

“It was a big celebration,” said Rodkin. “It was like a big pile of people. Everybody just jumped on one another.”

In the quarter-finals against last year’s national champions, the Ottawa Gee-Gees, Rodkin said the team believed that they could win it all—Ryerson had nearly scraped a draw against Ottawa just weeks previously in a 1-0 away loss. This time at Gee-Gees Field, however, the Rams lost 5-0.

“I wouldn’t say the 5-0 score really reflects our team because we still made it further than we ever have and we were able to do better than we did that game,” said Rodkin.

After the game, the realization crept up on Rodkin: that was her last game.

“It’s weird to think about because I’ve been here for six years, and every year I’ve always known that’s what I’ll be doing in August, September and October,” she said. “It’s part of life I guess. It’s bittersweet. There’s other things that I’m ready to do in life, but it’ll also be a weird adjustment.”

The main thing left on Rodkin’s to-do list: graduate.

She’s been at Ryerson since 2014 as a sociology major but switched into the social work program in 2016. Notably, Rodkin helped unite the women’s soccer team and the 519—a local LGBTQ2S+ community centre—raising $10,000 for the organization at the Ryerson women’s soccer team’s annual charity event.

Passionate about helping people who didn’t get a fair chance in life, Alex plans to continue on her path in social work past graduation. As for soccer, she says she’ll continue playing for fun, looking to leave behind “the presses and stresses” of varsity soccer.

Rodkin says the future is bright for the Rams. They’ll be without seniors Grekos, Lapadula and herself, but the 2019 recruiting class of nine players have four years of soccer left to make a postseason push past the OUA conference.

And if any of them get injured?

“They can get through it,” said Rodkin. “[An injury] is just a point in life, but there’s always an endpoint to it. So no matter how long your recovery is—even if it’s six months or a year—you can still get back to the sport. Anybody can get through it.”

Comments

  1. So proud of you my Alex.you’ve become such a strong woman.
    Amazing ability to push through the really tough stuff, injuries for example.
    Love you very much.
    Nana

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