By Jordan Jacklin
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) women’s soccer team was eliminated on Oct. 26 in their opening playoff matchup against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. But on a clear October evening—their first training session back from the heartbreaking defeat—the young team is joyful and working toward the next season.
Bold right-back Alexia Rhooms is one of the first players to step on the pitch past the white stripes at Downsview Park. There’s an instant upbeat energy in the air that carries over to the other players. For those who know Rhooms well, this comes as no surprise.
“She’s one of the most dedicated players that I’ve coached in my career,” said John Yacou, the Bold’s interim head coach. “She always strives for more. Regardless of how she plays, she still believes that she can do better.”
There was a time when there was little hope for Rhooms, who suffered three anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in her right knee during her high school career.
“I was just a student and thought my playing career was behind me”
When a player suffers an ACL injury, they are causing strain to one of the key ligaments that stabilizes the knee joint. According to UCHealth Today, the timeline for recovery is usually eight to nine months, with the fastest recovery being six months at the earliest.
In Grade 10, Rhooms suffered her first ACL injury and took six months to recover. This was a pivotal time in her life, as she was trying to get recruited to play for a Division I or Division II school in the United States.
Within the next year, while in Grade 11, she suffered another ACL tear which then started to raise concern for her athletic future.
As the injuries continued to pile on, the options grew thinner for the defender. After tearing her ACL for the third time in Grade 12, she had to turn down American offers and opted to stay in Canada.
“I took a break from soccer, as I was not mentally there to continue after the third [ACL] injury.”
After debating whether to continue her playing career, Rhooms took a break to focus on her education. From 2016 to 2020, she attended Western University to study Kinesiology while soccer had become a leisure activity, as opposed to a part of her daily routine.
“I studied Kinesiology and didn’t even touch a soccer ball,” said Rhooms. “I was just a student and thought my playing career was behind me.”
During the midst of the pandemic, her father—who is a personal trainer—ordered an exercise bike for the family. Having the equipment in her household motivated Rhooms to begin training again on a regular basis. Once she got back into the gym, her eagerness to play only grew as her passion re-emerged.
Prior to the 2021-22 season, Rhooms started to train with the mentality that going back to school was an option. In order to stay in game shape, she needed to find an organization that was willing to play her. Once she discovered that the Oakville Blue Devils, an organization in League1 Ontario reserve, were holding a tryout, she made sure to capitalize on the opportunity.
After joining the semi-professional league for the 2021-22 season, Rhooms’ League1 coach was willing to give her a chance to suit up at the next level. That coach was Natalie Bukovec, who is normally TMU’s head coach but is currently on maternity leave.
“I never thought that I could play at the university-level but potentially League1,” she said. “After joining League1, I grew a relationship with my team coach Natalie and she offered me a scholarship.”
After joining TMU last off-season, Rhooms was determined to play in every game. Being one of three players to accomplish this feat, she suited up for 13 games between the regular season and the playoffs.
“I’m my worst critic and I thought that I wouldn’t be good enough to dress sometimes,” she said. “I just went to every practice and worked hard for my goal of being a starter on this team.”
“She’s one of the most dedicated players that I’ve coached in my career”
Rhooms is very open about her recovery process and wants to help inspire others currently going through similar scenarios. Her teammate Kaleigh McKye even suffered an ACL injury midway through this season.
“Going through that journey is a sign of strength. When you come out of surgery, you have to start from scratch but it’s a way of resetting and becoming a better version of yourself,” said Rhooms. “If I can come back three times, lose muscle mass and play with no knee pain, then anyone can do it.”
Ivymae Perez, a Bold midfielder who has grown close to Rhooms since joining the program, has seen her persevere through all of the obstacles.
“I am so proud of how she’s performed the entire season. She works so hard and puts her body through everything.”
Although Rhooms is graduating this year with a bachelor’s degree in business management, it doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the team next season.
It’s an important summer for her, as she looks to continue to lead by example and bring this team to greater success.
“I have so many years left of eligibility, that I might use another one to come back. This team is like my family.”