LePeilbet's Comeback Story
By Kevin McSpadden
Injuries are a part of sports. For most athletes who have experienced an injury, they view it as an obstacle to overcome. A torn ACL is often viewed as an unfortunate setback during their quest for success. However, injuries also provide perspective, and in some cases, a little perspective can transform a career.
A starter and defender on the U.S. women's soccer team, Amy LePeilbet's story is one of a player overcoming injury to make a personal comeback. Since 2004, Amy has been one of the most consistent and versatile defenders in the world. What makes LePeilbet's story so intriguing is that it took a torn ACL to propel her from the solid contributor role into an elite player on the world stage.
During her college career at Arizona State, LePeilbet was one of the best defenders in the country. She was one of the keystone members of the Arizona State women's soccer program that brought them to heightened success in the then-Pac-10.
From 2001-2003, she was a first-team All-Pac-10 defender as well as a member of the conference all-academic team. During those years, Lepeilbet was dominant on defense and was a key reason why the Sun Devils tied a school record with five straight shutouts.
During her first stint with the U.S. national team from 2004-2006, she was considered a quality defender who would give reliable and steady defense when called. She appeared in 13 games and had established her position on the team. However, Lepeilbet said she was not playing to her potential and was not playing with the ease that made her so successful at Arizona State.
"I was scared out there," Lepeilbet said. "I was scared to make mistakes, and I didn't always perform at my best."
LePeilbet was a young, solid defender who looked to make a positive contribution to the 2008 Olympic squad heading to China.
But in the summer of 2006, Lepeilbet suffered an ACL injury that would not only postpone her Olympic dreams, but would also sideline her Team USA hopes for two and a half years.
Returning to professional soccer in late 2008, LePeilbet began to work her way back onto the international scene. She played so well for the WPS's Boston Breakers that she was called up for a USA vs. Canada game during the summer of 2009. After the game, LePeilbet was officially given a roster spot, which marked her return to international soccer.
Determined not to make a quiet return to the professional and international soccer community, LePeilbet burst back on the scene and reminded everyone why she had been considered such a promising talent prior to her injury. In 2009 and 2010, LePeilbet won back-to-back Defender of the Year, after proving to be one of the most versatile defenders on the U.S. team, able to play both center defense and outside back.
LePeilbet's abilities allowed her to start all six games in this year's World Cup.
She said she views her torn ACL as the reason for her accomplishments.
"Honestly, without the injury, I don't even know if I would be here today," said LePeilbet. "My injury changed my perspective on the sport. In coming back from my injury, I had a new love for the game."
After being sidelined for such a long period of time, LePeilbet was understandably excited to make her return.
"I'm back — I'm back on the field again," she said. "This is so exciting!"
LePeilbet was not scared to make mistakes anymore. She was excited to be playing international soccer again and as a result she starting to perform at a higher level.
An incredible love for the game of soccer and her time at Arizona State were key to helping LePeilbet discover her devotion to soccer. She credits her coaches for "sharing their passion for the game," which according to LePeilbet, has carried into her own career and own enjoyment for the game.
"(My coaches at Arizona State) really shared the beauty of the game with me," she said.
Lepeilbet talks like a player who has rediscovered the sport of soccer and is working towards becoming an even better player.
"It's been absolutely amazing that in the past two and a half years, I have kept continuing to come into camp, and I finally made this World Cup team," she said. "It's been one of my goals throughout my soccer career, and I am so happy to have achieved it and been a part of this team. I never took one moment for granted."
This coming summer, the U.S. National team will arrive in London to kick off the 2012 Olympics, and Lepeilbet hopes to make this part of her story. She has already established herself as an elite soccer player, but finally being able partake in an experience she missed in 2008 would be sweet redemption.
"Right now, my goal is to make that team," she said. "I have not made that team yet. I definitely need to improve myself to make that squad."
Lepeilbet on making the Olympic team: "If that day comes, I almost can't imagine what that day will feel like, but I am sure it will feel amazing."
After her performance at the 2011 World Cup, it's safe to say that she has recovered from her injury. The only thing that's left is a scar. A motivator. And a reminder to never take a moment for granted.
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