By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 2, 2005
Florida State goalkeeper Ali Mims can, at times, be oblivious to the scars.
"There's permanent damage that will always be there," she said, rubbing her hand along her left leg, from the knee down on both sides. "But some days I forget that. Until someone says something to me. Perfect strangers in the grocery store will be like, "Oh, what happened?"'
What happened is a remarkable story of perseverance.
After breaking her leg in a preseason game in 2002, she faced a life-and-death struggle, the likelihood she might lose the limb, and 21 separate surgeries before she resumed her career.
"It's a great human interest story," FSU coach Mark Krikorian said. "It's a credit to her will, her mentality, that anyone could go through those surgeries and still compete at a top Division I program in any sport, let alone one that has the physical demands of soccer."
Mims is playing her best soccer and is a big reason FSU upset North Carolina last week in Chapel Hill to advance to the NCAA semifinals for the second time in the program's history.
The Seminoles (20-3-1) meet UCLA (21-1-2) at 7:30 tonight in College Station, Texas. Penn State (23-0-1) and Portland (22-0-1) play earlier. The finale is Sunday.
"To be called upon to be the starter and play this year," said Mims, 22, a fourth-year junior, "has just been icing on the cake for me. All I wanted to do was get my body back and be able to play soccer again."
* * *
Mims saw the ball coming toward the goal and reacted, racing to the edge of the 18-yard box. She slid and knocked the ball away to prevent a scoring opportunity, only to have an on-rushing Georgia player slide into her leg.
"It wasn't a hard collision at all; I've hit people a lot harder and had nothing happen," she said of the play from that preseason game on Aug. 23, 2002, in Athens, Ga. "It just hit the sweet spot on my leg."
She immediately knew it was broken, her sophomore season lost before it had begun. The next day, she had surgery in an Athens hospital, but she developed an infection and, far worse, emboli, globules of fat obstructing blood vessels in her lungs.
If even one found its way to her heart, the doctors told her parents, Bill and Ann, she would die.
"I remember lying in the ICU; that was the scariest part for me," she said, unaware at the time just how serious her condition was.
"I didn't want her to know everything," her father said.
Some people, most people, might have felt blessed just to come out of the ordeal being able to walk on his or her own two legs.
"From Day 1, I never had it in the back of my mind that what happened would be career ending," she said. "I never made quitting an option."
* * *
Mims appeared in just three matches last season, but entered this season as the No. 1 goalkeeper. Whether she would hold that position was something else.
It turned out not to be a question.
Mims has allowed 18 goals in 23 games, a 0.77 goals-against average that puts her on pace for a school record, and has eight shutouts.
Last week she had 13 saves through regulation and two overtimes against North Carolina. She didn't play in the penalty-kick shootout; Krikorian went with the more athletic, quicker Minna Pyykko, who made one save as FSU won the shootout 5-4.
"She was in the "zone against Carolina,"' Krikorian said of Mims.
"I'm just glad that I've been able to contribute on the field again," Mims said. "It's all for building character. Everyone goes through something to play college soccer or get where they're going. ... It was an unfortunate injury, but I truly believe I am the player and the person I am today because of it."