World Sport Pics

An Unexpected Setback

Preparations for the next competition were underway for the U.S. Women’s National Team. After what was a rollercoaster of emotions the past few months – narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification in November, to qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in January – Karlie Kisha was hit with another test in late April.

On April 22, Karlie went in for a routine exam with an ears, nose and throat doctor. Despite being healthy, active, and in peak of training, the doctor found something abnormal during the visit – a lump on her thyroid. Two days later, a surgeon performed an ultrasound and biopsy, and she waited two agonizing weeks to find out the results. Finally, she was informed of the diagnosis – she had papillary thyroid cancer.

The next step for Karlie was to get more information. It’s like the feeling of when your foot is on the endline as you prepare for the next sprint – your heart jumps, things seem to go in slow motion, and you just wait. Waiting for anything is never easy, especially waiting for the unknown. The type of thyroid cancer that Karlie was diagnosed with has a positive prognosis with the proper treatment, but the physical and emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis is never an easy burden to bear.  It was difficult for her to process, but she knew she would be ready to take on whatever lied ahead the same way she does with training – with grit, determination, and an unshakeable support system.

Finally on May 8, the computed tomography scan revealed more information and informed her and her doctors of the next steps. Despite having the most common type of thyroid cancer, hers was a bit more aggressive and had spread to the lymph nodes. The next steps for Karlie would be to get surgery to remove both her thyroid and lymph nodes. The procedure was scheduled for the next week – she knew that attacking this matter as soon as possible was the most important. She also knew that it would mean missing the flight to Europe with her team. The FIH Hockey Pro League matches she had been training so hard for would have to wait.

Thanks to the amazing work of Karlie’s doctors and surgeons, the surgery was a success, and she was on the road to recovery. There were unanticipated setbacks – but nothing that she could not handle.

“I was originally told by the surgeon that I was going to be in the hospital for a day or two and then could fly over to meet the team four days post op and could be back physically in two weeks,” said Karlie. “The surgery went well but they found more than they expected, which kept me in the hospital longer.”

Karlie ended up staying in the hospital for three nights and went home with a drain tube for another few days. Finally, on May 24, she flew to Belgium to reunite with the team. Two days later, she was back to running.

“Her resilience and drive to get well over the past weeks since her cancer diagnosis has been inspirational and, despite all our attempts to protect her, she has pushed her way back into the team with the support and backing of some amazing doctors and the [United States Performance Center] staff in Charlotte,” commented David Passmore, USWNT Head Coach. 

An athlete’s mind and perseverance are unmatched. Her return might seem quick to some, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of the incredible care team of doctors and nurses that understood her situation and wanted to get her back on the field as soon as possible.

Although she will have to be on medication every day for the rest of her life and closely monitor any potential issues in the future – she considers herself lucky.

“I would like to emphasize how unbelievably grateful I am to be healthy and able to be back playing,” added Karlie. “I cannot thank my teammates and staff enough for the support and love they have shown me during this time. Blessed is an understatement. I am honored to call these amazing women my family.”

Karlie goes on to thank her extended support corner consisting of her husband, Josh; parents, Cliff and Diane; and her sister, Rayell.  “My family, friends, teammates, USWNT coaching staff and the USPC staff have all been absolutely phenomenal through this whole process. I cannot express enough how much love and support I have received over the last month.”

“Karlie epitomizes what it takes to be an international athlete and the United Eagles will be the better for having her back on the field soon,” expressed David. “I speak for all the staff to say that we are proud to work with her and most importantly delighted she is feeling well again.”

Karlie, like many, had an unanticipated setback to her journey. By taking the appropriate measures, she was able to make a full recovery, and is looking forward to being back on the pitch with her team. The scar on her neck is a reminder that life can be unexpected – full of unknowns and setbacks – but it is also a reminder of the resilience she continues to display as she resumes with her amazing journey.