After an injury that resulted in a titanium rod being placed in her leg and after two months of excruciating and unceasing pain, Georgia senior midfielder Sydney Shultis wanted to finish her soccer career on a high note.
But just as the 2018 season was about to start, an all-too-familiar pain reared its ugly head once again. A doctor soon confirmed Shultis’ worst fear: her career was over.
“Honestly, it felt like somebody had died,” she said.
The stress fractures that troubled Shultis since the fall of 2016 were supposed to be gone. She was supposed to be the veteran star on a team that sorely lacked one. She was supposed to continue the legacy of her sister Carli, a Georgia soccer player from 2010-2014 and brother Casey, who played for Clayton State and Georgia State.
Instead, she cheers from the bench.
“I’ve played since I was five years old,” Shultis said. “It’s everything I’ve ever known. So it’s definitely been horrible. But it’s been really cool to be there with the team, and be a cheerleader or whatever. But it’s definitely been hard just being a senior and not being able to finish strong. But it just looks different, you know?”
Originally from McDonough, Georgia, Shultis’ first collegiate injury came in the fall of her sophomore year. Stress fractures in both her shins sidelined her for the season.
“Honestly, it felt like somebody had died."
- Sydney Shultis on her soccer career ending
In the following spring, Shultis had a stress fracture in the front of the tibia. This injury was far more serious. Rest would do no good because blood cells couldn’t reach it.
A big decision loomed: either she could stop playing soccer or she could have surgery that might prolong her career.
Shultis opted for the surgery.
Doctors put Shultis under, hollowed out the bone marrow with a drill and hammered a titanium rod starting from above her knee to her lower left leg. The pain after the surgery was almost unbearable for two months.
“None of the pain medication took any of the pain away,” she said.
Three months removed from surgery, Shultis finally started walking. For a while, it didn’t look like she would play her junior year. But she ended up participating in 16 games, 12 of which were starts.
“It was a huge accomplishment because, honestly, it was so painful getting the surgery. It was the worst thing ever,” Shultis said. “I was like, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way I’ll be able to play.' I couldn’t practice all summer.”
But she picked up where she left off as soon as preseason started. Then an unrelated minor quadriceps forced her to sit out Georgia’s first two regular season games. She made her season debut on Aug. 25 against Charlotte.
In her first start of the year, Shultis scored her first and only goal in 2017 against Samford on Sept. 8.
In 2015, before her injuries, Shultis received All-SEC freshman honors. When reminiscing about a big goal she made against Auburn during her freshman year, head coach Billy Lesesne remembered Shultis as a “forceful and dynamic player."
“It looked like she had a super bright future ahead of her, but unfortunately it was cut short with injury,” Lesesne said.
Doctors will remove the rod in less than one month, allowing her to live “a normal life”.
Shultis doesn’t know if she would do it all over again.
“To get my last season, my junior year, yes, it was worth it,” Shultis said. “But I don’t know if would have done it again.”