Story and photos
By COREY McMULLEN
To say you blew out your knee is one thing.
For Aztec women’s soccer player Reilly Marks, a blown-out knee doesn’t even begin to describe what happened to her knee during a preseason practice in July 2018 at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
NMSU was where Marks was playing on a scholarship. She said it was a rainy day, and the field was very wet.
Marks has been playing soccer since she was 3 years old. She’s the middle child with an older sister and one younger brother.
Born and raised in Tucson, Marks is very family oriented. When not working on schoolwork or kicking game-winning goals, Marks loves to spend much of her free time with her family.
“My brother’s a senior at Cienega (High School), and he plays football there,” she said. “It’s kind of nice because our games are Thursdays and Saturdays, so Friday when he plays I love watching him play.
“Anything that has to do with family, I can do anything and be happy as long as my family is there,” Marks said.
The knee is made up of four major ligaments: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL); posterior cruciate ligament (PCL); medial collateral ligament (MCL); and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Marks had torn all but her LCL, including tears to the medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL) and her lateral meniscus in her right knee. She described it as the worst pain.
The prior season, Marks missed the whole year from tearing her ACL in her left knee.
Because of the damage she did to her knee, doctors told her she would never play again.
“It was hard, it was definitely really hard,” she said.
She also worried that even if she was able to play again, she wouldn’t be the player she once was.
Marks first saw the team doctor, Dr. Daniel Romanelli, who recommended she see Dr. Robert Schenck.
In August 2018, Schenck performed surgery. The recovery process to getting back on the field began.
“He was an amazing doctor, he was from UNM,” she said. “He was probably one of the reasons why I felt like I could keep going. Because of how positive he was, and he constantly told me ‘We’re going to get you back on the field.’ ”
Being told she’d never play the game she loves again, Marks decided to transfer to Pima Community College to be closer to her family.
“It’s hard being away from home,” she said. “Especially when you’re going through bigger things in your life that you really never went through.”
Though she had already begun rehabbing at NMSU when she got to Pima, she also started working with Aztecs athletic trainer Akira Kondo.
Kondo, who has been an athletic trainer at Pima for five years, had never before worked with such an extensive injury.
Marks worked with Kondo every day. The first focus was to get rid of the limp. Marks was still limping almost eight months post-surgery.
“We had to go from scratch to get her psychological thoughts changed to make her understand the way it needs to happen,” Kondo said.
Marks said a lot of it was a mental battle. Kondo believed Marks could come back, estimating she might be ready toward the end of October or early November.
Without God and prayer, Marks said she doesn’t know if she would ever have made it back. She also recalled the last conversation she had with her grandfather before he died.
She said that he told her when she signed to NMSU: “Don’t let anything stop you; don’t let anything stand in your way.”
Marks took her grandfather’s advice, and after missing two years of her soccer career, she took to the field Sept. 7 for the Aztecs.
It had taken her three years to make it to her sophomore season, but she did what her grandfather told her.
Aztecs head coach Kendra Veliz always believed that Marks would come back. She said Marks has impressed her most with “her soccer sense.”
“It’s clear that she has a good idea how the game is played, how she moves off the ball,” Veliz said. “(It was) really just her determination to fight through her injuries.”
Veliz says that Marks’ injury was more extensive than ones she’s seen in the past.
Marks says coming to Pima was the best decision she’s made. Marks noted how supportive her teammates have been and she’s having fun playing soccer again.
“I’m very grateful for coming here,” Marks said.
After being back only one week, Marks received more good news: From Sept. 16 to 22, Marks was awarded ACCAC’s conference co-player of the week.
After earning a degree in counseling, Marks wants to work at the junior college level as an athletic adviser. Her goal is to help athletes get to the next level.
Marks said she chose counseling so if students needed to talk she would have the proper training to help them.