Editor's note: This story was written as a part of the Observer's Explorer Post program, which gives high school students the chance to learn about journalism.
“She doesn’t get to a goal and stop, she gets to a goal to create a new goal and to reach for that,” said Amber Ragland, 16, a close friend of star athlete, Madison Neely.
Neely, who plays with Charlotte Soccer Academy’s 96 Elite Club National League as well as at South Mecklenburg High School, has seen that determination tested in recent years, with major injuries that threatened to end her athletic career. But just like on the field, Neely has persevered to continue playing.
Neely, 16, of Charlotte is now a junior, but she started playing at 3 years old and hasn’t stopped.
“I love the feeling I get when I'm on the field. It's really hard work but I'm always willing to put in as much work to get better. I've had a love for the game since the very first day I started playing" she said. Her athletic progress helped her gain the attention of college athletic programs as early as 12 years old.
"Madison is the most physically gifted with feet and striking the ball in goal,” South Meck soccer coach Eric White said. “She’s a very, very intelligent soccer player.”
But during an intense game against the Myers Park High School Mustangs in April 2012, Neely was trying to move the ball away from the opposing team when her knee turned and twisted.
After waiting two weeks, Neely, who was in 10th grade at the time, found out she had torn her ACL and meniscus. She would have to have a surgery and there would be a six- to 10-month recovery. Neely is now fully recovered from her knee injury, but those were not the end of the problems.
In summer 2013, Neely was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is when the hip is in the wrong shape or the socket is not in its correct position.
She would have to have another surgery to fix it. The doctors would have to break the hip bone and realign it. Neely said she was scared when the doctors told her, because there is a 50 percent chance that she could never play soccer again. On Sept. 9, 2013, Neely went in for surgery.
Neely's recovery was complicated by the fact that her hip dysplasia is in both hips. While she's recovering from the surgery on her left hip, she will have to put more pressure on her right hip. That extra pressure will ultimately require surgery on her right hip as well, said Neely.
Neely’s mom, Kathy Neely, said that because of her daughter’s dedication and love for the sport, she has no doubt that her daughter would play again, even after another possible hip surgery.
Still, the road to recovery wasn't always easy, even for a determined player like Neely. She said there were some days where she felt like everything was going the right way and other days where she would cry because she struggled to get from the couch to the bathroom.
"It was just so scary because it was just the beginning," Neely said, talking about her recovery.
Her friends and family reminded her that things would get easier as the time passed.
Six months into her hip recovery, doctors expected Neely to only be learning how to walk without using her crutches. But because of Neely's commitment to returning to the soccer field, she is much further in the process – and is even back to playing soccer.
She doesn’t play throughout the entire game, and she doesn’t play against teams that are known to be very physically aggressive, she says. But doctors say that she is much further than what they expected.
Kathy Neely said, “while she does not play for long, when she does, she makes game-changing plays.”
“She played for fifteen minutes and scored,” said Ragland, after one of Neely’s first games after her hip surgery.
Neely’s third surgery, this time on her right hip will be, June 5.
“I knew I was going to have to have it eventually, but I didn’t realize it would be so soon,” Neely said. “I really don’t think it’s hit me yet that I actually have to go through it again.”
Kathy Neely she’s nervous about the surgery, but ultimately, “I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Neely earned two state championships in 2009 and 2010 with the Charlotte Soccer Academy Elite Club National League. Her team advanced to the national game in 2012, but did not win. Neely says she will miss this year’s state and national games because she’ll be recovering. But she says wants to play in many more games in the future. And her friends, family, and coaches all say she is dedicated and can do anything that she sets her mind too.