Unlike her Everton Ladies teammates, Olivia Chance has not had much of a Christmas break this year. But the New Zealand international would not have it any other way.
Back at the end of April last year, the 25-year-old was taken off on a stretcher in a 3-0 loss at Reading, with scans revealing a partial tear of her anterior cruciate ligament. And for the past seven months she has been patiently yet tirelessly working on her comeback.
That was given a huge shot in the arm when Chance returned to the training pitches at USM Finch Farm to start running last month, a landmark point in her recovery.
So while the rest of Willie Kirk’s squad took a well-earned breather at the midway point of the campaign, there was no way Chance was following suit.
Alongside Everton’s Head of Rehabilitation Matt Taberner, the midfielder was hard at work, taking time off only on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
“It feels amazing,” she told evertonfc.com. “It has been a long, long seven months getting back to the point where I can put my boots back on and get out on the grass. It was a great moment for me in my recovery because it made me feel like I am back to being a footballer again.
“It definitely gives you that lift to keep on going. Every injury is obviously hard on the person going through it and for the most part I have handled that aspect of it quite well. But there are always days where you don’t feel like doing a certain exercise.
“Those are the days when Matt is really good. He makes sure that I am always putting the work in properly and I keep on track. Because of that, I have got back out onto the grass.
“Being in the gym a lot and working with the first team staff means people see you and I’ve had a few of the first team lads giving me little words of support. Whether that’s asking where I’m up to or having a bit of banter at Matt’s expense, it has always cheered me up. Jack Phillips has also been fantastic, especially on those down days. I’m very thankful to everyone for keeping me going.”
The hard work over the festive period has paid off. Chance graduated to ball work at the turn of the year, another significant milestone.
It has given her all the motivation she needs to keep going and make her first-team comeback. The ultimate goal, however, is to return to action in time for this summer’s World Cup. Chance’s New Zealand booked their place in France at the tail end of 2018 and the subsequent draw threw up an interesting clash that she is eager to be involved in.
“We drew the Dutch so there was a buzz with the likes of Inessa Kaagman, Siri Worm and Dominique Bruinenberg,” she smiled. “So there is a big incentive for me to work hard and return to playing in time for the tournament.
“First and foremost, of course, I want to get back playing for Everton. But there is a big hope and dream that I can play in France come June. That keeps me going when I have those tough days.
“For me personally, this injury is a step back, but it is not the end of the world. There are plenty of people out there who deal with career ending injuries or illnesses so that realisation has made it easier to deal with.
“The biggest thing that an injury teaches you are who the good people are around you and who is with you. Those people are huge and will help you get through the injury. In recovery, you don’t always show your true emotions but having the right people around you helps carry you through it.
“We have got me back on the pitch and they have gone well. The knee has shown really positive signs, no swelling and has shown that it is able to handle running. But I know there is still a long way to go.
“But I’ve had a big smile on my face being out on the pitch again, and I can’t wait to be enjoying my football again.”
Everton Ladies are back in action on Sunday when they face Chelsea at Kingsmeadow, kick-off 2pm.