Soccer: Perez overcomes adversity

Balers senior Austin Perez, right, didn't let two separate torn ACL injuries deter her from making a strong comeback.

When Austin Perez suffered a second torn anterior cruciate ligament during her sophomore year—her second in three years—it would’ve been easy for her to give up athletics permanently.
After all, because of complications from multiple infections, Perez had to undergo surgery five different times on her right knee. That’s enough to put serious doubt into a professional athlete’s mind, let alone a teenager.
“I had five surgeries because I kept getting infections in my knee,” said Perez, who was a starter in the fall on the Haybalers’ inaugural field hockey team, a two-year starter at wing for the soccer team and the girls winner last year for the school’s bodybuilding competition. “It was hard to keep going, but I always had family and friends to help me out. But I’m mentally stronger because I went through that experience.”
The San Benito High senior was only allowed to play soccer again after her parents gave her an ultimatum: get stronger and build up her leg muscles to decrease the chances of another torn ACL. Perez did just that, relentlessly going hard in the gym to strengthen her body.
“I got super into weight lifting and then into bodybuilding,” she said. “I would spend hours in the gym rehabbing, and after a while I had a check-up with my orthopedic surgeon, and he said, ‘I don’t know how you did it, but your legs are tree trunks.’”
Perez’s physical prowess is on display on the soccer field, as she was one of the team’s leading scorers last year and has made a major impact this season with her ability to stay on the field for the entire game.
“This year I really haven’t been substituted out yet,” she said. “So I feel good about my playing shape, but it was a rough start (skills-wise) because I hadn’t touched the ball in a while since I played field hockey. I’m back in soccer mode again, and I think the team’s chemistry is coming along.”
The Balers beat North Salinas 6-0 on Dec. 18, a match in which Perez scored her first goal of the season. As a wing player, Perez’s job is to stretch the field, make crosses and open up scoring opportunities for the team’s strikers.
“I want to help the team play well together and get some assists, because that means I helped someone else score,” she said.
Perez comes from a soccer-playing family. Her older sister, Victoria, is a junior on the Bellevue College women’s soccer team in Nebraska after she starred for San Benito High and Hartnell College. Perez’s younger brother, Victor, is a junior on the boys soccer squad.
Perez’s strengths include being reliable, strong on the ball and always going hard in practice and the matches. Even though Perez loves soccer, her No. 1 passion is bodybuilding. Her father, Victor, was into bodybuilding. Perez is also into Crossfit-type workouts, and she credits strength-training as the reason why she feels stronger than ever.
“My dad told me after I tore my knee the second time that if I didn’t start working out, I’d get hurt again,” Perez said. “Getting stronger from bodybuilding has changed my life so much. I would say winning (the school’s bodybuilding competition last year) has been my greatest individual accomplishment.”
However, Perez’s most difficult feat was returning to athletic competition after she suffered a second torn ACL two weeks before the start of soccer season in her sophomore year.
“It was so devastating because I was so excited for the season,” she said. “It was a lot to take in at the time. But looking back, I’ve come out such a stronger person for it.”

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