Soccer players place sprint workouts somewhere between necessary evil and bane of their existence.
On a summer day in Utah, the up-and-back, mundane group of exercises became an epiphany to Arizona Wildcats midfielder Lexe Selman.
“I was doing the sprint workout (to get prepared for the UA season). I had been fighting for so long to get my fitness back,” said Selman, who is from Draper, Utah, which is about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. “That’s what came slowest, probably the fitness. There was just this one day — and it was a tough workout — but I was able to finish it and I made all the times. I was like ‘Yes! I’m finally turning the corner. My fitness is about there.’ ”
Before turning that corner, she passed as imposing of an edifice as you’ll ever see — leukemia.
With a UA scholarship in hand, Selman expected to be heading off to Tucson last year. But in April 2012, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Midfielders who have great drive and work hard from box to box are often said to have a “good engine.” In that case, Selman’s engine must be a 428-cubic-inch, 335-horsepower Cobra Jet V-8. She overcame four rounds of chemotherapy, a medically-induced paralysis and a fever that reached 107 degrees.
Between rounds of chemo, she made a cameo in one of her club team’s matches — and she scored a cracking goal.
With the support of many, including the entire UA squad that sent her cards and wore her uniform number — 13 — on their pre-match jerseys last season, Selman survived.
She returned to high-level competitive soccer this summer with the Real Salt Lake Women of the Women’s Premier Soccer League. She played in four matches and scored a goal.
Selman said another breakthrough moment on the field came at an RSL Women’s practice.
“We were doing a five-on-three drill and I just was on fire. I couldn’t miss,” Selman said after a UA practice last week. “I said: ‘I think I’m ready.’ It was actually the practice right before I came down here.”
Delayed a year, her UA experience had some catching up to do.
“When I came down here it was fun because I could put two and two together, put names with faces,” Selman said. “It was a chance to get to talk to them and really thank them.
“Just being able to play alongside them now is even more awesome.”
The freshman has already made an impact and impressed her new coach.
Over the weekend, she helped the Wildcats start out the season with a pair of wins in Florida. The week before, Selman managed a goal and an assist in the Wildcats’ intrasquad scrimmage.
“She’s more of a playmaker type,” said first-year UA coach Tony Amato. “She’s going to find the players that do stretch the backs. She’s going to find seams and distribute the ball to players in dangerous positions.
“And she has a real knack for scoring impressive goals. She’s hit a few long-range shots and volleys just in the two weeks she’s been here that have really been impressive.”
For a player who doesn’t mind letting go of a few screamers from distance, she’s trying to take the same approach to her new lease on life.
“I still have to go in every two months to have my blood work taken,” Selman said. “They say after two years you can breathe easy and you most likely won’t relapse and that after five years they say you are completely cured.
“It’s really nice just to be in a new environment where I’m not constantly thinking about it and worrying about it and having it not hold me back in a sense but just kind of being there.
“I feel like I can be normal again and just not have to worry about having it hold me back.”
Defenders beware. Even a few more dreaded sprint workouts won’t likely help them keep up with Selman.