One of world football’s most inspiring stories arrives in the A-Leagues: ‘The fact I’m alive is phenomenal’

Rylee Foster survived life-threatening injuries in a car crash and now is ready to resume her career, writes Tom Smithies

One of the most gruelling and remarkable comebacks in world football is close to an end after Wellington Phoenix signed Canadian goalkeeper Rylee Foster for the forthcoming Liberty A-League season.

Foster, signed as competition for Brianna Edwards as Phoenix’s No1, hasn’t played a competitive game since suffering horrendous injuries in a car accident two years ago.

Only cleared to play again in July, the 25-year-old is aiming to relaunch her career in the A-League Women after the life-altering injuries suffered when she was thrown through the windscreen of a car that had flipped over in Finland on the way to a gig.

Foster, who was a passenger in the car, suffered a multitude of injuries including bleeding on the brain and seven fractures in her neck. For months afterwards she had to wear a steel “halo” that was surgically attached to her skull to prevent any sudden movements, and meant she had to sleep sitting upright for six months.

After leaving Liverpool FC in May, following three years at the club, Foster has spent the past week at Phoenix passing a series of stringent medical tests and now aims to complete the final step in her return to play – a pledge she made soon after suffering the accident.

Rylee Foster (wearing immobilising “halo”) and Missy Bo Kearns of Liverpool in 2022.

“The fact that I’m alive is phenomenal,” Foster said. “The injury that I sustained is known to kill you instantly, if not become a tetraplegic, which is what Christopher Reeve was.

“Joining the Phoenix is very symbolic. It’s a new becoming. It’s an arising from something that was literally in ashes.

“I’ve been through a lot in the last two years, more than most people go through in their whole lives. There have been a lot of sacrifices and blood, sweat and tears to get to this point, and a lot of hurdles in regard to physical and mental health.

“I’m so happy that you’ll not only get to see me as a footballer here, but the new and improved side of myself with all the lessons that I’ve learned over the last two years and the adversity I’ve faced.

“This new version of myself could potentially be the best of the best and that’s what I’m excited about.”

The car Foster and some friends was travelling in overturned in icy conditions and she was thrown around 12m from the vehicle. It put on a hold a career that had seen her win Player of the Month awards at Liverpool – the club she had supported all her life – and earn a first call-up to the Canadian women’s national team shortly before the accident.

Foster admitted that Phoenix had shown faith in her by offering the chance to play again. “It was a massive risk, and it was a risk for all parties, not just the coaching staff, but the physios, the medical team, the stakeholders and the owners,” she said.

“The fact that they want to commit to my future, take care of me as a person and my overall wellbeing, but also be along for the journey and very invested in it is important.

“When people buy into you, you buy into them, and I’ve been craving that trust and that organisation to put their trust in me, and I feel that here.

“I feel at home, and I feel ready to go and do what I need to do to pay back that trust.”

Phoenix head coach Paul Temple said Foster had earned her chance to relaunch her career. “We had to tick a lot of boxes from a medical point of view, but Rylee was awesome,” he said. “All the way through nothing was too difficult.

“It was a long week for her and for all of the medical team to get everything sorted, but I wanted to have her here to assess her for ourselves and find out what kind of person she was.

“Rylee just took everything in her stride and that showed us her maturity. She’s been a pleasure to deal with and her positivity rubs off on people that are around her.

“She’s going to be really good to have in the squad this season. Her different outlook on life will be really good for a lot of the younger players.”