23 - Kyah Simon: "I never wanted a free ticket, I wanted to defy the odds."

In the second installment of '23,' Kyah Simon, the comeback story of Tony Gustavsson's Matildas' squad for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ opens up about the mountains she had to overcome to cement herself a place at her third world FIFA Women's World Cup.

If you were looking for a poster girl for resilience, you'd need to look no further than Kyah Simon. At the age of 15 and on the cusp of receiving a scholarship to the NSW Institute of Sport, Simon suffered her first major injury, a broken leg.

Onlookers commented that this was the end for young Kyah, but were surprised to see her make her national team debut in 2007 at age 16. The following year she joined the Central Coast Mariners in the W-League, Australia's first professional football league for women since the 2004 Women’s National Soccer League.

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A foundation player, Simon thrived in the environment and throughout playing for the Mariners, Sydney FC and Melbourne City FC, Simon claimed six Championship trophies as well as becoming the only player to ever win the prestigious quadruple in one season: W-League Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Golden Boot Award.

Her talent would take her to the National Women's Soccer League in the US and later, the Women's Super League in England. She received her first World Cup call-up in 2011 and her second in 2015, where she became the first Indigenous player to score at a FIFA World Cup before going on to play at her first Olympic Games, Rio 2016.

Despite her success on the pitch, Simon's injury woes followed her throughout her career. She suffered multiple knee, shoulder and ankle reconstructions that left her unable to play for up to 12 months at a time.

Simon's syndesmosis injury in 2019 meant that she would miss out on participating in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France, a brutal blow for the forward, but she had the goal of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021 as motivation. Here she helped the team to their best-ever Olympic finish.

In September 2022, history repeated itself. Simon tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus slamming the door on another World Cup dream. With only nine months to recover, fans and punters wrote Simon off. But she wasn't giving up.

Kyah Simon is placed on a stretcher during the FA Women s Continental League Cup group match at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, Reading. Picture date: Sunday October 2, 2022.
Kyah Simon is placed on a stretcher during the FA Women s Continental League Cup group match at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, Reading. Picture date: Sunday October 2, 2022. 

"When I did my injury, straight away, my first thought was the World Cup. That was my sole motivation and focus every day," Simon said. 

"The pressure of suffering any injury so close to a major tournament is stressful, but, even more so, a long-term injury. It wasn't just my ACL either, it was my ACL, MCL and meniscus, the "terrible trio," they call it in the medical world."

Simon had already spent over 30 months out with injury prior to her most recent. Staring down the barrel of up to another 12 months on the sidelines, she was prepared for the real possibility that she would not be fit in time for the biggest tournament of her career.

"I've always been really determined and stubborn, even as a child," Simon explained when asked where her resilience to defy the odds came from.

"I had that willingness and mindset to chase my goals and dreams and even when I had setbacks, I gave myself no option but to move forward.

"Resilience was ingrained in me from a very young age. When I suffered my first major injury, that set me up for the tough road ahead in terms of those highs and lows, but especially the lows. With every injury or setback I've had, I had to learn to push through it," she continued.

"Those experiences taught me really quickly that being a professional athlete isn't always smooth sailing and I'd like to think that now, I've almost mastered the rehab process but my mentality has been the biggest side of things, because if you don't believe you can do it, then you've already lost half the battle."

Eight-hour rehab days were just the start of the mammoth effort Simon put in, to give herself the best chance of making her third world cup squad.

'I've probably worked the hardest that I ever have in my career," she shared.

"The endless days that I've spent in the gym, especially with the Matildas' physios, Jackie (Benz), Pete (Lion) along with the whole medical and support staff have been pivotal in giving me the best opportunity to be back for the World Cup.

"There's been many ups and downs and my girlfriend in the UK has been there for the good and bad days, dealing with my mood swings and helping me through it. Hopefully, all the blood, sweat and tears will pay off," Simon laughed.

We now know, that it did.

When Gustavsson called Simon into his meeting room to let her know whether she had made the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ squad, he firstly asked her how she was feeling.

"I haven't been able to sleep," Simon replied.

Gustavsson explained to Simon the breadth of attacking options available and how tough of a decision it was to pick his squad. 

"I am super impressed by your resilience because this isn't the first time you've gone through things like this and you just keep pushing through," the head coach said.

"I read a quote one time that said, "Out of adversity, grows miracles," and that's why this moment is very, very special for me to announce that you're part of the World Cup roster, Kyah."

Simon broke down in tears as Gustavsson told her that her selection wasn't tokenistic, her work ethic had earned her this call-up.

"I never wanted a free ticket, I wanted to defy the odds of just pushing myself to the limit," she told Gustavsson.

"I didn't want to leave any stone unturned and do all I could within my power and then if it was meant to be, it'll be. That's the mindset I've had from the get-go and I just want to thank you for trusting me and giving me that opportunity."

Matildas captain Sam Kerr spoke about how important Simon's presence will be for the team.

"Kyah is an exceptional player, she's scored some big goals for us at World Cups so when you have someone like that in the team, it just gives you confidence," she said.

"In training, she's looking really, really good and she has that knack for the goal and knack for doing something special. She's kind of an X factor and she has been her whole career.

"There are 23 players that can come off the bench and do something special, but Kyah is right up there in terms of having a bag of tricks in her back pocket."