Hope Watson Discusses Sports Injuries and the Road to Recovery
The NYC-based model-slash-soccer player gets back in shape after a devastating ACL tear.
When you’re an athlete, your health is everything. Your very livelihood revolves around your well-being. So what happens when an athlete suffers a serious injury? The process to recovery is very much both a physical and mental one, testing your limits and endurance in every way. Such was the journey for soccer-obsessed NYC model Hope Watson, who experienced a devastating ACL tear last September. Since then, the Columbia film student has been undergoing an intense rehabilitation process that has provided an opportunity for careful self-inspection, as well as a newfound perspective on self-appreciation.
Challenged by premier soccer brand Storelli to keep in shape and train through her recovery process at famed Brooklyn boxing gym Gleason’s, which is where such legends as Muhammed Ali sparred and also served as the backdrop for Robert De Niro’s Raging Bull, Hope proves that strength can come in many forms. We recently caught up with the stunning athlete to learn more about her involvement with New York’s esteemed Chinatown Soccer Club, the mental and physical obstacles related to her recovery, being mistaken for Cara Delevingne, and more. You can read our exclusive interview below.
How did your passion for soccer (and fitness, in general) start?
A mixture of playing since age 7, influence from my brothers and Dad, and fandom via going to two World Cups. We would wake in the middle of the night in Australia to watch the EPL and Champions League. But simultaneously, I did track and field avidly. I got a silver medal at the Australian National Titles in high school. If you chatted to me at that age I would have told you I wanted to be an Olympian! A lot of the people I trained with represented Australia at the London Olympics in 2012.
Can you tell us a little more about your involvement with Chinatown Soccer Club and how it stands out from other soccer organizations?
CSC is this crew of lovely, mostly creative, New Yorkers that have been getting together a few times a week for the last 13 years. One must always bring an easy going nature to training and leave their slide tackles for Playstation. I’ve played with them for nearly two years and amazed by how talented they are off the field, from directing big broadway plays, to designing Nike sneakers and even having a cult following in the skate world.
How did your injury happen and what were the first few weeks like in terms of adjusting to daily life, etc.?
I tore my ACL in two stages. Firstly, a partial tear during a soccer match then after, thinking it was “just” a tendon issue, I pounced around at a beach party in the summer and fully tore it. But that night, just to save face, I pretended I wasn’t in much pain even though I was seeing stars – didn’t want to ruin the vibe, you know?
What has been the most significant physical and mental obstacles related to your recovery? What keeps you motivated and on track?
Hurting myself really put me in a tricky spot. I had been rather chill all summer and was about to start my semester at Columbia – then boom. It was like getting pregnant or something – I had to readjust so many things! It affected work a lot, there was a lot of pretending.
There’s a lot that I could explain about knees and ACL’s right now but basically, some people are stable after they tear their ACL and some aren’t. I was lucky to be stable (ie. able to walk and jog with only slight pain), so I decided to push my surgery back to later in the year so I could play out 2015 a little more, and do the surgery closer to the holiday break.
The mental obstacles are countless. I hated not being able to play soccer, I was worried I’d put on weight and I found it harder to concentrate at university. Sometimes just walking into physical therapy just got me in this mood that reminded me of all of the things I couldn’t do. After surgery when I was allowed on the bike again, I was going as slow as a 92-year-old and in so much pain with every rotation. It’s hard. Definitely a lesson in patience, a virtue I am well acquainted to now!
We have to love our bodies and be grateful for all the things they help us achieve day to day. Really.
Can you describe to us what your workout regiment is like, including diet?
I’m about 4.5 months post-op and have a little more flexibility with what I can do now (outside of my physical therapy sessions) so my week is usually 3 PT sessions, which consists of a series of exercises that I’ve slowly built up to be able to do. I’m working on agility stuff at the moment, which feels like a big step. Everytime I add a new exercise I feel so sore, so I try and balance myself out with a yoga session or steam room. I’ll also throw in a boxing session or something more fun, now that I can move around a little more deftly.
As for food – I’m surprised the word diet didn’t fade out in the 90’s! I don’t juice. I’m not gluten intolerant. I don’t count calories. I try to see food as fuel and minimize neurosis about food, where possible. I love to cook. Usually fresh veggies, meat or fish. I drink A LOT of coffee, balanced closely with a lot of water…I love red wine, but try to keep drinking to 2-3 times a week. I have a horrible sweet tooth, but I limit my sugar intake. It makes my skin spaz out.
What was your reaction to the Storelli BodyShield? Will you wear it when you return?
After I took my required medical knee brace off I wore Storelli’s BodyShield Knee Guard for that extra feeling of security. The brace was really firm and was way less bulky and lighter in weight than I expected. When I play again, it’ll be important to have it on just as a little reminder to be in full control of my body. For example, not to take three pivot turns just to be tricky – I’ll just pass instead!
Having studied film, how would you describe your relationship to film, fashion and fitness? Are the three connected for you?
Film and fitness/sports are important parts of my life, fashion less so – I care about style and color, but less about brands and trends. Growing up, I had this kind of unusual mix of being around both sporty and creative environments. My parents had an art gallery in Canberra, I would sit there doing my homework and then go to training at the track or soccer practice.
I love that the medium of film can be so many things, that it can be a mixture of visual and sound thoughts simultaneously. I want to create a more artful version of what a sporty woman can be via film – not so much the flashy and commercial stuff.
Why did you choose to train at Gleeson’s, which is famously known for its rich history in boxing more than any other sport?
Storelli is based around the corner and challenged me to rehab there and get familiar with the BodyShield. I wanted to mix it up and the space looked like a blast. I normally do my physical therapy stuff in a gym for people recovering from serious injuries.
Has anyone ever mistaken you for Cara Delevigne? Any funny stories related to this?
Can I have your autograph… Can I take a photo with you… It feels really weird. It happened way more when she was kind of borderline famous – one time a paparazzi photographer took photos of me eating lunch in Brooklyn. I hope they made a buck out of that.
What do you like to do on your “cheat days”?
My boyfriend and I like to go on adventures to restaurants that are known for a particular cuisine, say in Astoria, Queens, Harlem. We go there and stuff our faces and hopefully learn something about the different cultures along the way. It’s the best!
What advice would you give to other recovering athletes? To those looking to live a more active lifestyle?
Try to find pleasure in the rehabilitation process, take the task of healing your body diligently. I’ve learnt that’s the only way. Not to be hyped up on any corny self help feel, but we have to love our bodies and be grateful for all the things they help us achieve day to day. Really.
- Sam Maller/Sam.maller