Sadie Dunphy’s life was changed forever after a routine walk to her morning weights workout. As she made her way to the gym, she had a seizure and fell, hitting her head on the concrete.
According to data from the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), women’s soccer players have the third-highest ACL injury rates in NCAA sports. Concussions are the second-most common injury seen in NCAA women’s soccer players. Sadie and her older sister Sierra both have dealt with unexpected and career-altering injuries during their time playing for the LMU Women’s D-1 soccer team. Although these injuries have put a pause on their careers, the sisters always find a way to persevere and find new ways to contribute.
Sadie, a sophomore on LMU’s women’s soccer team plays with her older sister Sierra, a senior. Sierra and Sadie Dunphy are a dynamic duo on and off the field. The sisters began playing competitive soccer in the U8 league, both at just seven years old, and have played competitively, at the highest level for their age ever since.
In addition to playing together, the tight-knit sisters live together.
“We hang out every day, even when we’re not playing soccer together,” Sadie said. “We love hanging out together and going to the beach. It’s been a really unique experience that we go to college together, and it has made us so close.”
Sierra began playing for LMU in 2019. As a freshman, she had to sit out due to a labrum tear in her hip that happened right before she came to college. She faced more challenges when she tore her other labrum during the spring season of her freshman year. Despite her injuries, Sierra came back in full force as a sophomore, where she started eight games in the Spring of 2021, with two assists, while logging 745 minutes. She was named to the All-WCC honorable mention team.
When Sadie committed to LMU as a sophomore in high school, the sisters were excited to finally have the opportunity to step out onto the field together. They didn’t get the chance to play together in high school because they both played at the Academy level, which forbade participation in high school soccer.
“Academy soccer is basically a year-round club and mimics a professional environment,” Sadie explained. “I didn’t really get to have a high school soccer experience, which is a bummer, but I loved my club team and it helped me prepare for college soccer.”
Sierra and Sadie were finally able to step onto the soccer field together for the first time in 2021 when Sadie was a freshman. Sadie had a fantastic first season, starting in 18 games with 1,616 minutes played; she was ranked second on the team.
“Playing next to your sister is really something awesome; I know my parents were super excited to see us out there together, and we had a really fun time,” Sierra recalled. “I think we had a really good dynamic on the field because we’re sisters, and it wasn’t awkward to hold each other accountable.”
The sisters enjoyed only a short time playing together. Sadie’s seizure occurred in February 2022; she suffered a severe concussion from the fall and was soon diagnosed with a form of juvenile epilepsy.
“I’ve been going to concussion therapy, basically like physical therapy for my eyes, called cellular therapy,” Sadie shared. “Because I’ve had lasting impacts from my concussion, I still can’t track the field, and certain movements make me really nauseous and give me vertigo. It’s really scary.”
Sierra suffered an ACL tear last season on top of the double hip surgery she endured the previous season. Her experience has allowed her to better support and guide her younger sister.
“I tell her to try and stay positive because I know what she’s going through is really, really hard,” Sierra said. “She’s only 18 years old, and to have a diagnosis like that is life-changing. We bond over how hard it is to watch your team play and not be able to contribute.”
As Sadie continues to heal and recover, she isn’t sure if she will be able to play again since head injuries are unpredictable.
“I’m hesitant about returning to play and need to make sure that my head and health are my priorities,” Sadie said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to play soccer again in the spring, but it’s still up in the air as I’m trying to heal and be mindful of my epilepsy. Coming into a D-1 sport, it’s almost inevitable you’re going to get injured — but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.”
Sadie explains the concerning regularity of these life-altering injuries from women’s soccer: “My concussion [due to the epileptic seizure] happened away from soccer, but I’ve also had concussions from playing soccer and numerous other injuries,” Sadie said. “Sierra has had double hip surgery, and several girls on my team have had surgeries that may have lifelong impacts on their mobility. I think the sport is really dangerous, and the rate of concussions is really scary.”
Although both sisters won’t participate on the field this season, they are still passionate about the sport and optimistic about the team’s future.
“It has been a huge transition year, and I mean, we’ve already done so much better than we had done previously last year,” Sadie said. “Our team is doing a lot better this season. I think our new coaches have come in and really changed the way our team is playing.”
“I don’t think we’re going to do perfectly this year, but I think that it’s definitely looking like we’re moving in the right direction,” Sadie shared.”I’m really excited to see where the program is heading.”