Highlands Ranch’s Shae Holmes overcomes 3 ACL tears to reach NWSL

Shae Holmes doesn’t want to hear your wise cracks about having bad knees. Hers are so scarred up she’s got two separate cadavers holding them together.

Yet even after three ACL tears between both knees plus having an ALL, a backup ACL on her right just in case, Holmes still puts on her OL Reign jersey every Saturday. The Highlands Ranch defender who spent five years at the University of Washington and countless hours in physical therapy is making her way through her rookie season in the NWSL — healthy, at long last.

The third ACL tear of her soccer career left the biggest doubt, if only for a moment. It happened in 2021 against Utah, and her longest supporters, her parents and grandparents, plus longtime head coach Lorne Donaldson, were in attendance. Even Donaldson recalled thinking, “This might be the end of her, now.” Not Holmes.

“Here I am thinking, ‘When can your body stop? When do you start thinking about your life after soccer?’” Holmes recalled. “After the game I was crying and went up to my mom. I knew it was torn and looked at her and said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna stop until I’ve reached my goals in life with soccer. I will do this however many times it takes to get to that level I want to get to.’”

Growing up and playing for her club, Real Colorado, she was another player from the rookie class of 2023 on an upward trajectory from an early age. She was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017, and U.S. youth national team scouts were well aware of the 5-foot-8 fearless defender.

“Growing up, Shae was a type of player who played with a smile on her face,” Donaldson told The Post. “She was always a very good defender, very good teammate in the locker room, and she has a great left foot, too.”

Once the injuries came, they came thick and fast. First, it was in December 2017 while Holmes was still in high school. The next time her ACL gave out, not even a minute into her debut for the Huskies, she calls her “30 seconds of glory” moment. She got to know the trainers very well but managed to come back and help the U.S. U-20s win a World Cup.

After each injury, Holmes learned something new. First, how to deal with the physical demands of recovery and what “normal” should feel like. The second was how to find joy even when it was the most mentally taxing on her. Her final lesson? Finding her purpose to be the best teammate possible. After recovering, she had a satisfying final season at UW as she started all 19 games, earned second-team Pac-12 honors and scored a game-winning free kick against the Utes.

“It’s like a miracle to me that she can come back, but not just that, but to come back and play good football,” Donaldson said. “It’s very difficult (to find your form) after injuries like that because of the recovery times. … Knowing her mentality and what it takes, she’s just so mentally tough.”

Holmes’ persistence and “positive vibes only” motto after each tear paid off in January’s draft when she was selected 19th overall by Seattle’s OL Reign. Holmes trained with the Reign in the fall of 2020 and knew head coach Laura Harvey from when she coached Holmes with the U.S. U-20s.

After more time spent on the training table than on the pitch, Holmes is embracing everything about her rookie year and the professional environment she had waited so long for.

“When you want to do this as a career and when you want to pour everything into soccer, it’s your dream environment,” Holmes said. “Every day you’re coming to compete and work hard. … Truly, when you’re meant to be in this environment, this is what you’ve been waiting for. College and club were great, competitive steps but this is a different love now, to be at the top of everything.”

Donaldson said he wants to see Holmes keep smiling. After her journey, who can blame him?

“I look at everything now that I’m getting up to this point in game moments as a bonus and as a fun add-on to what I’m imaging this experience to be,” Holmes said. “It truly is learning and growing from all the players every day.”

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