No athlete is truly tested until they’ve stared adversity in the face and come out the other side stronger than ever. For Irish international footballer Chloe Mustaki, these words encapsulate her story so far.
Six years on from being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 2020 was set to be the year where Chloe Mustaki finally earned her long awaited first senior international cap. Yet she was drawn another cruel hand. The night before her potential debut against Greece back in March, she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in training.
An innocuous challenge in training left Mustaki with another setback to overcome. The timing could not have been worse – on the brink of an international cap and just a few months into her new club career with London based side, Charlton Athletic.
"It's just over a year since I tore my ACL," said Chloe Mustaki on the It’s Just Sport podcast. "It's been a long road to be honest, I swear every time it gets closer, it almost gets harder."
"I'm finding it much harder now than I did at the start...I don't even know what my emotions are going to be like when I get back on that pitch and play those first few minutes. I could cry at any point during the day at the moment thinking about it - particularly with how tough the last year has been."
Chloe Mustaki joined the It's Just Sport podcast as a guest and gave a fascinating insight into her incredible journey, resilient mindset as well as talking about elevating women's sport and women's soccer in Ireland.
Mustaki, who was born in Ohio in the US to French and Irish parents, lived in Paris for a few years before moving to Ireland. She was always sporty, and credits her older brother for sparking her love for sport.
At five years old, she played football on the street with her brother and his friends. Mustaki also played tennis, but decided she was doing better in football so dropped it aged 14. She received her first international call up for Ireland at 13 years old. Last summer, Mustaki captained Ireland at the World University Games. Despite being the lowest ranked University team in the tournament, Mustaki captained the side to a fourth-place finish.
The 24-year-old started her playing career at Park Celtic before making the move to St Joseph’s as a teenager. Attending St. Andrews College, the midfielder then made the switch to Peamount United winning the first ever Women’s National League in 2011. A supremely talented young footballer, Mustaki received International Player Of The Year at U17 level.
It was in 2014 where Mustaki faced one of the one of the hardest periods in her life. As a 19-year old, Mustaki was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma her diagnosis with lymphoma after captaining the Irish under-19s to the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2014.
The “History Girls”, as they were known, were drawn into a heavyweight group with experts giving them no hope. Ireland were pitted against previous winners England and Sweden as well as the runners-up from the tournament two-years prior, Spain.
Never bet against the Irish. Led by Mustaki, Ireland beat Spain, England and Sweden to reach the semis, and were the first ever Irish team to qualify for the under-19 championships. The great team included the likes of current Ireland captain Katie McCabe, forward Clare Shine and Mayo footballer Sarah Rowe.
“It turned out I had a type of blood cancer. It was a major shock to the system at the time - I'd just turned 19. "
"It has definitely made me more resilient and strong. It has definitely helped me, in the first stage of tearing my ACL, to have a good perspective on things and to accept that it was just another bump in the road,” she says.
As she continues to heal, Mustaki is optimistic for the future of women's football in Ireland and for her own career. This last year has brought greater stability and consistency as well as resources and support to women's football, causing Mustaki to speculate that it is in fact possible to reach the World Cup.