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.
Now a fully fledged Irish international playing professionally for Bristol City FC, it hasn't always been plain sailing for the former St. Andrews College student.
Mustaki 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.
Having made her debut for Peamount at the age of 16, it would have come to a surprise to many that it would be ten years before she would make her senior international debut. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma followed by two ACL injuries, Mustaki has overcome setback after setback and those hard times have made her treasure every moment she puts on the Irish jersey.
How does it feel to play for Ireland? "It means the world," declares Mustaki.
Lucky to be able to travel while doing what we love 💚 pic.twitter.com/JJSMBvyOQH
— Chloe Mustaki (@CMustaki) September 4, 2022
"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,” said Mustaki
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a strong band of tissue connecting the thigh and shin bones; tears are not unusual for soccer players, but are some of the most terrifying injuries an athlete can face because of their severity, often requiring surgery and more than a year of recovery.
Mustaki took 18 months to recover completely — although she says it should've been faster. When asked what advice she'd give her earlier self, she responds "I would allow myself to be more okay with the time out... I tried to hit metrics too quickly, it took me 18 months to get back when it should've been 14." She is competitive and her attitude means she demand results from herself as quickly as possible — an attitude that has made it possible for her to succeed, but one she's also learned to balance with prioritizing long-term recovery.
Since returning from the long-term injury, she made 22 appearances for Shels and was part of the 2021 Women’s National League winning side and became a regular for Vera Pauw’s national team. Ireland are bidding to go where no other team has gone before - qualification for a first ever senior major tournament.
Mustaki reflects on the "overwhelming" 10 days of the team's qualifying campaign for the World Cup and the emotional reaction of the team to the consecutive 1-0 victories against Slovakia and Finland. It was a different feeling in the changing room before the two matches: the boost — as well as the added pressure of having friends and family in the crowd for the match against Finland.
"We've been working toward qualification for over a year now. When it's all in your hands, it's almost harder because if you slip up, it's down to yourself."
Still, it was a hard-fought victory despite the extremely tight turnaround between games and the feeling after the job was done will be a memory forever.
"There was a lot of emotions, people running around the place. You could see after we walked around Tallaght thanking everyone there was just people crying, people laughing, we just couldn't believe that we had actually qualified for the play-offs and of course making history."
Now fully recovered and raring to go, Mustaki has big aspirations for her future. Her dream is to play in the Women's Super League for Bristol City, and hopes to help the Ireland team qualify for more major tournaments.
"There was a lot of emotions running around the place before the Finland game"@CMustaki sat down to share her journey in Irish football, recovering from her ACL injury during lockdown to beating Finland in front of friends & family
Interview live tomorrow
🤝 @AvonmoreProtein pic.twitter.com/jF3O2Trs2H
— Her Sport (@HerSportDotIE) September 28, 2022