The Wellington Phoenix have given Rylee Foster the chance to return to professional football, nearly two years on from an horrific car accident that halted her promising career.
The Phoenix have signed the Canadian goalkeeper for the upcoming Liberty A-League season, after she said an emotional goodbye to Liverpool FC in June.
Foster, 25, was told she would never play again after she was thrown from a car in Finland in October 2021.
She suffered a range of serious injuries, the most significant of which were seven fractures in her neck, and was placed into an immobilising ‘halo’ upon her return to Liverpool to prevent sudden movement that could have resulted in catastrophic damage.
“The fact that I’m alive is phenomenal,” Foster said. “The injury that I sustained is known to kill you instantly, if not become a tetraplegic, which is what Christopher Reeve was.”
“Joining the Phoenix is very symbolic. It’s a new becoming. It’s an arising from something that was literally in ashes.
“I’ve been through a lot in the last two years, more than most people go through in their whole lives. There have been a lot of sacrifices and blood, sweat and tears to get to this point, and a lot of hurdles in regard to physical and mental health.
“I’m so happy that you’ll not only get to see me as a footballer here, but the new and improved side of myself with all the lessons that I’ve learned over the last two years and the adversity I’ve faced.
“This new version of myself could potentially be the best of the best and that’s what I’m excited about.”
The former Canada age-group international has also thanked the Wellington Phoenix for showing faith in her.
“It was a massive risk, and it was a risk for all parties, not just the coaching staff, but the physios, the medical team, the stakeholders and the owners.
“The fact that they want to commit to my future, take care of me as a person and my overall wellbeing, but also be along for the journey and very invested in it is important.
“When people buy into you, you buy into them, and I’ve been craving that trust and that organisation to put their trust in me, and I feel that here.
“I feel at home, and I feel ready to go and do what I need to do to pay back that trust.”
Rylee Foster believes the club’s training base at the New Zealand Campus of Innovation and Sport (NZCIS) is the perfect place for her to re-launch her career.
“With the way my body is now I need to do a lot more TLC. I’ve already been a very committed athlete and doing the typical rest and recovery protocols, but I have to take it up an extra notch.
“To have access to all the state-of-the-art facilities at NZCIS like hydrotherapy, the saunas, the red light room, the physios whenever I need and the mental health support is incredible.
“A lot of those things you don’t see even in the WSL in England or other top leagues.
“That was a major selling point for me because I know that my body is going to be taken care of.”
Foster has been in Wellington for the past week and had to pass a number of medical tests before the club offered her a contract.
“We had to tick a lot of boxes from a medical point of view, but Rylee was awesome,” Phoenix head coach Paul Temple said. “All the way through nothing was too difficult.
“It was a long week for her and for all of the medical team to get everything sorted, but I wanted to have her here to assess her for ourselves and find out what kind of person she was.
“Rylee just took everything in her stride and that showed us her maturity. She’s been a pleasure to deal with and her positivity rubs off on people that are around her.
“She’s going to be really good to have in the squad this season. Her different outlook on life will be really good for a lot of the younger players.”
It ends Temple’s four-month search for a second goalkeeper to compete with incumbent Brianna Edwards.
“We’ve been pushing to have two high quality players in every position so the squad is really competitive.
“Brianna was our number one goalkeeper in the league last year and we wanted to bring someone else in that could also be a number one goalkeeper.
“Those two can fight it out and there will be a really good competition for that place. I think that will bring the best out of both of them like it has everywhere else on the pitch.
“On paper we’ve probably got the best goalkeeping pair in the league.”
The Wellington Phoenix women’s squad for the 2023-24 Liberty A-League is now complete, with Rylee Foster joining fellow goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, defenders Hailey Davidson, Michaela Foster, Kate Taylor, Mackenzie Barry, Marisa van der Meer, Rebecca Lake and Zoe McMeeken, midfielders Annalie Longo, Hope Breslin, Chloe Knott, Grace Wisnewski, Alyssa Whinham, Macey Fraser, Olivia Ingham and Daisy Brazendale, and forwards Mariana Speckmaier, Emma Main, Michaela Robertson, Kelli Brown and Manaia Elliott.