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June 10, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Full transcript of Steve Zakuani’s group interview

zakuani mug.jpgAs mentioned in the post below, Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani met with the media for the first time since having his leg broken during an April 22 road game in Colorado. Here is the full transcript of the group interview:

* * *

(Can you give us an update on how are you doing?) “I’m doing good. Physically, I’m good. It is the best I have been. Every day you get some small victories, I make forward steps, so it’s the best I’ve been. I would like to say that the toughest times are behind me. My outlook is positive and looking forward. I’m just busy with rehab. It’s hard workload. It’s not what I’m used to – sometimes twice and day and stuff, just for the sake of trying to get better. I’m doing well.”

(Can you put into words how touch it’s been?) “No, I can’t put it into words. No. There are some things you just can’t explain. You can’t. You go through a battle, obviously, in your head, as well. If anything helped me it was that I immediately had good people around me. My parents were in town. I had good friends with me in Denver. When I get back to Seattle, I had good friends at the hospital constantly. I kind of was surrounded by that all the time. The toughest times were when I was alone, because then you really do think about it. It was not something easy to deal with. At my age, I think every player fears that type of injury. To have it happen, you can’t really control it. That’s tough to deal with. It still is tough. I’m not going to say I’ve got answers or I’m at peace with it. It’s something I’ve accepted and moved on from the second it happened.”

(Have you watched a replay of the tackle?) “No. I tried to watch it when I was in Denver — like the day I was leaving Denver – on my phone. But at the moment of the impact I kind of looked away. And then when I was at the hospital in Seattle I saw accidentally it on the screen. I was watching I think New York against L.A. and then they kind of showed my tackle, Ferreira and I think maybe Morales at that time. So it kind of came on the screen by accident, but apart from that I haven’t seen it. I have the real footage up here. I don’t need YouTube.”

(Have you talked to Brian Mullan?) “We haven’t spoken, but to be fair to him he did try to reach out when I was in Colorado. Their trainer called Randy – our trainer – but I was like in between surgeries, so I didn’t get a chance to speak to him. And when I got back to Seattle he tried to call again, but it just never quite worked out. It’s something where I have not got a problem with him. Some Colorado people came to see me at the hospital: Sanna (Nyassi), Tyrone (Marshall), Terry Cooke, one of the old players was there, and a few others came. I told them what I have told you: I have no problem with Brian Mullan. It was a bad tackle. I’m sure it’s something he’d love to take back. I’d love him to take it back, too. But he did it. The second it happened you accept it and you move on. So I have not spoken to him. I’m open to speaking to him. I have no issue there. But for me it’s something where there’s nothing that needs to be said. I mean, what is he going to say to me, what am I going to say to him? He has what he has to deal with, and I’m dealing with it, too, and you kind of just move on.”

(Is there forgiveness in your heart?) “Absolutely. There was never any bitterness. All my energy was focused on getting better. The second that it happened, going off the field I was already planning my recovery. I was already trying to estimate what it’s going to take, and I was thinking to myself people who I know who have broken their leg and how it was for them and what they did. That was all my focus, and my focus was on making sure my family was OK and that I was OK, and it wasn’t on having any kind of hatred or bitterness toward Brian Mullan. That’s too much of a burden to carry. From the beginning I’ve had no problems with it. Bad tackles happen. It was a really bad tackle, but they happen and I just happened to be on the wrong end of it.”

(Where are you now in recovery?) “Riding a bike for the last couple of weeks. Going on this special treadmill that they have up there. It’s strange, where you can decrease your body weight so that I’m not fully putting weight on my leg running, so I can start jogging a bit. I’m walking crutch-less some days now. I’m driving. I’m pretty mobile and functional now – just not walking everyday without crutches and not jogging yet obviously. But I think that’s the natural progression. Like I said, every day is some small victory. I go to rehab on Wednesday and then come back on Friday and my leg can bend a bit more than it could the previous time, and that’s a victory we celebrate. Maybe I can put a bit more weight standing on one leg or something. That’s what I’m focusing on, just the small victories. I think – without setting some kind of time limit – maybe toward the end of July I’ll start really jogging, doing some really slow jogging. That’s my goal.”

(Does it help knowing you’ve come back from a bad injury before?) “To an extent, yeah, but at that time, this wasn’t my job. I could have just packed it in and gone and become a reporter or something. At that point it was kind of a case where, ‘Well, I’m going to try to come back, if it doesn’t work I can go into another career.’ But now this is my career, it’s what I do. I’ve been playing for the last two years. To have it taken away from me, that’s the toughest part to accept. The first game I went to–and the only game I’ve been to–was the Kansas City game, and that was tough in the sense that, you just miss it. I hadn’t been there in a while and I’d seen it on TV, but it’s not the same. Hearing the fans and seeing the guys play, you want to be out there. To have that taken away is rough. That’s the hardest thing for me, that’s what I can say hurts me the most–more than the tackle, more than the pain I feel, more than anything. It’s just not being able to come out here and train every day, I can’t drive into training, that’s what I miss. I just love playing football. I’ve played since I was five years old, so to not be able to do that is what’s so rough.”

(Does it help to visualize what it will be like to get back?) “You have to. One of the best emails I got was actually from David Beckham. He sent me an email and he just said that he’s dealt with injuries in his career and he said there’s going to be days when you going to feel like you’re not going to ever get back. And then there will be days when you feel like, ‘OK, I will get back.’ And Deon Butler from the Seahawks sent me an email, I spoke to him. He had the same kind of injury, and he said, ‘Look, you’re going to have to deal with so many doubts and stuff.’ And they were right. Some days you lay in bed you’re thinking, ‘Man…’ For me the thing is, I was playing at a really high level just before I got injured. I was reaching a point in my game where I was happy with my consistency, my output for the team, and everyday in training I was getting better. To have that suddenly stopped was rough. You kind of think, ‘Wow, it’s going to be hard to get back there. I worked to get there. Now I’m going to have to work double hard just to get that back.’ So that’s the hard part. But then there are other days where you have a small victory and feel like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely going to play. I’m definitely going to get this back and get that back. Get this part of my game back,’ and then you start feeling good. So you just deal with a lot battles in your head. That’s the first battle you have to win–the mental battle. If you can win that one, then I think you’re well on your way. The physically part is going to happen naturally. Even when I do come back, how confident will be going into tackles? That kind of stuff. That’s the mental battle I have to win.”

(What do you consider a small victory?) “Everything. Everything. I couldn’t feel my foot for the first three weeks. There was no sensation. So doctors would come and they’d be running their hands on my foot, and I wouldn’t even know they were doing it. So the second I feel them putting their finger on my big toe, that’s a great victory. I could celebrate that. Now it’s 75-percent back, so that’s a good victory. Everything. The main problem is in my foot really. The fracture site hasn’t really (had) any issues. We had some nerve problems in the foot, so that’s been the main issue. That’s where I’ve had the most pain, loss of feeling, loss of sensation, so as that comes back in my toes, those are the main issues I’m dealing with, because I depend on my foot a lot for my job. I’m trying to get it back.”

(In terms of full soccer, are you thinking training camp 2012?) “No. Again one of the things David said to me was, ‘Don’t set a timeline.’ And I’d already told the doctors the first night, ‘Don’t tell me it’s going to be six months or eight months. I don’t want to hear that,’ because if they told me six months and then after seven months I wasn’t back, I’d become depressed. I just wanted to work on my own timeline and I’ll be back and when I’m back. I’ve set no kind of timeline. The way it’s going, honestly, one week I can’t bend my leg, and then the next week I’m walking. And then I’m walking with two crutches and I can barely do it, and then by next week I’m on no crutches. It happens pretty quickly sometimes, so I’m not ruling anything out. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to do my best to get back as soon as I can, and whenever that is, I’ll be happy.”

(Is the league doing enough to stop dirty tackles?) “I’m not really going to speak on the fines and the suspensions. I just think there’s only so much the league can do, because sometimes there’s a really bad tackle and luckily the guy doesn’t get injured. So would you penalize that tackle? I don’t know. Are you going penalize only when people break their leg or break their ankle or something? It’s tough to say. I just think there has to be an overall approach where you encourage referees to protect players. I think if referees would card people–there was a tackle on Rosales in the game against Chicago, and he didn’t give the guy a yellow card. It doesn’t stop the guy from doing it again if he doesn’t get booked. If you give him a yellow card, you send a strong message. I think it comes down to, you have to be managed on the pitch level. There’s only so much the league can do. They can’t fine and suspend every player in the league, so it has to be managed by us the players, just to kind of have an awareness of just being safe. You have to be safe. You can’t just dive rashly into tackles and injure players. That’s not a good way to play football. So I think it comes from the referees, and also us.”

(Did you see the #11 tribute during the Toronto game?) “I was watching that game, but those were really the early days. I was so drowsy that I was in and out of sleep, and I missed that one. My mom was at the game with three of my good friends. They came back to the hospital that night and they were like speechless to what they saw. I went on YouTube and it was like, ‘Yeah, that was really emotional.’ I couldn’t believe it. You can’t speak to something like that. To have 36,000 fans singing, and probably more at home, and everyone holding up (the cards), that stirs up some emotions you didn’t know you have. It was really amazing. I thank the fans everywhere. I’ve received hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters from all over the world, from places I didn’t even know people knew me. It’s amazing. That definitely encourages you and keeps you going. That was an amazing tribute and I’m always going to be grateful to the Sounders fans.”

(When you went to the Kansas City game, did that help or hurt?) “I think that hurt me mentally, to be honest. Sigi was trying to get me to go to games from the beginning and I was like, ‘Coach I can’t come. I can’t come.’ I had a feeling it would just be too hard. When I came, I was there with my friends and we had a suite. There were like 12 of us or something and we were having a good time and celebrated Parke’s goal, but when I got home you go from such a high to a (low) because you can’t play. You can’t play. You’re limping around. You go from being such an active person enjoying a good career to having to depend on others to get things for you for at times, then you’re limping around on one leg — yeah, it was a hard experience.”

(Did you know how bad the injury was when it happened?) “I was the first one to know. I think when I got hit I remember being on my back and my leg was in the air and I saw right away that it was bent out of shape. So I was calm from the beginning. If I didn’t see that and one of the trainers came on and said, ‘Your leg’s broken,’ I would’ve probably panicked. But I was the first one to know. Some of the players started rushing over and I told them, ‘Look, my leg’s broken. My leg’s broken.’ Brad came and Jhon Kennedy came and Pat came, as soon as the trainer came he said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I said, ‘My leg’s broken.’ So I knew. I wasn’t really in pain at the time, then it slowly started to throb. Even then in Colorado the Sounders fans were cheering my name, I applauded them, got in the back of the ambulance and right there you start the mental battle. You just start trying to calm yourself down and say, ‘I hope it’s not as bad as it looks.’ Just seeing it bent out of shape already took a lot out of me, and I was in the back of the ambulance watching the game go on and that’s been the story since.”

(Was it tough deciding to stay in Colorado for surgery?) “I just wanted to get it done. They were kind of debating if they were going to do surgery that night and I just told them, ‘Go and get it done right away,’ because my doctors here in Seattle were calling them and they weren’t sure if they were going in. But we got it done right away and it was a good thing we did, as well. I just wanted to get it done. I just wanted to get recovered. When you break your leg you don’t really anticipate that you’re going to have complications in your knee, in your ankle, in your foot. You just think it’s a broken leg but there’s no much more that goes into it. You lose weight, and for me I shouldn’t be losing weight. That’s not a good thing at all. I’ll get it back, obviously, but there’s a lot more that goes into it than just the broken leg. You lose sensation in your foot and it just so much stuff that goes into it that you don’t know at the time. It’s been a long battle already, it’s going to go longer, but like I said, where I’m speaking from right now, those times are behind me. Right now my mindset is good. My outlook is good. I’m feeling good and I’m making progress everyday. I feel like slowly but surely I’ll be coming back here everyday, even if I can just jog on the side and watch the guys train, that would be enough for me.”

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