Meghan Root is back doing the carrying on the pitch instead of being carried around to spots on it by her coach.
It's a situation the Pioneer girls soccer star is grateful to be experiencing again.
The Panthers' all-time scoring leader is pain free and thriving again in the sport she loves after missing all of last season while recovering from surgical procedures that corrected issues with her hip, adductor muscles and labrum.
Root has been making up for lost time, depositing 20 goals through her team's first six games. The 5-foot-5, 125-pound 17-year-old leads Section VI in total goals and points (45). Her contributions have the Panthers off to an unbeaten start and the three-time defending ECIC III champions are in first place in the division.
"Being able to play again is the best," said Root, who has verbally committed to Syracuse University. "Last year was really hard for me to be away from it for so long. I think I learned a lot from it. I always appreciated playing. I don't think I took it for granted, but now more so, any time I touch the ball, every practice, every training session just means more."
So too do any milestones.
While Root is already Pioneer's all-time leader in goals and points (258), she attained a feat Monday night she expected to achieve much sooner: She scored twice during a 2-0 win over East Aurora, pushing her career-goal total to 101.
In a sport where goals are hard to come by, she's managed to finish strong ever since being called up to varsity late in the season as a seventh-grader.
"Last year I kind of expected that would be the year (I'd pass 100)," said Root, who grew up playing and training with several of the area's top scholastic stars who recently graduated on the club-team circuit -- including current Division I freshmen Madisyn Pezzino (Grand Island, now with Florida State) and Marissa Birzon (Williamsville East, now with Ohio State).
"Last year really tested me mentally," Root said, "but I couldn't be prouder or happier to be back on the field doing what I love with people I love. Monday night was very special."
It’s a moment she has been working for since Aug. 11, 2016, the day she had surgeries to repair a cam and pincer type femoroacetabular impingement along with torn adductor muscles and a partial tear of the labrum at the Vincera Institute in Philadelphia.
Root needed to get her femur bone shaved down so that it could fit into her hip joint properly. While Dr. Stuart Coleman performed that procedure and sewed her labrum back together, a different doctor, William Myers, repaired her torn adductor muscles that had been ripped away from the pelvic bone.
It took four months for Root to receive the proper diagnosis, which was roughly as long as she played with the injury -- all in hopes of earning the dream soccer scholarship to Syracuse.
Root started to feel some discomfort in her hip and core area shortly after her sophomore scholastic season, during the start of her club/premier league campaign with the Western New York Flash.
From late December 2015 until March 2016, ice, ibuprofen and her will power enabled her to not just play but do so at the high level she needed to get noticed by a school that plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the top three women's soccer conferences in the country.
Why did Root play through such excruciating pain instead of seeking help from a physician?
"In women's soccer, the big recruiting time is your sophomore year," said Root, who used to live in Syracuse until she was about 5 years old and regularly attended basketball games at the Carrier Dome. "If you want to get a good offer you have to do it then. … It's always been my goal to play Division I soccer.
"Syracuse was always one of my dream schools. If I had stopped playing, the communication may have stopped so I had to continue playing. If I hadn't played it may not have worked out. They had to see more of me and come to the big showcase tournaments. In my mind it wasn't a choice."
"She just pushed through" the pain, said Alex Sahlen, Root's coach with the Western New York Flash Academy and her personal trainer. "With Meghan that was the school she wanted to go to. If you really want something, you're going to find a way to get it done. I think it was meant to be."
It was a stressful situation for her parents, though, weighing their child's health and well-being versus letting her reach the finish line to earn the opportunity she's worked for since picking up the sport.
"We were wanting and feeling we needed to shut it down," said Dr. Ravo Root, her father, who also is superintendent of the Fillmore School District. "But she worked years to put her in position to get an athletic scholarship. When you're that close and you just need a couple good performances it's very difficult to shut it down."
Once Meghan accepted a verbal offer from Syracuse, though, she stopped and sought medical attention. The road to recovery, though, wasn't that simple. She saw five different doctors in the area, getting misdiagnosed with tendonitis and a partially torn labrum, she said. Physical therapy was recommended but proved to be ineffective.
Two influences led to her receiving treatment in Philly.
-- A surgeon from Canisius College recommended Vincera Institute since physical therapy wasn't the answer and her symptoms mirrored that of a cross country runner who had hip and core issues at the college.
-- The second was a future teammate Root met at a Syracuse soccer camp for in-coming recruits over the summer. As they sat and talked throughout the day on the sidelines since neither was healthy enough to participate, they discussed each others' injuries. The recruit, who had already had the cam and pincer type femoroacetabular impingement surgery, recommended Meghan see her doctors at Vincera Institute.
"That's what steered us in that direction," Ravo Root said.
Since Meghan had the surgeries a week before the scholastic season, it meant she had to find a different way to contribute to a team that had posted two straight unbeaten seasons within ECIC III.
She served as a team manager/assistant coach, sharing her knowledge of the game and tips with teammates, working with the midfield and forwards at practice sessions.
She was on crutches and had to sit in a chair during the workouts. She also needed to be carried to the different spots on the field where she's needed to oversee drills by Panthers coach Frank Asquith.
Root's official stat line may have featured a bunch of zeros, but she still found a way to make a positive impact and contribute to another division-title-winning season by Pioneer.
"She was a part of everything we did," Asquith said. "She still had an attitude that she was part of the team and would be back next year and she is. She's a very driven girl. … She's always very positive even though she was going through a lot herself."
Now Root, who was healthy enough to participate in all her games with the Flash this past club season and scored in her first game back against one of the top club teams in the country, is driven to help Pioneer do something it hasn't done – reach a Section VI girls soccer final.
In a deep Class A, the furthest the Panthers have advanced is the semifinals where they have lost close contests to perennial contenders Amherst, Williamsville East and Williamsville South.
Root plans to enjoy the entire process, regardless of the final results.
"I think (going through the ordeal) made her appreciate the game more," said Sahlen, noting that Root also attends her husband Aaron Lines' Soccer School. "She's worked really hard to come back."
"I think it made her more determined to persevere," said Asquith, "and reach her goal and become the player she's wanted to become."