Exclusive: Former Arsenal academy starlet Sienna Hurrell opens up on her 522-day ACL journey and American ambitions

Hurrell will play college soccer in Louisiana after bringing six years with Arsenal to an end

Exclusive: Former Arsenal academy starlet Sienna Hurrell opens up on her 522-day ACL journey and American ambitions

Sienna Hurrell (right) returning to action in 2023 following a 17 month ACL injury

How well do you remember your 15th birthday? You might have some recollections, you may even recall the day in great detail. But could you cast your mind back to the day before you turned 15? It’s unlikely.

Sienna Hurrell can, vividly.

“I was very young to experience an injury as traumatic as this. The first one that the club had dealt with, especially at the younger ages.”

It is telling that Hurrell, when asked by the Gooner about the details of her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, remembers the exact date of the game (May 15, 2021) and the opponent (Chelsea) immediately. A quick check on her phone reveals the exact number of days she was sidelined. 522, just shy of 18 months.

As a promising left-sided player performing well in Arsenal’s age groups and even going away to England camps, Hurrell will never know how her journey would have developed had she not suffered this ACL injury.

One thing is for sure, the 18-year-old has no regrets. Not one. “No one I knew had experienced the same thing. I was the first, which in some way has enabled me to be the writer of my own destiny in a sense. It was up to me to work hard, it was up to me to put in the hours and it was really hard.”

And did Hurrell work hard. “She did everything she was told,” said Hurrell’s mum, Ness, who recalled an appointment with her daughter and a surgeon ahead of her long-awaited return to football.

“He had a look and he said to Sienna, you are the strongest, you are so strong. You are 100 percent repaired,” said Ness.

Sienna, helped by a psychologist from Arsenal to support the mental side of her recovery, reflected on her physical efforts to get back on the pitch.

“The first two weeks coming out of surgery I was doing the same exercises two times a day, they were taking an hour or so. It was a ridiculous commitment but something that really taught me a lesson.

“I’ve got OCD in many aspects of my life but it’s enabled me to give 100 percent. If I get asked to do six reps I’m doing seven, anything to put myself in a better fighting position I think.”

On top of the endless physical work, Sienna would travel with her parents for up to an hour and a half just to spend 15 minutes with her Arsenal teammates, and spend some time in the gym.

“I think with an ACL or with any major injury there’s only two ways you can go, you can either go into quite a dark place and not be able to come out and see light at the end of the tunnel, or do the opposite.

“I think I was lucky enough that I was pushed and I was driven both by myself and also by my family, my coaches, my teammates.”

The left-back admitted she will never know the cause of her ruptured ACL, and that injury doubts can creep in when she is back on the pitch. “I start thinking about everything to do with it. 

“It might ache or I might be playing on a ground that’s not as good as what I’m used to, or my boots might feel different, I might have new shoes on, this that and the other.”

Both Sienna and her parents were warm in their praise for Arsenal in her recovery. The defender singled out physio Emma Saunders, now working with the first-team, and academy strength and conditioning coach Wesley Fox for praise.

Dad, Frazer, believed that Arsenal gave Sienna a “light at the end of the tunnel” when the club offered her a place in the Under-21s if she continued to work hard in her recovery and follow her routine.

However, Arsenal physios were unable to identify that Hurrell had ruptured her ACL on the day of her injury, with a specialist appointment arranged through her family’s connections with a knee specialist giving them “the dreadful news straight away” in Sienna’s words.

“Arsenal hadn’t had the experience before,” recalled Frazer. “I know that subsequently they’ve been much more on the ball because of the experience of us. After that point, absolutely amazing, but just that little bit at the beginning. People are human, they make mistakes and that’s just the way it is.”

Whilst academy defender Hurrell worked tirelessly towards her recovery, some of the biggest stars in women’s football would begin their own ACL journeys. The 2022/23 season saw Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Laura Wienroither all suffer ACL injuries whilst playing for Arsenal, and Hurrell was watching on.

“You kind of think ‘how has this happened to these people?’ They’re in the best physical condition of their lives, training with top trainers, have the nutritionists, have this and that.

“I think that was very very hard to see, because you start thinking these people are in the best shape of their lives, how come this is happening to them?”

Hurrell believed the main difference between the recovery of Arsenal’s senior stars  and that of her own was their access to the club’s staff and facilities every day of the week. 

“The amount they have and the quality they have compared to in an academy age group. 

“But I guess there isn’t much more they could offer us if that makes sense, because this is the ladies’ jobs. They’re in every day because that’s what they work to do.”

“But I think the backing from the club is the same in all age groups, the fact I was even lucky enough to have access to the incredible staff that helped me get back to the point of being physically fit was lucky for me.”

Vice-captain Hurrell ended her six-year stay at Arsenal in the west of the Swiss capital Zurich, helping the Gunners claim the Blue Stars FIFA Youth Cup to add to a successful league campaign.

Now, she is just 12 days away from setting off for Louisiana to embark on a journey that has been years in the making.

“Because the women’s game wasn’t massive there was only one thing I ever really wanted to do, and that was America. 

“I’ve spoken to dad especially over the years, I can remember six years ago being like ‘I want to go to America!’ but dad said it’s six years away, or four years away, or two years or one year. And now it’s right round the corner.”

“It’s always been the right step for me I think, because the difference between the UK and the US in terms of funding and everything like that is the difference between feeling like an amateur and a pro if that makes sense. 

“The stuff they have to offer there is substantially larger, and the money they’ve got to offer, even things like having a locker room and having your kit washed for you, access to a nutritionist full-time. 

“I know it’s small things but those are the barriers that the US has been able to break before the UK I think.”

Remarkably, Hurrell believes that her lengthy injury has put her in the best possible stead to take on soccer in the States.

“I’ve always said that this ACL journey has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with, however it’s been the biggest blessing in so many ways. It taught me so many things that I think without, I don’t know if I would’ve progressed to where I am now. 

“I don’t know if America would have been an option, because it taught me about my body and how I’m recovering, how important the gym is and what I’m eating and drinking, my lifestyle. 

“So many things had to change in order to come back as a stronger and fitter and healthier player. And I think luckily for me, this experience set me up to develop and really come back as a different player and an athlete, both emotionally and physically.”

Hurrell spoke throughout her 40-minute conversation with a maturity that she claimed has been gained throughout her Arsenal journey and ACL rehabilitation, and will surely serve her well in America.

Her journey is a remarkable one, made possible by an unflattered will to return to football and pursue this American Dream. Not many can spend 522 days without being able to do what they love, but Hurrell has done so and become a better person off the back of it.

“Now, honestly I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I have a mindset where I’m fixed on wanting to achieve as well as I can.”

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