When former England international Rachel Unitt suffered a second ACL injury in the space of 16 months in October 2014, she faced one of the toughest mental challenges of her career.
This after missing the London Olympics and Euro 2013 due to injury, and being the only outfield player not to see a single minute on the pitch at the 2007 World Cup.
In summary, the England centurion is used to overcoming uphill struggles.
“When I did the first ACL, I said to people I knew that I was going to do the second one, it was weird,” she said.
“If I was 26 or 27, I might have come back, but now at 35 I thought I’d better slow down a bit.”
Despite not making an appearance in the FA Women’s Super League since her stint with the now folded Notts County Ladies, according to Unitt, “I’ve not officially retired, I’ve just kind of faded away in the football world,” which isn’t really true seeing as she was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame last year alongside Rachel Brown-Finnis.
But what people may not know, is that following the recovery from that second knee injury, Unitt signed to play with Solihull Ladies FC after an SOS from the club.
“I’ve played the last six months for Solihull as one of my friends is coach,” she said.
“She asked me to help her out, and I was like ‘do I really want to do that again’, but I enjoyed it,
“I hadn’t really missed football, but it’s a great bunch of girls and I missed that team atmosphere.”
The fixtures with Solihull and her continued training at the gym, has ensured that the West Midlands based defender was in the perfection position to say ‘yes’ to a text she received from former Fulham teammate, Deena Rahmann.
Rahmann, now based in Bahrain, was part of an international 30 women squad assembled to try and break the world record for the highest altitude football match ever played near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, and her text to Unitt essentially asked if she fancied being a part of that effort.
“I was like straight away I want to do that.
“I love a challenge and this was a different type of challenge. I couldn’t say no.”
Unitt has been working as a teaching assistant and PE teacher in Walsall for the last four years at a special needs school, so the next task was to convince her boss for the time off. As a big sports fan, he had no problem at all and has even done some fundraising in the school to support his employee’s efforts.
So, with that all cleared, Unitt is to join the 30 player squad of women, who will play a full 90-minute game, officiated by female FIFA accredited referees just below the Summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, almost two kilometres higher than the highest stadium in the world.
The international squad is composed of professionals, national team players and competitive amateurs from more than 20 countries, as diverse as Afghanistan, Argentina, France, Jordan, Sweden, South Africa, and Tanzania. Names some might recognise include former U.S midfielder Lori Lindsey, Mexico’s Monica Gonzalez and France’s Sandrine Dusang.
The world record game, scheduled for June 24 during UK Women in Sport Week, will draw attention to the daily discrimination faced by women seeking to play, compete, coach or work in football and raise the profile of inspirational female sporting role models in the media.
Unitt said: “I think it will be brilliant for the women’s game. We want to inspire women all over the world. People climb little mountains every day and we want to do it to inspire them and the next generation.”
To support Unitt’s participation in the record-breaking attempt, visit her fundraising page.