Oct. 18, 2006
By Elliott Finebloom
FSU Sports Information
Very few student-athletes have the perspective that Florida State goalkeeper Ali Mims has. The sixth-year senior lost two seasons after fracturing her leg in a preseason scrimmage her sophomore year. The Ponte Vedra, FL native had to have 20 surgical procedures to recover from the break and the complications that followed. The injury didn't just cost her time on the field but seriously threatened her health. Ali came back to start in 2005 and put together one of the best seasons ever by a Seminole keeper as she and Florida State advanced to the College Cup.
Ali came to Florida State as a recruited walk-on in 2001 and will leave as the career record holder in wins, minutes played, shutouts and most-likely career GAA. In many ways her six seasons in Garnet & Gold have mirrored the program. Both were still fighting for respect in 2001 and now both are among the top in the game.
"We've gained respect in a tremendous way over the last six years and that started even before I arrived," said Mims about the Seminole soccer program. "The year before I came here the team really started to make a name for itself. That year we surprised North Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and big programs like that. Sometimes it takes beating those types of teams just once to make it a little easier for the next generation. I think they did that. In 2000 and 2001 the program had some wins that made this team and the country believe we could be successful."
That first taste of success has translated into something very special. When Ali started the 2005 national semifinal in net for FSU versus UCLA it was a meeting of the only two teams in America who had played in two of the last three College Cups. The Seminoles made their first-ever trip to soccer's version of the Final Four in 2003 while Mims was still recovering from her serious injury. Just two years later Florida State was back. It was something that seemed like a dream when Ali first came to Florida State in the fall of 2001.
"The College Cup is now a realistic goal for this program each season. I can't say that it was even three years ago when we started that first College Cup year," recalls Ali. "It was something we all dreamed of and knew was possible but maybe a little further off in the distance.
"We kind of joked around about being able to get there. Then that season we start out 1-4 and make it all the way to the national semifinals. That expectation of success every year is something this program has embraced. It is a unique situation for me because I was here when just making the NCAA Tournament was a huge step for FSU soccer. It is so special. It hasn't always been that way and I am glad I have been here through that whole evolution."
Ali has been here through so much of what has been the golden age of Florida State soccer but the joys this team and its players have experienced on the field don't compare to the joys Ali has experienced off the pitch. You'd think going through a coaching change and almost seeing your career and maybe even your ability to ever walk normally again threatened, Ali sees the positives that came out of that terrible injury.
"With six years here I have a unique perspective that most athletes don't get on how this program has evolved. We have gone through head coaches and assistants since I have been here. People who experience four years of a college sport know that there is an ending and try to make the most of it. By being around this program for six years it has enriched my life so much more," said Ali. "You are around so many people over that time and you also get a longer window to strengthen the bond with those people who have been there throughout the entire six seasons. They become a huge part of your life. The administrators and support staff are usually a part of you daily life for those four years but I have been lucky to have those relationships go on further than that. When you sit back and take it all in you realize how positive an impact those people have on you. For me, to be able to realize that and enjoy it has been a big advantage."
That, more than anything else, is what Ali learned to appreciate during her two-year recovery. She experienced constant ups and downs. There were as many highs as there were lows but through it all she found out how many people at Florida State cared about her as a person and not just as an athlete.
"When I went through the injury and it wasn't a matter of getting back on the field but a matter of getting my health back, a lot of administrators and support staff kept up with me all the way," Ali recalls. "They would ask how I was doing. They knew it was a bad situation and they cared. Everyone offered advice. They would all tell me to take it easy when they saw me around the athletic department. It was a big deal to know they cared about the person more than the athlete.
"This is a special place. During my recovery I learned a lot of people really care about you and will stick with you. I feel like they treat the athletes like their children. I felt it first hand during the scare I had with my injury. The way they cared about me and my family was amazing. I hope every athlete appreciates and realizes how much the people who work here care about them and are behind them every day."
That commitment to Ali, the Mims family and her recovery has instilled a tremendous pride in the six-year senior. She has a special feeling for FSU that probably goes well beyond what most athletes ever feel. For Ali it runs deeper than being proud of her team or her school. Florida State has become more than her school.
"I take pride in being a Seminole and wearing the Garnet & Gold," said Ali. "A lot of people I played soccer with in high school went to good schools and programs but probably never had the success and feeling of family you get at Florida State. I take pride in that. I can lay my head down at night and feel comfortable knowing any possibility is open to me because I am a student-athlete at Florida State. I know that the level of support I have received is always there. That is what makes me proud to be a Seminole.
"Being an athlete on this campus carries with it high expectations. People look at you differently and I like that. I am really proud to be an athlete at this school. I love representing FSU on the road, as a member of SAAC (FSU's Student-Athlete Advisory Council) or when we go into the community to volunteer. Being here has opened doors for me and opened my eyes about giving back. That is a lesson I will take with me well after I am gone from FSU."
That time is finally nearing for Mims. After six seasons in Tallahassee, her soccer career is entering its final phase. Although her collegiate and athletic career may have veered from her original plan when she entered school, as she has always done, Ali has found a way to make the best of what could have been a disastrous situation.
"I was afforded the opportunity to get my bachelor's degree in Business Management. I will leave with my MBA, which is something I always wanted to get. Those opportunities came along and I was given the chance to pursue them. When I first came to Florida State that wasn't my plan. I was going to graduate in 3 ½ years, work for a few years and then come back to school. After my injury I had to reevaluate that. I wanted to keep playing soccer so that led me into the master's program. It was a great problem to have because now I will have two degrees when I leave here. A lot of people don't ever have that opportunity."
Ali is leaving Florida State with an MBA and her name plastered all over the Seminoles' record book, but those are just the fruits she received for achieving her goals. The two biggest goals in her collegiate life were to get her MBA and make it back on the field after her injury. She has done both. It took a lot of work and determination on Ali's part but it also happened due to the help of others.
"I have been given the opportunity to make goals for myself and have everything I need supplied to achieve those goals," Ali said. "I was supported in every imaginable way to comeback from my injury and get my MBA."
As big as achieving those two goals were, they are not the only two things Ali will cherish when she finishes her soccer career this year. She has so much more she will take with her when all is said and done and that centers on the people she has come in contact with over six years as a member of Florida State's family.
"I am leaving this place with a lifetime worth of lessons that I have learned about myself and about others," said Ali. "I have learned what it means to be a teammate by the example set by others. I will leave with a great education, degrees and success on the field. More importantly I will cherish the friendships and the people. I went through a lot in six seasons. I made a commitment to something and I stuck with it and people respect me for that. It means a lot to me.
"I hope what I have gone through will inspire someone. I hope someone will look at the determination I showed and know they can do it to. That is the kind of imprint I would like to leave that would make me proud. Making a positive impact on another person is what would make me proud. I hope those two extra years I was granted went to more than just my play on the field. I was proud to be part of a special time for Florida State soccer and experience it with the people I have spent the last six years of my life with."