You can tell Kenneth Kronholm is smiling over the phone.
Despite a strenuous 10 weeks since the announcement that he'd undergone a successful operation to repair the ACL and meniscus in his right knee, the goalkeeper maintains his infectiously-upbeat spirit even while discussing the difficulties of working towards recovery.
Kronholm's injury came during the month-long layoff between the Club's participation in the MLS is Back Tournament in July and the league’s subsequent return to regular season play in late August. Sidelined for the remainder of the 2020 season as a result, the 35-year-old is now focusing on the small, day-to-day steps necessary to make a return to the pitch possible in 2021.
As we continue our spotlight on player recovery during National Physical Therapy Month, Kronholm talks through how his injury happened, how he's stayed positive in the time since getting surgery, and how much of a difference it makes to be back around the team in the latest Recovery Q&A presented by NovaCare.
Read highlights from the conversation (edited for clarity) below:
ChicagoFireFC.com: Not much was known about your injury after it took place at training in August. What actually happened?
Kenneth Kronholm: “It was a movement in a training game. Honestly, I do this movement 10 times a day. Maybe I had the wrong shoes on that day. I wore studs because the field was wet in the beginning, then after all the warmups and pregame training things, the field was dry. I had a one-on-one situation against (midfielder Przemysław) Frankowski. I did a normal, usual movement like I said I do maybe 10 or 20 times a day. This time, maybe I was little bit too quick, and my knee went in another direction from my body.
“I had the same injury five years ago with my left knee. This time it was my right knee. It was similar to this movement. The only good thing, my left knee is really good. They did a great job. Good surgery. I never had issues after the surgery, and they told me five years ago that maybe your knee is even better now. Maybe I’ll have a better knee on the right one as well.”
CFFC.com: Having had an ACL injury before, did you know in the moment that that’s what it was? How do you process that when it happens?
KK: “That’s the worst part of everything. I knew exactly what was going on, that I tore my ACL. It was the same pain, the same movement with my knee. I hear that sound when you tore your ACL. That’s a shocking moment. But a couple days later, I realized that I had the injury five years ago, that I had the surgery. I know what’s going on now. I know what I have to do with my knee. It makes me quiet. It makes my mind quiet. My thinking was good, positive.”
"It was unbelievable how helpful every single guy on this team is. That touched me a lot."
CFFC.com: One of the things players tend to mention when they’re going through rehabilitation is the difficulty of being separated from the group and recovering on your own. How have you managed that, and what sort of support has the team given you?
KK: “You have to be strong. When you’re injured, you are alone. You’re alone at home. You have to figure it out. I have to say, everybody -- every single guy on the team -- wants to help me. They want to cook something for me, want to go to the grocery store for me. That was amazing. It was unbelievable how helpful every single guy on this team is. That touched me a lot. They don’t have to do anything because my girlfriend is here, but that shows what great character the team has, what spirit the team has. They helps me a lot. I appreciate that so much.”
“The other thing is, at the end of the day when you go to bed, you know you’ll have pain now the whole night. That’s a difficult part. You have to figure it out with yourself and you have to be strong. You have to know there’s a couple of weeks you have to go through. When you’ve went through this part, you know you are much stronger than before in your mind, in your head. That’s a good thing as well.”
“I’m a goalkeeper. I have to think positive. All my life, all my career. That helps me a lot to think positive. No bad thinking.”
CFFC.com: What has life been like when you’re not rehabbing? What are you able to do in your free time?
KK: “Until now, just laying in my bed and that’s it (laughs). I was a really good team with my dog. My dog and I were one person. But now, my girlfriend has to take the dog for a walk, give him food, play with him. Now my dog has completely switched to my girlfriend. So, that’s funny. That’s life. When you’re out of the game, nobody cares, you know what I mean? Except Chicago Fire, of course.”
CFFC.com: What kinds of things are you able to do from a rehab standpoint?
KK: “I can walk like a human walks (laughs) without crutches and without a brace. Every day I can do a little bit more. I can do squats. It doesn’t look like a good squat, but I’m able to do some muscle work. I can work on my quad, I can work on my calf, I can work on my leg, so that’s a good thing.”
CFFC.com: You’ve been working with NovaCare on your rehab for a few months since the surgery. How has that experience been with (Team Physical Therapist) Jon Williams?
KK: “I first worked with him for maybe one week or 10 days. Jon is a great guy. Jon did a great job in that short time. I think I will see him now a little bit more because I’m now able to go back to the team again in Bridgeview [to continue with the rehab]. Jon helps me a lot with his experience, with my questions.”
CFFC.com: How nice has it been to be back around the team again?
KK: “(Oct. 6) was the first day with the team again in Bridgeview in the locker room. Everybody said hello. I said to (performance coach) John (Grace), “Give me five minutes and I’ll change my clothes and go to the gym,” but that doesn’t work because everybody wants to stop and say hello and ask me, “How’s it going?” and stuff like that. So it took like 45 hours to go in the gym (laughs). But it was a good feeling to be back with the guys. That’s a great team with a great spirit. Especially the last couple of games, we have good results.”
”Fabi Herbers, the first time I saw him I was yelling at him ‘Mr. Soldier Field’ because every time we played at home he scores which is good. I’m happy for him. He worked hard, so he deserves the moment.”
CFFC.com: Looking ahead, what are your hopes and goals for the remainder of your recovery and getting back on the field down the road?
KK: “Small steps. Small steps that tomorrow is better than today. I know it’s a long recovery. It will take me a couple of months, but I want to go back on the pitch. I want to play for Chicago Fire again for sure, and I want to be stronger than before. That’s my goal for the whole thing. I think I can reach the goal with the small steps I have to do every day.”