Kevin Alston’s body twisted as he slid to the turf. His left leg snapped. The 16-year-old soccer player wailed in pain.
Multiple surgeries, two hernias, and a few stress fractures later, the Revolution drafted Alston as a cant-miss defender.
“That broken leg was about as gruesome and traumatic as they come,” said Mike Freitag, who coached Alston for three seasons at Indiana University. “It takes a special player to return from that, not just physically but psychologically. There’s no question Kevin is a fighter.”
In April, Alston was diagnosed with a more serious ailment: chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). It is rare but treatable, doctors said.
At 25, Alston took an indefinite leave of absence from the Revolution for treatments.
And once again, he fought back.
On Monday, New England reactivated Alston from the disabled list. He is eligible to play Wednesday night for the Revolution (6-6-6) against Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
Doctors are monitoring Alston closely. He is still taking medication and undergoing treatment. The cancer is not cured. But his blood levels have balanced out and his spleen “isn’t enlarged anymore,” he said.
The defender — known for his quickness, quiet demeanor, and long, curly locks — feels significantly better than he did three months ago.
“There’s still hurdles to jump over and benchmarks to reach,” Alston said in a video posted on the team’s website. “But it’s a big step in the road, that’s for sure.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, CML is a disease in which bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. Symptoms include tiredness, night sweats, and fever.
Alston, a 2010 Major League Soccer All-Star, started the Revolution’s first four games this season. But when he exited the March 30 match against FC Dallas, something in his body didn’t feel right.
Team doctors preformed a routine physical, then a round of blood tests. The diagnosis was shocking.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Freitag said. “You never want to associate something like that with someone so young and with so much promise.”
“For the longest time, I thought I was going crazy,” Alston said. “So many things were happening that you can’t explain.”
Alston didn’t need to be hospitalized. He popped in and out of the Revolution training facility as he received treatments. He was seen laughing with teammates.
Alston, described by Freitag as a “very quiet, serious competitor,” politely declined to speak publicly.
In early July, Alston joined a handful of teammates at a camp for inner city youth. Alston smiled that day, bouncing balls back and forth with the campers. By then, he had resumed training with the Revolution.
Alston’s older brother, Kenneth, said the family is overwhelmed by support but asked for privacy as Kevin continues recovery.
Although Alston is not at 100 percent health, the team expects him to contribute on the field.
“He’s joining us because he’s going to help us,” coach Jay Heaps told the team’s website. “Not because it completes a great story.”
Still, the tale of resilience struck many.
In April, Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry conducted a regular post-practice interview with a handful of reporters in New Jersey. Unprovoked, the French star paused and changed the topic.
“I just wanted to say something about what happened to Kevin Alston,” Henry said. “I just wanted to say to his family, and to him, all the very best.”
The Revolution declared a June 8 game at Gillette Stadium “Leukemia Awareness Night.” Fans received free Alston bobblehead dolls. A national marrow donor program set up a swabbing station in the concourse.
Alston signed for fans in exchange for donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“I don’t look at myself as an inspirational person,” Alston said. “But with this diagnosis comes some responsibility to help with awareness.”
At 5 feet 9 inches and 160 pounds, Alston is a scrappy defender. In three seasons at Indiana, Freitag only recalled one instance when Alston got beat in a one-on-one situation that led to a goal. In the 2008 NCAA tournament quarterfinals, St. Johns edged Indiana, 3-2, in overtime. Sverre Weggee Gundhus scored the tying goal. According to Freitag, Alston’s foot “ was inches away from stealing the ball.”
“Very seldom do you see him get beat defensively,” Freitag said. “If he does, he’ll recover. He always recovers.”