My best friend as a little kid was the boy that lived down the street. My mom says I would run to the door, see him wielding some sporting apparatus, grab my own matching gear, and off we’d go. Few words were ever exchanged; we just understood each other through movement. Although it may have stunted my verbal skills a bit, this conditioned me at an early age to feel my best while being active and to gravitate to others who do the same.

Enter the 90s! Side pony’s were really taking off. Boy bands and frosted tips were all the tweenybopper rage. Fanny packs trail-blazed the hands-free space. But most importantly, the US Women’s National Soccer Team was absolutely crushing it, creating no shortage of strong female role models in my world.

I started playing soccer on a boys team when I was 4 and I decided pretty quickly I was going to win the World Cup. Through middle and high school I played on a combination of Olympic development, club, and school teams at any given time; and ultimately played for a competitive Division I program. One of my favorite aspects of soccer is that, with 11 players on the field at a time and at least 7 more on the sideline, it is a sport that values a diverse palate of skill. Every teammate I’ve had brought something unique to the field—some had speed, some had footwork, some had field vision, and some had strength—reinforcing the idea that no one person needs to be everything. But each body, regardless of it shape and size, has value.

Like most competitive athletes, my path trying to make it was not smoothly paved. I was cut from elite teams, I suffered severe injuries, and on a number of occasions I heard I wasn’t fill in the blank enough. In each instance, it’s easy to pick apart the piece of your body that let you down. But rather than beating yourself up for factors out of your control, I learned that embracing your strengths will help fuel the comeback most powerfully. This is the quality I admired most in each of my teammates and is super transferrable to life after sport.

My playing career was cut shorter than I’d hoped due to a traumatic brain injury suffered in a college game. I had always identified as a soccer player before anything else, so being pushed to redefine myself and my body’s purpose was my greatest challenge so far. In a time of my life when I faced a lot of variables, I found that keeping my body as active as possible and surrounding myself with others who did the same helped the most.

Although this was my biggest hurdle, it wasn’t the first and I doubt it will be the last. But, I know the key to feeling my best and making the biggest of trials seem more manageable is moving my body so I make that a priority everyday. Because of this, I will always consider myself an athlete first.

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