01 Dec Soccer Saved My Life.
The above photo was the pinnacle of my high school soccer career.
On my 18th birthday, I scored the winning goal in double overtime of the Maryland State Championship to cap off a perfect senior year, an 18-0 record.
It was a moment of pure joy and exuberance, of happiness and elation, of pride and accomplishment.
Alas, the above photo was also the rockbottom of my life.
Just weeks before this game, I ended an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, and was forced to pick up the shattered pieces of my soul.
There were days I felt like I was climbing up a mountain with a mudslide, everything was so thick and heavy that I pondered if it was even feasible to plow through.
There were days when I felt like there was a cold knife inside my chest, stabbing at my windpipe and preventing me to breathe with ease.
There were days when I felt like I was in a constant state of panic, feeling on edge and distraught about my future.
There were days when I felt my gut punched, squashing my appetite, and preventing me to eat and nourish my body.
There were days when my mind was brainwashed, preventing me to realize my own self worth and identity.
Meanwhile, on the soccer field…
There were days when I felt like I was climbing up this mudslide with a clear vision and perseverance.
There were days when I felt like the knife stabbing my chest was just an illusion.
There were days when I felt like even thought my gut was punched, I was strong enough to survive.
There were days when I felt like my mind was immersed in the present moment, and I was my capable, resilient self again.
There were days when soccer truly saved my life.
Even though I was going through the extremes of emotional and physical abuse, soccer always brought me back to the essence of my being. When I played the beautiful game, I never felt judged, berated or criticized.
Rather, I felt empowered, supported, and uplifted. I felt like my true self – tuning into the present moment, the power of creativity, and the empowerment of moving my body in a healthy way.
I never felt trapped, nor did I ever feel like I was doing a mundane chore.
Even after days when I was punched in the face, almost choked to death, and called the most degrading names a woman can be called, I stepped onto the soccer field in my power, in the present moment, and with confidence in myself.
The heartache, the brainwash, the abuse, the self doubt all faded away.
To that end, soccer reminded me of who I am. It reminded me how much of a confident, independent and strong woman I am, and for this I am thankful.
I am thankful because soccer propelled me out of a relationship that could’ve ended my life.
Of course, my family and friends were an incredible support system during this time, but soccer was the only thing that motivated me to get out of bed during my depression.
I had exciting, adrenaline-filled games to play. I had a loving team to be on. I had a fun job to do. I had a capable body to train.
You probably wonder why I’m sharing such an emotionally heavy story.
For one, it’s healing for me.
And two, it’s why I take my job as a youth coach so seriously: to inspire kids to love soccer so much they use it as a meaningful escape.
Because what’s the alternative?
Toxic friendships and environments? Coping mechanisms? Partying? Trouble? Isolation?
Never did I feel like the sport was an obligation. I played it out of pure joy, loved the game, and enjoyed movement so much it turned into my drug, my party, my coping mechanism.
Going through the abuse I went through could’ve led me down a dark path of dramatic and inauthentic friendships, destructive coping mechanisms and substance abuse, but it didn’t.
Soccer saved my life.
This is why today I preach so loud that kids have a genuine love for the game. This is why I tweet so hard, and why I write with such triggering, life pondering prose.
I want kids to wake up motivated to play, to want to move, to want to do something empowering. I want kids to immerse themselves in the present moment, to create without worrying about being perfect, to try a 1v1 move without judgement, to find fulfillment during the darkest times.
Soccer did all of this for me.
And of course, I have my parents to thank for allowing me to choose this passion without pressure or obligation. They never told me to “work harder!” or “play better!” or “score more goals!” or “get a scholarship!”
My parents, for that reason, saved my life too because they allowed me freedom to fall in love with the game with autonomy.
And autonomy sure has its way of oozing feelings of empowerment and strength during life altering events.
Even during my lowest point, I had the courage to take action and get myself out of danger.
I remember walking down the stairs at midnight, my parents still awake, and a glimmer of hope birthed out of my soul, I told my mom and dad, “I just broke up with him. And I also just committed to play soccer at Johns Hopkins University.”
My parents cried.
And at the last minute, I made the early decision application deadline to play soccer at one of the most prestigious schools in the world.
Weeks before this life changing decision, my parents thought I was going to quit soccer, end my life, and go down a destructive path with my abuser. I came close.
But I didn’t.
Soccer saved my life, and I hope it saves yours, too.