It’s been a couple of years since I’ve said goodbye. I grew up playing this game. Every night I would come home from school, wolf down my dinner and get ready for practice. Rummaging through my soccer bag, getting dressed and throwing it in the backseat of my mom’s car. She was my number one fan, always on the sidelines cheering me on. Sometimes she would get frustrated with me, especially if I didn’t perform in the way she knew I could, as if I wasn’t playing to my potential. She gave up so much of her time to help me live out my dream, and I am so grateful to have a mother like her.
This game, it taught me more than I could ever explain. It taught me teamwork, that to achieve shared goals, you have to work together, you can’t do it alone. Passing the ball to those in a better position, and sacrificing the glory of a goal taught me not to be selfish. Some players never learn this lesson, but we all know the pressure parents put on their kids to be a star.
It taught me understanding, and patience, as I would make the same run a thousand times, knowing I wouldn’t get the ball every time. It taught me integrity, it taught me kindness, sportsmanship, and work ethic. It taught me that things don’t come easy, and to treat every player with dignity and respect…unless they messed with one of your teammates; then they had to go down. It taught me not to underestimate anyone, and sometimes the underdog conquers. It taught me what it means to earn something, and to be proud of it. It taught me what it really means to fall and get back up. It taught me life isn’t fair; sometimes we lose when we shouldn’t, sometimes luck allows us to win when we shouldn’t. But we all know, that the hardest losses make the strongest teams.
Ever since I could walk, I played. I would watch the women’s soccer teams on TV and dream to be one of them some day. I worked hard, maybe the hardest I’ve ever worked at anything, to be the best I could be; and I was. I made it to the provincial team and sometimes it hurts to think how much further I could have taken it; but I didn’t.
My home was on a field, between two white goals. The whistle was my smoking gun, and I was an instrument of excellence. The sound of the ball hitting the back of that net was what I lived for. The thrill of beating someone to a 50/50 ball. Racing down the wing just to get one step ahead of the defender, getting the ball off of your foot at just the right moment, crossing it right on top of the 6 yard box was exhilarating.
No matter what fears or doubts or heartaches I carried with me, I left them on the sidelines, and the moment I stepped on that field; everything fell away. The solidarity and joy I felt with my teammates was something so special to me, they were like my sisters. My coach was hard on us, he ran us into the ground, but I couldn’t possibly thank him more for the role he played in the person I’ve become. He taught me to never give up no matter how defeated I feel.
I’ve never found so much peace, as I have in this game. This game tested me in ways I could never imagine. I learned what kind of person I was, and for once in my life; it was as though I could fly.
I miss it everyday, and it pains me to at 23; look back and think “I was once great.” Those are the days I miss most; to feel invincible, and to feel like I was born to play.
Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t ever find something else to put my heart and soul in, or that I won’t ever be great at anything again. I had always carried the title “soccer player.” Hanging up my cleats and retiring my jersey was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was no longer a champion. Seeing my trophies and medals gather dust in a box in my basement like relics is hard; they once meant so much to me…they still do. I love this game, and I miss it all the time, but I am forever thankful for the person that it has made me.