Growing up in the suburban town of Montclair, NJ, I joined my first soccer team at the age of seven. Our team name was The Orange Bullets, and while my friends and teammates took part in all different sports and activities, I remember knowing by the time I was nine that I wanted to be a professional soccer player. It became my goal to play for the University of North Carolina and the U.S. Women’s National Team.

My full story starts with my family. My parents, Paul and Gloria, were both high-level long distance runners, and from a young age, they showed me through their own training what it means to be disciplined and create a lifestyle out of sports. My younger sister, Shira, began playing soccer when I did. Ever since then she has remained my favorite training partner and best friend. No one believes in me more than she does.

As a young player I started playing with other girls my age, but by the time I was 11 I needed a new challenge. From the ages of 11-14, I was the only girl on a boys’ team. To this day, those years were some of the most difficult for me as a soccer player, yet they helped me develop in ways that no other experience could have achieved.

In eighth grade I joined a New Jersey club called World Class and played for the U18 girls team throughout my high school years. I opted out of playing for my high school soccer team in order to use the season to train on my own and with boys. It wasn’t an easy decision but by that time in my young career I was very involved with my club team and constantly traveling with youth national teams.

In 2005, I achieved the first part of my long-time goal: I began my college career at The University of North Carolina (UNC), the ultimate powerhouse for women’s collegiate soccer. During my time at UNC I won two National Championships (in 2006 and 2008), set an NCAA record with 105 consecutive starts, and scored the fastest goal in women’s collegiate soccer history (the video of which now has over 4 million hits on YouTube). My college jersey, number 17, was retired after my last season at UNC. As a nine-year-old, I never could have dreamed of something like that! Above all, though, my years at UNC taught me how to be a warrior on the field, both physically and mentally, and brought me together with so many amazing people who will remain some of my best friends for years to come.

After my sophomore season of college, in 2007, I got my first cap with the U.S. Women’s National Team against England at the Four Nations Tournament in China. Although it seemed that I could check that second goal of playing for the National Team off my list, my work was not done. For the next couple of years I was in and out of National Team camps. Not until 2010 did I become a more permanent member of the team.

I finished my college eligibility at a perfect time to begin the inaugural season of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). I was drafted to Sky Blue FC, based in my home state of New Jersey, and played for the team for the first two seasons. We won the league championship in 2009, beating the much-favored LA Sol 1-0 in the championship game. In the 2011 season, I signed with the Western NY Flash and also captured a league championship title, playing alongside Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Alex Morgan.

From there, soccer took me on the road, as I played for professional teams in both Russia, and Sweden for Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC. I then joined the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and played for the Washington Spirit. In the offseason I took my game to Cyprus and represented Apollon Ladies FC. As a young player, I never could have imagined the opportunities I would have to play the sport I love around the world.

Every day I feel extraordinarily grateful to be living my childhood dreams. I work hard at what I do and will never stop setting new goals and pushing myself to be better, but I don’t see it as work because I enjoy every moment. There are countless people who have helped guide me along my journey, as coaches, mentors, friends, and supporters. To me soccer is much more than my job. It is a game that I love and respect far beyond my own involvement.

I pursue my goals with every ounce of my being, and above all, I love the journey.