MONTCLAIR, N.J. — As I cleaned out my room before moving to Washington, I found a small piece of red fabric crumpled among some keepsakes. I have stacks of journals that catalog my thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams, as well as anything and everything that reminds me of my various adventures over the years. You could say I’m more than slightly sentimental. Writings, photos, objects and song lyrics all transport me in time.
I held the red fabric in my hand and decided, for the second time, that it was one of the best gifts anyone had ever given me. The first time I thought this was in 2008, after the final game of my career at the University of North Carolina, when I opened a card from Casey Loyd (née) Nogueira and the red flag fluttered out.
I’m a controlled person — in both my actions and emotions. I seldom lose my cool. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs when the ball hit the back of the net during the N.C.A.A. national championship game my senior year. Tears filled my eyes, and I started sprinting. No idea where. Anywhere. Everywhere. I fell onto a pile of my teammates and hugged them and continued to scream.
In training, the aim was always to hit the red flag. Casey and I would show up at Finley practice fields in Chapel Hill, N.C., an hour before training started so that we could work on free kicks. If you hit the red flag, a roughly 2-inch-by-2-inch tag that hung in the top corner of each side of the net, you automatically won.
In that final game, we were down, 1-0, against Notre Dame and time was running out. Maybe this is it, I thought. Maybe it’s just not our day. Then we got a free kick from the spot that was one of Casey’s specialties. I knew this from the hours we spent at Finley. As it landed perfectly where the red flag hung in our training nets, I lost my mind.
At first I was bothered that Casey always wanted to join me in those training sessions. I like to practice free kicks on my own. I can get more reps and take them from exactly where I want to take them, with no one in the way. So I was mildly annoyed when Casey asked if she could come with me early to training, especially because I had to give her a ride.
Over time it became a fun ritual, though. We would go early to the field and enjoy the time when it was just us and the bag of balls before everyone else showed up and the structure of training took over.
There are some times in your life when you put in work and do all the little things right, and have nothing but faith that they will somehow pay off — maybe even in an unintended way. I have never felt more a part of a goal as the free kick Casey scored in that championship game. It was the goal that put us back in the game, renewed our hope, and allowed us to eventually win, 2-1. I finished my college career a national champion.
It was one of the most special moments of my career. What I learned at U.N.C. is that success is never an accident. Winning is not about what happens the day of the game, when you leave it to chance. Some moments come unexpectedly. And some moments are born from a notion, a vision, that one day the tedious minutia that might be a pain today, will be incredibly worth it down the road.
Thank you Casey. I keep this little piece of red fabric to remind me to have faith in that minutia.