The national anthem is only roughly two minutes long. But before a game, sometimes it can feel like an eternity. It had been so long since I stood on the field with my hand on my heart, that I almost forgot my little routine. I put my hand on my heart, not only out of tradition and loyalty to the United States, but so I can feel the thump of my heartbeat. My heart is always pounding. This is how I know I’m meant to play this game. I summon the feelings of extreme gratitude. I say “thank you” for having something in my life that can make me feel so alive. I say “thank you” that I am healthy and able to step on the field. I say “thank you” for the opportunity to play the sport I love and express myself in the best way I know how, with the ball at my feet. I say “thank you” for my existence in this moment.
And I also remember the name Kelly Muldoon. I met Kelly my sophomore year at the University of North Carolina. She was 12 years old and had many of the goals I had at that age. But Kelly was sick, and unfortunately died not long after she shared in our 2006 season and N.C.A.A. championship, as she was rolled out onto the field in a wheelchair after our victory. I say “thank you” and I honor the memory of this girl who wanted nothing more than to be doing what I am so fortunate to be able to do.
As I stood on the field at DePaul High School in Wayne, N.J. for my first game for the New Jersey Wildcats, I remembered this ritual. I also remembered that my last W-League game was actually at DePaul, when I was 16. What a coincidence.
In four days, starting with that night at DePaul, I played three games for the Wildcats. This was all it took to remember why I love and am obsessed with this sport. I love the thrill of competition, of trying to use the skills and techniques I’ve practiced, and of just playing, making mistakes and trying to do better the next time, all without having to make up my own rules or workout. I enjoy and appreciate training — so much so that I had forgotten the full value of playing games. It took me a bit to get back into the swing of things, but not long before I felt that addicting excitement.
It was a bit of a mental struggle to realize that after nine summers, I was back in the same league, playing at the same local high school. I felt a moment of disappointment in myself for not having made it further in that time. But I then realized that I had hopped in the car for 20 minutes, stepped onto the field to do what I love, and my parents, boyfriend, former coach and friends were all in the stands watching. I have areas in which I want to improve, but also a feeling of mastery over certain aspects of the game that is very satisfying. this is my dream come true. I have high aspirations, but what more can I ask for than to play and be happy doing so?