As I drove into Chapel Hill, N.C., on Route 15-501 recently, I was starkly reminded of how different I am now from when I would make that same drive as a student and soccer player at the University of North Carolina. Sometimes, the best way to evaluate how you’ve changed is in relation to what stays the same.
I felt like Matthew McConaughey in the recent Lincoln car commercial. “Sometimes you gotta go back, to actually move forward. And I don’t mean going back to reminisce or chase ghosts. I mean go back to see where you came from.”
The end of another season means renewal and re-evaluation. My journey as a professional soccer player has not gone how I expected, nor has it followed any logic I could have predicted. Chapel Hill was my home for six years — a time in which I learned what it means to be a champion, and that winning does not need to be mutually exclusive from being a good person. It was still a second home to me as I embarked on my professional career and first got experience with the U.S. national team. For me, Chapel Hill is a place where dreams came true and hard work translated into success.
The National Women’s Soccer League season lasts six months, and for the majority of us, it leaves us with the huge question, “What now?”
I am about to begin a new adventure, joining Apollon Limassol F.C. in Cyprus, for its UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign. In the last couple of weeks before I headed across the Atlantic, I had been back home in several ways, both literally and figuratively. These experiences, including my trip to Chapel Hill, have served to remind me where I’ve been, how I got there and clarify where I’m going.
This lack of control has only strengthened my resolve to move forward, but maybe in a different sense than I would have defined as progress as a young player. It’s been the reason that I have played for six professional teams, including this team in Cyprus. It has made me love training and playing just for the sake of seeking personal mastery, and highlighted the importance of the impact I can have on others through soccer. It has shown me a deeper, purer love of the game and sense of fulfillment that keeps me coming back, even when my career has not turned out exactly how I dreamed it.
I was reminded of this in another recent trip home. I showed up with my boyfriend at a soccer field to watch his 7v7 men’s league game. I was dressed as a civilian, with a thermos of tea. It turned out that his team needed an extra player, so I jumped on in street clothes, with a pair of shinguards strapped on, and with the primary goal of not getting hurt. Within moments, I felt the joy of a place where I belong, where I speak the universal language, and where participation flows naturally and effortlessly. I was home.
Sometimes, when soccer is a job, things get complicated and cloudy. That night, I remembered that it is all simple. I connected with the feeling that keeps me playing. It is the reason I have flown across the world to do what I love, the obsession that keeps me on the training field, alone, shooting and doing sprints.
It was in coming back home this off-season that I feel ready once again to move forward. Cyprus, here I come!