I had the pleasure of going up to Penticton, a town of about 40,000 in a beautiful area of BC over the last couple of days. It was refreshing on so many levels, most importantly just the fantastic caliber of people that they have working together in the region and how it has translated into fantastic success on and off the field. It’s a special group of people, and I can’t wait to go back and work with the kids and the organization. As a side note, I had my first experience coaching teenage boys, and I really enjoyed the experience, and look forward to doing so again.

I had a pretty poignant moment in my last training session up in Penticton, that sort of tied together a lot of things that have happened in the last few weeks, including my last 2 blog posts, which were as honest as they were controversial.

One of the girls came running on to the field breathless about 30 minutes into my 1 hr and 15 minute session yesterday. She apologized profusely telling me that she had taken the Greyhound from Kelowna (an hour ride) and the bus had run late. At this point it was only 9am, and as I continued to run the session, I was amazed that this fifteen year old, had obviously been up at the crack of dawn, taking a Greyhound, just for an hour practice. In this day and age when kids for the most part seem to take for granted opportunities as their parents shuttle them from one activity to another, I was just struck by this girl’s dedication and self-motivation, and had a hard time focusing solely on the session.

I mentioned it to the guys that had hosted me after the session, and they took the emotional impact of this girl on me, one step further. They told me that her Mom had just died of cancer at home a few months before, after being sick for a long time. This girl, who I will call “Jen” had been making the trip to Penticton on the bus 3 or 4 times a week over the last year. I found myself starting to cry on the spot, trying to look out the window, casually wiping the tears from my face, a little embarrassed at getting emotional in front of a couple of guys I was only just getting to know.

As I mentioned before, Jen’s story touched me, perhaps because I too have grown up with my mother struggling with an illness, and I can relate to what a powerful form of therapy soccer was. It provided me with an escape, a place for hope and dreams, a solid core of friends, and just something that made sense, when illness shattered every form of what I thought normal was or was supposed to be. I’ve seen so much ugliness as I’ve climbed the ranks of soccer, and for someone that has always looked at soccer as a refuge from all that sucks in this world, it clarified for me just a little more, about why I bother writing those blog posts, and why I feel such a passion to defend the game’s honour. I just feel from the bottom of my heart, that soccer should be a place where dreams are safe to grow and the people that are guiding the game should be honourable and fit to lead.

That being said, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks pondering the blogs and the stress that I felt in both reliving what has gone on, and for going against the grain and for speaking out, which to be honest, is scary and somewhat stressful. In a way that some people ask themselves WWJD (what would jesus do?), I thought about WWMD (what would mum do?), as I often do when I’m in a tough situation, and reflected on my Mum’s illness and the lessons that it has taught me.

My Mum was diagnosed with MS when I was six, and moved first to a walker when I was 10, stopped driving as soon as I was able at 16, and was in a wheelchair when I was 20. I have vivid childhood memories, of hope put into a cure in all sorts of ways and the rollercoaster ride it took us all on. There was a hospital stay for steroid treatment, a trip to the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to be put on a special diet. There were healing masses (a necessity for any Irish Catholic), special pills, injectable drugs, the list went on and on. There was the high of hope prior to any of these activities, followed by the depressing times when the haze of treatment lifted, and still nothing in her condition had changed.

And finally one day after about 12 years on this rollercoaster of the “search for the cure”, my brave and unbelievably positive Mum had had enough. She wasn’t going to bother anymore trying to fight the disease, she was going to accept it, and make the best of it. And from there, every ounce of her energy was put into living successfully with it. She puts any serious athlete to shame with her dedication (including myself). Every morning she is peddling a special bike that my Dad made, that she can sit on her wheelchair and pedal on. Once a week she goes to the pool for a class for disabled people, she lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers in 6 months without being able to “properly” exercise. Inspiration doesn’t do justice to how this lady conducts herself and how she’s always conducted herself, especially since she took the strong step to accepting the hand she’d been dealt. By accepting the body she has no choice but to live in, she’s transferred her energy into what she can do, instead of dwelling on all that she no longer can.

And that’s where I’m at with everything. I could sit and re-hash my many negative experiences growing up as a women’s soccer player in Canada, and maybe one day I’ll just write a book and get it all out there. But for now, I think I’ll take my Mum’s lesson, one of so many that she’s taught me in my life, and not fight it any more. Just like my Mum has no control over her body, there are so many things in society which we are forced to live in, but often have no control.

In the end its about the kids like Jen, the kids that have experienced life and soccer at the most deepest and purest of levels, and doing what’s best for them in making changes moving forward. To make their experience in soccer something special and memorable.

At one point in the midst of a frustrating soccer experience where I was standing up for what I believed it, my Dad said to me “Ciara, there is a reason why there is the saying, you can’t fight city hall.” My immediate response was, “Dad, I don’t want to fight city hall, I just want to build a bigger and better one next door.”

That to me is the biggest motto to myself in how I’d like to move forward.

8 thoughts

  1. I admire your Mum for the decision she’s made and her positive outlook. I also appreciate you sharing that part of your life. I think I understand why you choose not to relive old circumstances, but I have to say I am also a little disappointed. I feel we are losing a voice of experience and with it are giving those people who do not share your vision of what soccer should be, a pass. Using your example, building a bigger better city hall next door doesn’t demolish the current one, it leaves its doors open to those approaching from the other end of the street.

    I hope that you can find a way to expose the old city hall for the creaky old building it is and build a sturdy welcoming new one at the same time.

    Once again, thank you for being a voice of reason amid all the chatter.

  2. Ciara,

    First off, thanks for sharing. As mentioned in another comment, I don’t believe building a better city hall is the best way to go. Challenging an established method of operation is never easy. Does that mean that challenging the current system should not be done? In my opinion, absolutely not. Choosing the battle(s) is the hardest decision to make.

    I see what you have done, and you’ve got the passion, you’ve got the guts, you’ve got the drive. I even believe you have the focus. Standing up for what you believe in is not a bad thing – don’t give up trying to do the right thing.

  3. I “I just feel from the bottom of my heart, that soccer should be a place where dreams are safe to grow and the people that are guiding the game should be honorable and fit to lead.”

    It is totally understandable that you do no longer want to take on the soccer establishment. I do want to point out that there are young women out there like my daughter who are currently enjoying successful university soccer careers because of the opportunities that people like you and other “non pathway” organizations have offered. Many of these players would not have been given a fair chance to be considered for scholarships under the “established pathway”. On behalf of these players, I would like to thank you!

  4. Hello Coach- I coach HS girls and have just discovered your blog. I want to thank you for your selflessness and your heart in sharing your life. I would like to encourage you to someday write that book, not only would it be very cathartic but it would mean so much to all that take the time to read it. Your investment in life is very inspirational and I plan on sharing with my girls.
    Thank you from the depths of my heart!

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