When I was in eighth grade, I had my first traumatic, welcome-to-the-real-world experience.
I struggled with the cliques and change that came with high school and found a best friend that was a welcome refuge from the sea of uncertainty that came with maneuvering from childhood into the teenage years. My friend Giovana was funny, positive, sweet, and after moving to Canada from Peru when she was 9 years old speaking only Spanish, she was example of childhood resilience. By the time I met her in eighth grade, she spoke perfect English and was one of the chattiest friends I had.
We clicked immediately and she was my rock through my first year of high school. She wrote the script and coached me through calling my first high school crush, spent every break and lunch with me chatting about the absurdities that come with being 13, and together we traversed our first tastes of independence, with walks down to the waterfront market to eat lunch. She was my security in a world that felt uncertain and I felt so grateful for having her.
Because of this, when she told me in March of eighth grade that her Dad had gotten transferred back to Peru, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
She would be leaving May 18, the day before her fourteenth birthday, and I spent the time until that day came, praying that something would change and she wouldn’t leave. At that time, there was no Skype, no Facebook, and moving to the other side of the city, let alone to another continent, was a forever goodbye.
I still remember vividly spending the last Friday that she was in school, crying my eyes out sitting behind a bathroom stall, so no one knew how sad I was, and then after hugging her goodbye at school for the last time, getting into our family’s Mazda MPV, next to my Mum. I managed to hold it together, until we pulled away and I couldn’t hold in the hysterical sobs any longer.
All I could think of was what would I do, knowing that no one could take the place that she had in my life, and seeing nothing besides a desolate future without my sidekick.
The weeks after were painful and lonely, and there was a huge hole in my life that nothing could really fill. And so for a very long time I decided that I didn’t want to feel that kind of pain again and took what I thought was the best approach and avoided getting close enough to people to risk making another best friend. Which led to a full year of ninth grade where I had no friends (go big or go home). In retrospect, my lack of friends was likely subconsciously orchestrated, as the pain of my goodbye to Giovana seemed to outweigh the good times we shared and made me want to run from any similar possibilities ever again.
This continued until one day when I realized that the one certainty in life was that at some point with everyone and everything, we will have to say goodbye.
And to avoid goodbyes, would be avoiding the best experiences that life has to offer that comes along with them.
These crucial life lessons grew even more meaningful when I realized, that if control, or a lack of it, was what I was afraid of, the only way to truly be able to let go and say goodbye and be ok with it, would be pouring every piece of myself into everything and everyone. When the inevitable goodbye came along, moments, days, months, or years later, I could walk away knowing I had given the best part of myself and be filled with thankfulness for the experience.
In doing this there would be no regret, no punch in the stomach because I would accept and know that the goodbye is always coming, and I could be filled with only gratitude for having been so lucky to have had the experience.
To say a hard and sad goodbye, would be illustrative of a time well spent and from that moment on, I stepped back into the world and started to live.
I am drawing on these lessons, as I have spent the last couple of days dealing with the fact that we have decided to shut down GCF in Connecticut at the end of the soccer season.
In a short 3 years, many wonderful, passionate people, contributed to creating what I truly believe was a one of a kind experience for young female soccer players not just in Connecticut but in the country.
Not only did we place over 90 percent of the players we had in college, we witnessed tremendous growth on and off the field in so many players. Everyone involved as coaches with GCF poured their heart into it, and the success that we had in all capacities reflected that.
Unfortunately life happens and with the foundations of the program no longer there, and integrity being an integral part of the core values that we ran the program on, I had to make the difficult decision to shut the program down a couple of days ago after spending the last six weeks exhausting every possible solution I could think of.
Knowing that I was playing a role in kids that I cared about so much having their first real world disappointment, truly has broken my heart even though I know deep down for all of us, that this is the right thing to do.
My solace has come in the conversations that I have had with two of the kids that I felt defined what we wanted the program to be about, namely because both, one 11, and another 16, were the kind of people that made everyone around them better through the positivity, humility and work ethic that they brought to the field every day.
As I tried to hide my tears talking to the 16 year old yesterday, as I was hoping to get a sense of how her teammates were doing, she said to me very matter of factly, “I am just so grateful that this program happened for the last few years and that I had the chance to experience it and I know I’ll take what I learned with me for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t change any of it for anything.”
I had another conversation via text today with the 11 year old who epitomized everything that I wanted GCF to be about. Not only is she a kick ass soccer player, but she is one of the kindest, most positive people that I have ever come across. Her Dad told me last year when he wanted to take her to another tryout, she flat out refused. “I don’t know what you guys have done to her, because I wanted her to go, but she is so loyal to you guys that she doesn’t listen to anything I tell her.” Loyalty is one of the things I value the most, and to have an 11 year old with spades of it, is not something you often see, and has imprinted her on my heart forever.
She told me how it had hit her last night that GCF was done as she was falling asleep and she cried herself to sleep and I told her that I had been crying all day feeling like I let everyone down. I also told her how I couldn’t wait to see all the big things she was going to do.
She told me not to feel bad because I had taught her about adversity and perseverance and I told her that despite being old, and having met a lot of people, she was by far one of the best people I have ever met. Which is the truth from the bottom of my heart.
There have been times that I have asked myself, “would I have made the same decision to start GCF, knowing that it would eventually be shut down?” -and the answer is yes. Yes I would do it all again.
Because as I draw back from those memories and lessons of the time of 13 year old Ciara, I am reminded, that the best friendships, the best memories and the most worthwhile things that happen in our lives come from pouring our heart and soul into living life in all of its imperfections, heartaches and vulnerability with no guarantees except an eventual goodbye.
To be able to live and love hard, to give a piece of the best part of ourselves to those that we are so fortunate to cross paths with, and then with gratitude and love, let go when the time comes to say goodbye, is living life well.
To all the kids, parents, and coaches of GCF the last few years, thank you for incredible memories and lessons that have made me a better person and that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.
To meet the families and players that I crossed paths with, to experience both the good and the tough experiences that came with organizing teams and working with players, parents, coaches and friends and to grow as a person in more capacities than I can count- despite the tears and heartache that come with the goodbye, as I reflect back on all of the experience I am so grateful, when standing on the precipice of starting a club, that we took the risk, made the leap and lived.
To watch the tangible result of that time spent, manifest itself in our players heading into new environments as they continue to grow, learn and accomplish, is something that I feel so grateful to have been a part of.