My junior year of college was a tough year of my life.
My sophomore year I had fallen for someone for the first time, and after parting ways for the summer (and back in those days with no cell phones, no social media and no Facetiming, parting ways, was…parting ways) when we got back to school he had moved on when my heart hadn’t moved anywhere. The girl he started dating also happened to be super good friends with my roommate, which also took away my closest confidante, as I didn’t want to put her in a weird position of middle man.
I’ll never forget throwing on an unfazed face when new-girlfriend-of-boy-I-was-still-in-love-with, came up to me in the dining hall and told me that she wanted to let me know that they were together, “because I just wanted to tell you to your face so you don’t hear it from other people.” To which I continued to protrude an image of stoic nonchalance. I then clearly remember melting into a tsunami of tears behind the safety of the bathroom stall door steps from the dining hall, and trying to hold it together in the class I had after.
I also was in the middle of my third disaster of a college soccer season otherwise known as my junior year. I had spent another summer dedicating myself with every fiber of my being to becoming better, tried so hard, cared so much and still couldn’t get myself off the bench, sometimes not even chosen for a minute on the field.
At one particularly low point, I arrived home from a game against Boston University (I wish I remembered other details in my life with such clarity), on my birthday no less, after not having been chosen to step on the field, and quietly just sobbed in my room, feeling hopeless, wondering why everything I cared about was sledgehammering me in the face. I felt like no matter what I did in any capacity, I could not just catch a break. My first real heartbreak and the love of my life (soccer) just pummeling me over and over again. Which led to a particularly hilarious in retrospect, but tragic at the time, situation where my roommate walked into my room to see her roommate (a quietly hysterical me), sobbing on my bed.
“Corm, what’s the matter”?
To which all I could muster besides, snot, tears, ugly crying face all around,
“I…..(sob, gasp)….don’t…. (sob, gasp)…..know (sob gasp)….how (sob, gasp)….much (sob, gasp)…..more (sob, gasp) ….of (you get the picture…) this I can take….
To which it all tumbled out of me….my years worth of frustration with soccer, questioning if I couldn’t even start on an average college team if my goals of playing internationally and professionally were even realistic, and how much I felt like I was being stabbed every time I saw the guy that I was still totally in love with, with this new girl he was dating.
2 problems in retrospect that seem fairly mundane when you see all that is going on in the world, but at the time it was my whole world and it crushed me.
Nikki told me to close my eyes, that she’d be right back. She returned to my room, and brought in every single piece of chocolate from the care packages her parents had sent from Utah and a massive tub of ice cream.
She said we weren’t leaving til we ate all of it. She was/is the kind of friend that everyone deserves to have in life and the ones that show their worth when you’re at your lowest, most ugly-crying-face point.
It’s a time of my life I haven’t thought much about in a while until last night.
Now for the good part of that year.
I held many, many random jobs in my quest to have pocket money at Yale, and none was better than my job as an usher for Yale’s worst ranked in the NCAA men’s basketball team that routinely had an attendance of about 5 people.
I had decided to stay in New Haven the summer leading into my senior year and started thinking about what I was going to do soccer wise a few months out from summer starting.
One day at a basketball game, I struck up a conversation with Josh, one of the workers from outside of Yale. He asked me my plans for the summer I told him that I was planning to stick around, when he said, “my best friends sister is about your age, and she plays on one of the top teams in the country, I’ll get you guys in touch.”
To make a long story short, this guy Josh, led me to his best friend’s sister Erin O’Grady, a star forward at Syracuse and this team of superstars made up of All-Americans and star players at very legit schools such as top 10 ranked UConn and Boston College.
Despite being told by a coach whose opinion really mattered to me, that he thought I may be in over my head, I sucked up my fear of not being good enough and not knowing anyone, and not at the time, even having a car or knowing how I was going to get to practice an hour away, and I just put one foot in front of the other and showed up.
And that summer, that came after the bleakest period of my life, changed my life.
I started and played every minute that summer at center back on a team full of superstars. I had a terrible game against a boys team, and waited to get benched the next game, and the coach started me. I had the car I was borrowing break down on a major highway in Connecticut and got to a game 5 minutes before, and thought for sure I wouldn’t get to play, and he put me in. Every time I thought the dream was up, and I’d be back to the place where nothing went right, this coach kept playing me, kept believing in me, kept validating the little voice that believed in myself when nothing went right for three years.
On top of my on field insecurities, off the field, knowing no one on the team I felt like an awkward loser. I almost quit the team a month in when socially I was miserable and the car I was borrowing was no longer going to be available. I gave myself the two weeks I still had the car to make a decision about if I would continue. In that time, the stars kept aligning and after a team party I made a friend that lived 15 mins away and was willing to come get me for every practice (shout out Alexa Borisjuk).
Which all led to a field in the middle of Pennsylvania on a warm summer day in July.
It was the U20 Nationals and we were playing the best college age teams in the country as the representative from the East Coast with a bunch of girls that I had ended up growing close to.
In the most magical sporting experience of my life, we were down 4-2 with 20 minutes remaining in the semi-final to a team from St. Louis, and I remember the weird sensation of knowing with certainty we weren’t going to lose, despite everything happening pointing otherwise. And we scored 3 goals in the last 20 minutes and we got ourselves into the National U20 final.
And in that U20 National Final we were down 3-1 with 15 minutes to go, and again, with a certainty and a team spirit like I’ve never experienced before or after, my friend Erin scored 2 goals to tie it up to send it into golden goal overtime.
I still remember the overwhelming rush of emotions when “Murph” a stud from Boston College, scored the winning goal for us to win the national championship against a team from Texas, on a diving header, no less.
I will never forget lying in the dog pile after that goal, looking up at the blue sky with enough tears to fill an ocean coursing down my face feeling gratitude and joy that was sharpened by so many years of disappointment and pain.
It was the most overwhelming feeling I’ve ever had, coupled with the realization that if I hadn’t kept experiencing the heartache of believing and hoping for something that never seemed to go right, that the victory wouldn’t be so sweet. And my god was it sweet.
And finally when things started coming together it got great.
I forgot about the heartbreak guy and started dating a lovely guy that I dated my whole senior year that I had become friends with that spring. Soccer wise, that summer team led me to a full scholarship to UConn for an extra year when I got hurt my senior year. The UConn coach happened to see a game that I stood out playing with his players that summer and despite having 1 start in my college career, took a chance on me. That team also spring boarded me to my first pro contract in Denmark, as my club coach that summer was connected with my eventual club, Fortuna Hjorring.
Which leads me to why I was reminded of this story, this dog pile last night.
I have had a year like I did junior year, when I’ve just had a lot of things go wrong. This week in particular did a little more sledgehammering to the heart and I’ve just felt the same kind of hopelessness wondering at what point, the things that are near and dear to my heart will start going right and give me some respite.
My good friend Kim, asked me to go to a church service at a nightclub with her last night. I love things that are unexpected and random and going to church in the same place where I’ve partied on a Saturday night before, ranks right up there. Like many people, I’ve had a long and interesting walk with God and could write a book about it. But I’ll leave that for another time.
I was feeling pretty down after a rough week and the message at the service hit home.
That there is a season of a challenge, a dark time and then light.
The pastor talked about us going back to a time when we got through something hard, and remembering how we got through it. He actually said verbatim, “there is a lady in here that is going through a hard time, that’s been through things before, and that just needs to keep going, that just needs to get through this, that there are great things ahead for…”
And for the first time in years, I thought about that dog pile.
I thought about how in our lives we get tested. I thought about how really investing and caring in things and people can sometimes leave you with a broken heart. But how that broken heart leads you to lessons and an expansion of your experience of life and your growth that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
I thought about how when you least expect it, how when the lessons have been taught, sometimes a switch flips and you receive people and things in an abundance that you could never have dreamed possible. And how incredible that feels because you would never experience appreciation and gratitude without knowing pain.
And the biggest memory that I felt coursing through me as I reflected back last night on those teary moments spent in that dog pile almost 17 years ago, was this.
It was that feeling that I can still feel with such clarity, that filled up every single corner of my soul. In that moment of bliss when everything comes together, what flashes in front of you is every single moment of every hard thing you ever went through, when you questioned if caring and throwing your whole heart into things was worth it, and wondered if anything was ever going to go right. You know with the certainty of your whole heart, with more gratitude than you can ever muster, that every heartbreak on the journey was worth it, for that one fleeting moment of bliss.
And that moment is out there, that moment when the whole journey makes sense. Waiting to find all of us.
We just have to keep throwing our whole heart into things.
And most importantly, we just have to keep going.