What do you want to be when you grow up? …the ever-looming question.
I grew up dreaming of one day becoming a professional soccer player. I started recreational soccer with white MacGregor baseball cleats and a glow-in-the-dark shooting star ball. I trained every day in my backyard to make the travel team. I would juggle, make my father chase the ball all over the neighborhood, and challenge both of my brothers at the same time. When I finally made the team I made sure to eat, drink, and sleep soccer so that one day I could make the high school team. There was a pattern of practicing day-in and day-out to make the premier soccer club, then on to the Olympic Development Program team, then finally to make the hardest obstacle yet – the college team. It was never about just making the team – it was about having the best fitness level, curving the ball at the right angle around the wall, having the hardest yet most accurate shot, and becoming captain to lead my teammates. It was about making sure I was getting faster, stronger, and smarter every single day to motivate others. After college I made the choice to decline the professional combine and go pro in something other than sports (tribute to the NCAA commercial for making me feel relevant), but I still have the itch to train as hard as I did during my college days on the pitch.
After I came upon the realization that my most challenging soccer days would now be competing in adult coed tournaments across the country, I started to question if I should still define myself first and foremost as an athlete. Soccer is the first word that was always mentioned when my friends introduced me to a newcomer, but is that what still defined me? My identity seemed unclear. What allowed someone to be characterized as an athlete? Is it running every week, every day, or maybe twice a day? Do you have to play a sport that fits into a specific category? Is there a certain level you have to achieve or a trophy you need to attain? I knew that I had achieved very close to the pinnacle of soccer, but do I need to maintain that level in order to still qualify as an athlete?
Nike gave me the answer. Nike has always been close to my heart and just one video made me realize I was questioning myself without reason.
I still go out at 5:30 am for boot camps or to run the local high school’s stadium stairs. I meet up with friends to play pick-up soccer. I try every day to break a sweat whether it is on the pitch, at a spinning studio, or timing myself running up the hills in the neighborhood. I remember sitting at the Nike tournament welcome ceremony at age 14 after receiving a brand new pair of cleats, watching unreleased Nike commercials and I thought to myself, “I am going to dominate the world”. I wanted to not only be a star in those videos, but I wanted to film the videos, direct the videos, and edit the videos to one day inspire athletes just like that video had inspired me. I regained that amazing feeling of having my soul on fire and chills up my spine when I saw those athletes giving everything inside of them.
Nike made it clear that the 2012 London Olympics are here and anyone can participate. We aren’t lowering our expectations – we are heightening them to see how far and how fast we can run without having a podium and a medal to greet us at the end. Athletes are relevant everywhere. I now realize that I have not lost the spark I have for the love of the game, and I have certainly not lost my title as an athlete, but that I can use everything I learned the last 22 years as a soccer player to transform the spark into the motivation I need for the next phase of my life. I will train with a different purpose now – to inspire others, to give back to the sport that taught me everything, and to keep progressing to find my greatness.
There is a sort of comfort in chaos. I am past the college glory days and I am not sure what is next, but that is the thrilling side of life. I do know that any time I have a plan, God loves to laugh at it…so why not enjoy the ride? If I pursued my childhood dream of becoming the next Mia Hamm who knows where I would be in life. I have a calming feeling that right now I am in the exact place I was meant to be. I will use my perfectionism on the pitch to make sure every design I create is flawless. I will train overtime and use that unfading dedication I learned hitting thousands of shots into the net in my backyard to feel as if I am leading my team again under the bright lights. I think the word athlete is highly underrated. It is getting up out of bed and pushing yourself past your comfort level every day. Just one more suicide. Just one more shot. Just one more bench press. It is holding yourself to a higher standard in every part of life.
This blog is the first of many to come. I finally recognized that I have to hold myself to that higher standard. Become what I said I wanted to become when I was watching a Nike commercial at age 14. I will use my athletic prowess to switch careers and completely dominate in my new field. I will finally find a way to put my creative thoughts and ideas where people can hold me accountable. But what do I know? I still carry a Gatorade water bottle around the office waiting and listening closely, hoping that Coach calls my last name one more time.