Personal Column: The weight of winning

As I walk across the stage to receive my medal, it is not pleasure I feel, but an aching need to cry.  I must hold myself together, not for me, well yes, partially because I don’t want to be publicly embarrassed, but most importantly I must hold myself together for my parents. After all, it is them that spend so much money on my soccer needs, to get me where I am today.

You would think that being awarded the most valuable player of the year for my soccer club team would cheer me up, get me on my feet, and bring me to tears. It did bring me to tears……..but for all but good reasons. 

 I won’t sit here and lie to your face, tell you that hard work pays off, or that practice makes perfect. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t necessarily wrong, if you work hard for something, you are most likely to accomplish your goal, in which case, I guess I did.

My brother played competitively , being part of the best team in Houston for his age category at the time. Every weekend, or evenings during the week, were spent for my brother and his soccer team. Leave school practice, to the house , pick up my brother, head to practice right away, expect a 45 minute drive home, where I did my homework at the same time, to get home, shower, and get ready for bed. All this time dedicated to soccer. It was very hard not to fall in love with the sport. 

I basically begged my mother to let me play soccer. She originally wanted me to be a cheerleader or join the dance team, which I later did in third grade, it was torture, but in exchange of horrifying dance practices at school, I joined a soccer team afterwards.  Since the age of 9, I’ve been non-stop busting my butt in soccer. I started off in a very small Sunday league, close to home. I only ever practiced two days a week, and played one game on Saturday. While playing in this Sunday league, I also convinced my mom to let me join the school soccer team, which as cocky as it sounds, I’ll say, I was better than most people. Later that year, I was hungry for more.

My mom decided to sign me up for my first competitive team, Challenge. It was a very humbling experience, that’s how I’ll summarize my first few weeks. I thought I had a God-given talent, since most of the time I was told “ I was pretty good for a girl”. But now I was surrounded by nothing but girls, who were ALL  better than me. It was obvious they had spent years practicing, and their knowledge for the game was insane to me at the time. I went from practicing two days a week to practicing four days during the week, and playing two games on Saturday.

Although I spent most of my time playing, I didn’t necessarily get exhausted or overworked, mainly because I enjoyed playing, I was progressively improving, and  I met some of the best people through that environment. I stayed with Challenge for two seasons before getting recruited for the club team Houstonians. The Houstonians, at the time was barely building up its girls soccer leagues, but it became beneficial for my mother since it was the same club my brother was playing for at the time. 

It was a rough start with the Houstonians. We lost every game with at least three goals against my team. But it wasn’t a responsibility. It was a pleasure. Although we were the worst team in the league, I would consider this time period the peak of my soccer career. 

Eventually the Houstonians grew as a club, and before you knew it, we were placing first place in the regional leagues. As we grew as a team, so did the competition and stress. Suddenly soccer felt more like a responsibility and commitment. 

Being captain of the team added more weight onto my shoulders. While I was getting the most playing time out of all of my teammates, I received a lot of hate for the same reason. My teammates were like my siblings, since I spent so much time with them. But after I became captain, my relationship took a turn for the worse.

From being best friends to becoming each other’s competition, the environment became more toxic. Constant issues would arise between them and I. I’d feel the negative energy and frustration. People whom I considered family were now my biggest competition. 

As high school arrived, so did scholarships. Standing out from the mediocre players was top priority. During my freshman year I spent an unhealthy amount of hours practicing and losing weight. I remember looking at myself in the mirror. I thought myself fat even though I was the skinniest, weighing about 110 pounds. My height was also an issue. Usually center backs are the tallest and fastest players in the field. They must seem intimidating and show leadership on the field. I, on the other hand, was short and anything but intimidating. Every time I was asked what position I played, an amused and confused look would pop up. “ Aren’t you a little too short for a center back.” I felt the added pressure of having to prove myself. 

To boost up my confidence, my mother allowed me to join small league teams. In these teams, I was praised, and in my opinion, overrated. Through these small leagues, my confidence rose and I made a lot of connections as well. My mother would get calls from multiple teams asking me to play for them. There were coaches that actually wanted me, that didn’t berate me everyday.

Two years later, the opportunity of a lifetime came across my path. It was the open tryouts for the Salvadoran national women’s team. 

I remember the day vividly, as I was one of the few selected. Was this really happening? Was this a dream? Could someone please slap me in the face and wake me up? I was appalled, surprised. I got selected!! There were probably at least a hundred girls trying out, and they had only selected five girls, and I was one of them.

My journey with the Selecta team was a journey I will never forget. Although I was so far away from family and friends, I was learning more than I ever had in my life. I was meeting players that were just like me, people that I could relate to. We were part of conferences and treated like adults. Everywhere we went, we were followed by cameras and groups of people. For the first time, I got to travel internationally, by myself. 

Although it was a life changing opportunity, it was also a very bittersweet experience. While I had dreamed of this moment all of my life, I became very insecure about the one thing I was best at. Soccer was my thing. If anyone would come up to me and ask about soccer, I could have gone off about all that I know about the sport. But my journey with the Selecta changed that. I was surrounded by amazing players, but also a competitive and strict atmosphere. We practiced three times a day, summing up about six to seven hours of practice per day. We were not allowed to go outside the federation. We had to stay in our rooms unless it was time for practice. My routine for an entire month and a half was eating, sleeping and practicing. Nothing else. 

Was this really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life? 

I made it. I made it pro level not even hitting the age of eighteen yet. I got paid a decent amount of money to do what it is “I love most “ to do. But is it what I love most? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life playing a sport? It’s too late to change my mind now. I can’t just go up to my parents and say “ Hey remember how you spent thousands of dollars and hours on me to play soccer, yeah well it was all worth nothing. I think I’d rather spend the rest of my days working at a McDonalds.”

It’s not that I want to give up on the sport, but the majority of the time, I am not enjoying myself as much as I used to at a younger age. More than a place to distress, soccer brings more stress. Inner doubt  is something I fight against every day. Playing competitively did not turn out to what I thought it would be.

Abby better first touch. Abby fix that hand coordination. Abby you could’ve played better if you lost some weight. Abby, you had a bad game today. Abby, you have to scream more, you’re the captain. Abby, you were not good enough today. 

Whenever someone congratulates me for soccer, I want to punch them in the nose, the most painful place to hit in the face. Or knee them in the stomach and yell straight at their face to “ Never mention soccer to me again.” That’s the scenario I play in my head. But then, I just nod my head and tell them “ thank you so much”.