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The phone rings as I’m dropping my daughter off at a friend’s house for a play date. It’s my best friend since elementary school and in all the unexpectedness of the call I answer on the last ring only to quickly ask her to wait. I keep the play date drop-off momentum going all the while Natalie listens to background noise: “where’s your shoes…remember your manners… listen to her mommy… I love you, see you later”. Finally, I’m kid free with a moment of silence to hear my own thoughts. I can’t wait to have an adult conversation. And then, oh no…. she’s talking through tears. Why is she crying?

Turns out, she was playing soccer. Yeah. Just a regular ol’ game that takes a turn for the worst when her teammate goes down with a yelp and rolls around in pain holding her knee. Aside from the deep and caring realization of how much that sucked for her teammate, you see, Natalie called because also realized how much it sucked for me and also for her, and for all our fellow soccer everywhere.

Twice within the last three years Natalie has had the pleasure of escorting me home like a mobile nursing service after each of my soccer induced ACL surgeries.  It quite frankly might be the most feared of all soccer injuries and when witnessed, feelings of doom and dread follow, undoubtedly. The injury just sucks on many levels.

  • your soccer career is over as you know it
  • you can’t walk
  • you have no idea how you’re going to afford the care and surgery you’ll need to get better
  • you lose the f’ing game you were playing
  • you had no idea the injury was coming, no warning signs at all
  • you don’t deserve this
  • fuck fuck fuck fuck this sucks
  • the pain, just the f’ing pain
  • the embarrassment, how did I let this happen?
  • as you heal, prior to surgery you feel somewhat normal and then no, you end up on the floor crying in pain because you stepped down on the stairs wrong. the pain!
  • you can’t hold your children or put them in their crib because your leg isn’t stable enough. Can’t hold my kids, seriously. F you!
  • you cannot move freely without fear
  • you hate everyone who can walk normally
  • you hate sitting in the waiting room
  • you’re filled with fear, omg, they’re going to do what during surgery, drill through the bone? I have to choose between a cadaver replacement ACL or using my own tendon? What the F!
  • also, when when I say “you” I mean me, so yeah

Now, her tears weren’t all just an empathetic demonstration of her love for her teammate, me and all our fellow soccer players, they were also crazy tears. Crazy tears as in, why the hell do we love soccer so much that we play to the point of bitter and devastating injury? Are we crazy? What is wrong with us?

It’s true. I love soccer more than I ever imagined possible. The rush of imagining just the right move and then executing it in the moment and juking another girl out of her shorts just to get an assist and see your team go one up in the last minutes of the game? Yes please! Then there’s the physical and mental fitness required to stay in the game, pump yourself up to be better than the last time, see yourself improving, moves getting easier that used to be difficult, or making that last run or connecting a tough pass or making one last shot on goal even when you think you’ve got absolutely no gas left in the tank. Uh huh, that! Not to mention the whole team part. You’re sharing an experience of oneness (OK this is getting a bit deep but hang in there with me) with 12 other girls all fighting for the same cause, working their butts off to win. Laughing, crying, ganging up on that one chic on the other team who can’t quite seem to keep her elbows down or her obsessive hacking under control. Word! The camaraderie is unmatched, I’ve just never experienced anything else like it on the same scale or with the same frequency.

So  wrapping up the whole bitter injury spiel here, twice I went from a euphoric, can’t-wipe-this-smile-from-my-face and I-can’t-wait-until-we-do-this-again high to WHAM! Denied. Nope,  you just ripped to shreds this kinda major ligament that you didn’t even know you had but it keeps your leg from bending in all hellish directions. So no, a-buh-bye. UGH, pure hate and anger oozed from the deepest core of my being.

Fast forward to today and its like to clouds have parted and the sun has come out to answer my prayers. I worked hard through physical therapy for the last 8 months and setting aside for a moment the countless early mornings and hardship that comes along with a relentless dedication to a full recovery of being able to play soccer again,  I have a massive amount of gratitude for my body and all its amazingness. Crazy, I never thought I’d say this but all the hate and pain was totally worth it.

So, Natalie,  your seemingly crazed and tumultuous burst of tears and worry are quite sound. We can and do love soccer as purely as we did as 10 year old kids. We love it and all the painful, thrilling, joyful, fulfilling, exciting, and exhausting experiences and feelings that come along with it. All of it. Are we crazy to love soccer so much? Nope and nothing will ever replace it… that is until I recently discovered Zumba! No, who am I kidding? It’s just a solid runner up. You wanna join me for a class sometime? Check out the schedule at the Y, let’s gooooooooooooo!

Above is Tracy, Natalie and fellow teammates in 1990 and again 20 years later still playing strong. The smiles say it all.

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