I remember one day as a little kid, I asked my parents if it was possible for me to ever dislike my sport. Soccer is my life, but on that day, I wanted to test just how much I loved it.
I gave it my best effort to hate soccer for the day and see what it felt like, but it wasn’t long before I was dribbling around the furniture, megging my mom as she helplessly walked by, and grinding out FIFA games on xbox. I simply couldn’t stay away.
My love for soccer is what took me places I couldn’t have imagined. I scored for the U.S. Youth National Team at 13 years old, played internationally, and became a high school All-American. Whenever someone said, “think of your happy place,” my mind went straight to the field.
To the field I went –Shaw Field at Georgetown University to be exact. Attending a top 10 Division I school that had never won a national championship in soccer excited me, and I had a vision for us as a program. What I did not expect during my career was the anxiety, depression, and panic attacks –body shaking, hysterically bawling, severe dizziness –my vision becoming blurrier and blurrier.
My anxiety attacks sort of felt like the last level of the fitness test. You’re overheated, losing air, and feel like you’re about to faint. It was like a shark was chasing after me, and I was running out of strokes to swim any longer. My mind became clouded with self-doubt. I went through the motions at practice and just wanted to get through an away trip without breaking down. I became a robot in routine. The love I once had for soccer began to get sucked out of me. After my freshman year, I found myself asking the same question I had asked myself as that little kid about a decade earlier –is it possible I don’t like soccer anymore?
After long contemplation, I decided to take my sophomore season off from soccer to get my head right. I am so grateful to have had such supportive coaches and teammates to allow me to have the option to come back. This was a much greater test than the one I had given myself when I was younger. I had months ahead of me without doing what I’d done for the past 15 years, without being part of a team, and without part of my identity.
During that time, I definitely felt empty without playing the sport I loved so much, and I couldn’t bear the idea that the only thing stopping me was myself. After a long year, I felt rejuvenated and confident enough to return to the team for my junior season in 2019.
Nevertheless, within hours of returning back to campus for preseason, I felt the anxiety creeping back into my bones. It wasn’t long before I lost complete control of my mind and body, and I had fallen right back into panic mode, right back into that never-ending last level of the fitness test… in addition to running the literal fitness test. It felt as though I was getting suffocated by my own hand, and I couldn’t stop it no matter how hard I fought.
After a couple of days, I disappointingly told my coach that it was happening again. I felt so defeated by my own demons which I thought I had taken some control over. I told my coach I was done with soccer for good, that my mind simply couldn’t function in this intense distress any longer. Once again, he understood and left me with the same option to return if I felt I could. I remember telling my parents that my decision was absolutely final and that I had never been so sure of a choice in my life.
The team went off to the preseason hotel while I stayed back to sit with my thoughts about what had just happened over the past 96 hours. I was absolutely drained, but you know what I always find funny? Whenever we finish the fitness test –no matter how exhausted we were –we usually say, “You know, I could’ve done just one more level. I could’ve pushed it one more if I really wanted to.” And so, as my anxiety subsided and my mind became clearer…
I was back on the team in a week. I played in every single game. I finished with three goals and four assists. We placed first in the Big East. We won the Big East Tournament. I scored the game winning goal in the Big East Final. I was the MVP of the Big East Tournament. I scored in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. And of all moments to have anxiety defeat me, I was not going to let taking a penalty kick in the NCAA National Final be one of them. I buried it into the bottom left corner, and we won our first ever National Championship.
It was pure ecstasy. This time, I didn’t just “get by.” I really cherished each day. I rediscovered my love for the game. We didn’t need to win for me to be proud of myself and my team that season. I was certain I was done with soccer for good, and a couple of months later, I was a national champion. Sometimes I still can’t wrap my head around that. It shows how difficult anxiety and depression can make judgement and motivation, but it also shows the power of breaking through the limit it puts on you. It shows what the support from teammates and coaches can do. It shows what awareness can do.
I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I work to ensure that that doesn’t define me. It is a constant battle for control, but I am working on mindfulness techniques like breathwork and meditation. I am seeing a psychologist to talk through my thoughts and feelings. I would encourage anyone going through something to not be afraid to seek help, because we all have our battles. I know I couldn’t have been a national champion if I didn’t. There is strength in that, male or female, athlete or not. You never know, you might be able to push it just one more level.