Most days I get in the car and go where I need to go without thinking much else. I need to go to the store, or the field or the gym. Then there are days when I get in the car and I just feel like driving. Not anywhere in particular. Just away. And it’s not necessarily because I’m unhappy, it’s just because sometimes I crave a change of scenery. I imagine many people feel this way once in a while.
The urge for something different.
One day in April, my brother and I got in the car and we drove. To Kansas. Just those words alone seem ridiculous to me, even now. We drove to Kansas from Connecticut. Me. Who said she would never, could never, live in the Midwest.
But in this instance I had to take my chances. And I was lucky enough to have a brother who would do almost anything for me to take me there. He made it so I couldn’t turn around in Pennsylvania or Indiana. He kept me sane.
It was a long 20 hours in the car. Most of the time I was thinking, wtf am I doing? Then there were bits of wonderment and hope that tomorrow would be better than today. That’s something I haven’t thought too much in my life, but the past three years it seems like a constant.
The night we got to Kansas City, I met Chris Farabee first. I learned quickly that Chris has been the one that can help you get things done if you need anything. From putting a dresser together, to arranging appearances to driving you to training, he wears all the hats. He made me feel welcomed right away.
The next morning my brother and I had breakfast with Yael Averbuch.
Yael took me under her wing. It’s weird to say that, especially because she’s younger than me and I had so much life experience and soccer experience up until that point. But she did it. She made sure I was taken care of. And I let her do that. It’s amazing what we’re capable of when we let go of standard expectations and our own ego. I was in Kansas City as a 32-year-old practice player. I had let go of everything. I’m pretty sure that started happening gradually during the 20-hour road trip.
As each state passed and we were further from normal, I felt a sense of giving in to life, letting go of control. I tried to control so much for so long. I tried to be so strict with myself. I had expectations that made me OCD and in turn, disappointed quite often. I wasn’t being fair to myself.
There’s a song that my mom used to play for me when I was a child unable to form words. Maybe some of my more musically experienced (see what I did there?) readers know this one: Life In A Northern Town by Dream Academy. I listen to that song when I miss my mom sometimes and it calms me. And one line in it I’ve heard 100 times but only recently has it hit hard.
“Take it easy on yourself.”
Man, I’ve been so hard on myself.
I’m not saying I shouldn’t be sometimes. Sometimes I need to push myself to get to where I want to be. But maybe I’m happier when I cut myself some slack sometimes too. Maybe I’m actually much better the less I have to try.
I had a conversation with Yael about coming to Kansas City. I talked to Vlatko Andonovksi and Huw Williams on the phone about the logistics. There was a chance I could get a contract, but it wouldn’t be easy and that’s not what I was thinking about. That wouldn’t make or break my time there. And I couldn’t believe I thought those thoughts, but I had to think those thoughts or else I would be right back to where I was with my expectations and being hard on myself.
So my gut said to go to Kansas City. I don’t know all the reasons why. I’m sure I’ll never know why.
Once I started training more and getting to know the people there I was able to start putting the pieces together. (I’m trying hard to put all this into words and it’s not easy.) I stopped chasing an ideal life. I stopped chasing contracts and game minutes and approval from people. I stopped trying to please everyone all the time. I just stopped.
I felt free. Which I wrote about a little more light-hearted in my previous blog.
When I feel free, apparently, I’m much more myself. And here’s the coolest part. When I’m more myself, which involves having a split personality or maybe duality of some sort that makes my life more balanced. I have tended in the past years to go more toward one side which makes me serious, work too much and overly routined.
I was trying so hard that it was using all my energy all the time.
You know what doesn’t use up all my energy? Being myself. Being my own natural self. It’s easy. I never realized how easy it was, to be myself and to have all the extra energy as a result.
This seems like such a cliché statement, but it’s not. It’s not because rarely do people take the time to get to know themselves enough to be them self. I’m an over-thinker. I got to this point almost by accident. But I’m here.
I wasn’t able to do this by myself though. Sometimes all the good things are inside of us. Like a pomegranate. It’s a process to get them all out.
The people in Kansas City, without trying or knowing it, got all my good things out of me.
It started with Vlatko. Without getting too far into it, Vlatko has created an environment where less is more. Less instruction. Less stress. Fewer rules. It’s a player’s environment. It allows for your own thought process to take over instead of a coach’s. This is rare. I felt free to play and to improve. I did that on the field. It wasn’t just Vlatko though. His staff is what makes his vision work. Matt Briggs, Milan Ivanovic, Shawn Dumers, the guys at Athlete Fit, Scott Moody and Shon Jones. They all buy into this. Add that to the idea that everyone is treated the same and it’s a recipe for success. Maybe not success in the way most people view it, but in the way Vlatko does. He told me he values the relationships he has with people and their lives more than the soccer part of it. That’s rare.
On the first day I walked into the training room to meet Shawn and tell him about my past injuries he had his sick baby boy in there with him. Nicole Barnhart was holding him and taking care of him as if it were her own and Shawn was focused on me. Everything I had to say. He was completely focused. He told me that it didn’t matter if I was a practice player or a starter on the national team, everyone would get the same treatment. He really didn’t have to say that, because I felt it right then and there. I also felt that every single day after that. With everyone listed above.
The staff took care of me. I never once felt like a practice player. They made it possible for me to get better every day. On the field. In the treatment room. In the gym. I felt like I could fall into a net held up by all these guys whenever things got hard. It never got to that point.
So now for the stuff that makes me a little more emotional.
Yael is one of the best people you will ever meet in your life. One night after two beers I started to write a tribute about her. Maybe that was a little creepy so I never finished it. I hardly knew her before I went to Kansas City. By the time I left I felt like I had known her my whole life and was forever indebted to her. She made it so easy to come into the team. She is the definition of a true friend.
I lived with Yael for the first two months. Her roommates, Molly Menchel and Heather O’Reilly jumped on the train with Yael and made sure I was 150 percent comfortable and happy every day. I have never felt so comfortable being uncomfortable before. They made me realize that we can always be better to each other. We can actually save people if we think about them more than ourselves. For the record, Yael is able to do everything on her to-do list each day and then yours, and mine and whatever else needs to be done. She can do all this and sit down and have a cup of tea and relax. She’s something else.
I started making friends quickly within the group. Alex Arlitt and Brianne Reed came into my life like a hurricane hurling houses and cars. Man, I needed them. They made it more than okay to be absolutely ridiculous. They are so weird. I am so weird. And so stupid. To the point where I never thought I could say half the things I wanted to until I met them. Apparently they felt similarly. It reinforced the idea that I am funny and can be funny and truly enjoy being funny more often than not. Life doesn’t have to be so serious.
I started to talk to Amanda Frisbie more and more. She’s a goofball but has a heart of gold and steel. We shared our love for music together, specifically Fleetwood Mac and I was reminded quickly that music makes me so happy. I knew music made me happy, but I didn’t act on it. She got in on the stupidity of the rest of us quickly. She was a perfect fit.
The end of June approached and by this point I had an offer from Kvarnsvedens IK in Sweden to play the second half of the season. I didn’t know what to do at this point. I was making strong friendships. I was getting better on and off the field. I was in a place where it would be hard to leave, but man I was dying to play in games.
I signed with Kvarnsvedens. (Thanks to the help of Adelaide Gay, who believes in me more than I believe in myself sometimes) It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The plan was to leave Kansas City at the end of June, go home for a few weeks in July and then head to Sweden.
That was the plan. A plan I wasn’t crazy about, but that was probably best for me. How do we even know what’s best for us? Really? I think we just know sometimes. Sometimes we think we know.
By this time, I moved in to an apartment with my new roommate Mandy Laddish. Mandy and I hadn’t spoken more than five words the first two months I was there. She worked a lot and wasn’t living at the apartments. She has a real job to pay for her student loans. She also coaches. She’s impressive.
We became best friends quickly.
Mandy is a really good painter. Really good. She is modest about it. She reminded me how important it is to have things that we’re passionate about and not to ignore them. I should write when the mood hits me, when I feel free to write, like right now on our 8-hour bus ride. It’s just flowing out of me like (man the only analogy that’s coming to mind with the word flow is just not really the best one) … It’s the same idea of forcing something to happen, trying too hard. It’s never as good. Our friendship was very natural and easy. It has made me realize that most things can be this way if we’re open to them. If we have to try so hard for something, is it really something we want?
I’m not sure anymore. I used to think so. But now I think that something pops in my mind because that’s where my mind wants to be. If I want to watch Meet Joe Black four times in a month, then that’s what I want to do, who cares if it’s a 3-hour movie and there are so many other movies I should see?
So then plans changed. A few players were injured and I stayed on as an amateur call-up for July. I'm so glad I did. I had a taste of traveling, dressing, getting in games again and having more time with these wonderful people I had grown to love. It was all the right thing to do. Every step of it.
This is by far the longest blog I’ve ever written in my life. I have tried to write this at least ten times now. I have plenty of beginnings saved on my computer. None of them felt natural, so I stopped and waited for a better time. That time finally arrived.
I’m currently playing in Sweden for Kvarnsvedens IK. Leaving Kansas City was actually very difficult, but definitely the right decision. I knew this when I left and I was confirmed of that when I played in my first game on Tuesday. It had been more than three years since my name was announced in the starting lineup of a team. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, and I didn’t think it was a big deal, but on Tuesday when they said my name, something in me sparked.
I had been put back together in Kansas City. I won’t ever lose that again. And if I do, I know how to find it. Being in Sweden, I have the last piece to the puzzle. The one that you always put in so slowly and carefully because you know that once it’s down you can see the whole picture, just as it’s supposed to be. The one that, without, leaves something to be desired.
I’m whole. Or at least I feel that way right now. I can play again. My knee feels good. The coaches and players here believe in me. They made it extremely easy to come into their season half way. That could be partly how I am now, but also a testament to the people here.
That’s just all you can ask for as an athlete.
The road probably won’t be easy going forward. In anything I do.
I just know that I’ll do my best. I’ll be me. And I’ll always take it easy on myself.