Two Days A Thorn

Kate’s Thorns Featured Image
Kathleen Dolan tries out for a National Women’s Soccer League championship team, the Portland Thorns.

Ten years ago now, at a public college in Southeastern New York, I played my best soccer during weeknight intramural games. The games were late at night, beginning at nine and going until midnight, indoor at the school gym. Relaxed as intramural leagues often are, this one was fun and we goofed off but once the whistle blew, it was serious and competitive. The players were good, some were on the school’s official team and others were former high school athletes who wanted to stay in shape without committing to a rigorous college team schedule. We ran hard, even on nights when we’d show up after a few beers. Although it was co-ed, it was mostly men and I was usually one of only ten women. I had crushes on most of the guys, telling my best friend and roommate that he just “plays so gracefully” or “you should see the way he shoots.” My devotion to it may have had as much to do with the crushes and social life it gave me as it did soccer, but either way, even after years of playing on my varsity high school team and as a kid, I had never played so well. I remember thinking to myself, playing with the boys, this is how you get good.

Thorns' Logo

The Portland Thorns Official Logo

This Saturday, April 11th, the Portland Thorns will play their season opener, at home in Providence Park. The women’s professional soccer team, with the cool-colored rose logo that always makes me think of Chuck Taylor’s, but with a rose-city slant, are one of nine teams in the young National Women’s Soccer League. Both the league and the team are merely two seasons into their history, beginning their third this spring. The Thorns won the title in 2013, and boast some of the best known talent on their roster.

This year, a few new players joined the club, picked from one of the team’s two open try-outs, held on each coast. Select, young, ambitious women, who might not see any playing time or participate beyond the pre-season, have nonetheless put their foot in the door, even if just to practice with the star players, and to learn from the starting eleven. These women are awesome and it only makes me think of how good those already on the team truly are.

I can attest to this, because for the two-day West Coast try-out in March, I played alongside these women at Providence Park, vying for a spot on that roster. Mostly, I felt like that little sister again, playing with their older siblings because Mom says so, and who barely makes a dent in the play. I didn’t make the team, but either way, for the month and a half before the try-outs, to train to become a Portland Thorn, I sweat, ran, and psyched myself up more than I have since those intramural days.

Of course, a month and a half of training to make a professional soccer team is ridiculous. I know this. In fact, as I write this, when I type lines like, “to become a Portland Thorn” I can’t help but laugh to myself. I learned about the open-tryouts just a month and a half before the date. The few people I told either said, “Who are the Thorns again?” or, “The try-out is when!” as if maybe I meant 2016, not 2015. But the try-outs were open; anyone could sign up.

I thought about it for days and I still don’t know, even after it’s done, why I did it. I signed up like it was something I had to do — maybe just for this story, maybe to get into shape. Maybe because other things in my life started to feel unsteady, like career uncertainties and the mundane angst of turning thirty. I found myself with free time and saw it as a goal that would require nothing less than boot-camp style discipline and focus, that would put me back in touch with something that as a younger person I was dedicated to.

I don’t know exactly why but what I do know is that when I went to the Thorns’ website to sign up, I registered for it like you do when you’re about to buy a plane ticket you probably can’t afford, for a trip you maybe shouldn’t take, with a person you’re not sure about, but some part of your mind considers all these doubts and then shuts them off. Sometimes you shouldn’t question the instinct, and you click, Submit.

Training Days

The next morning, I grabbed my gray hooded sweatshirt – because something about wearing a hoodie makes me feel sixteen again – and joined the daily leagues of runners on Willamette Boulevard. I searched and found my old Adidas cleats in a box in my basement. They were still bright blue and looked new. For a month and a half I ran sprints in Columbia Park or downtown at Lincoln High School, about every other day. On the first day, I felt nauseous after three (very short) sprints. I was out of breath after one but incredulous, so I pushed through. My heart pounded at a rate that set off my hypochondriac mind, instantly worried, I shouldn’t do this, I’ll have a heart attack!

The nausea wore off but it kind of killed that initial, blind momentum. It hit me that if I was going to do this, I would really have to push it. That didn’t dawn on me sitting at my desk while signing up online or envisioning headlines, like “30 Year-Old Walk-On Makes Portland Thorns!” I wasn’t out of shape; I ride my bike everywhere and have been an on and off again runner, but I hadn’t played soccer in any rigorous, regimented way, for years.

At Lincoln High School, a teenage boy was there every morning before I arrived. I made sure to go before school started, at 7 am, so as not to interrupt team practices. If I’m honest, it was also because I didn’t want to be seen and felt self-conscious knowing I’d be panting after a few hard sprints. But I got over that at some point and came to enjoy the kid’s company at a distance. We shared the field as the sun came up and it brought to mind all those early morning practices from childhood. It was quiet outside and quiet in my head, before the day’s errands and emails would take me further from my body.

The kid was short, had curly hair and was built in that way where he looked ready to break out in a sprint at any moment; some people just look agile standing still. He had ten or so soccer balls with him and would shoot at a goalie-less goal, the curve of the ball revealing his skill. We never spoke but I’d wonder about him when I was there and why, at about 15 years old I am guessing, he came out by himself most mornings just to shoot. He’d line the ball up at various points outside of the 18-yard box, and send them in, one by one. Did he not make a team because his shot came up short? Was a coach’s voice to improve this repeating itself in his head? I may be romanticizing the scenario here, but it’s easy to do that early in the morning with the sun’s first rays dawning on an empty field, save for the one dedicated player, the images of that classic underdog movie, Rudy, floating through my mind.

Over the next month, I started to feel it. My knees hurt like hell, but I was quicker, felt less sick. I added more and more sprints each time. My run would take me past University of Portland sometimes passing by the soccer practices and games going on outside. I would spend the rest of the run flooded with vivid memories of playing soccer growing up.

kathleen dolan soccer kid

That’s Me in High School, 2000 (left) and Jr. High, 1997 (right)

In 8th grade, our school team went undefeated and in my small 12 year-old scope of things, this was as big as the Yankees winning the pennant. At school, when that happened, it was announced over the loud speaker. I remember after our final win, the bus driver took the team down main street and into a parking lot where about thirty parents and friends gathered to wave and cheer as we pulled up. There was a banner. It might as well have been the famous Ticker Tape parade held in NYC for teams like the Yanks or the Giants after they won championships. I thought the entire town was there and that we were being honored as heroes.

In high school, I played all four years. I loved running the length of the field as a midfield wing. I loved the two years I spent at center-mid. The way a good through ball looked after passing it up the middle to a forward coming on it at a perfect angle at the top of the 18 was a beautiful sight to me. Or a mid-air cross from a far sideline, dropping right in the goal box at a forward’s foot, made me react like people do when they hear a piece of music they love and try to get everyone else to quiet and listen. I wasn’t too aggressive, although somehow I fell a lot and was constantly bruised from mid-thigh down. I pulled some shirts to announce my scrawny presence to thicker opponents. I have long legs for my height and could snake them into huddles to come out with the ball. I was quick, not the quickest, but I was fiercely competitive and speed would come out of nowhere if the ball was let loose ahead and an opponent was eying it from the same distance.

At one of my jobs as a bartender in my mid-twenties, my boss once said to me, “Kate, you’re a good bartender. You know why?” I didn’t know his reason, but I sensed it had nothing to do with making a good Manhattan. “Because you’re always looking up and out, awaiting the next thing, aware of the room, knowing when someone comes in.” I think I brought that from soccer. It was my best asset: envisioning plays before they happened, always looking up and knowing where the ball and other players were.

Try-Outs Day 1

On the afternoon of the first try-out, I looked up and around the moment I got there. It’s all I did for the first 20 minutes, just watched while I stretched. Sixty-three girls in the warm March sun at Providence field. Lots of swinging ponytails, messy buns and high voices. Bright, neon green, orange and yellow cones dotted the field. Light glinted off of the empty seats of the stadium. There were enough soccer balls it seemed for each of us to have one.

Arriving on the first day at Providence Park

Arriving on the first day at Providence Park

It was the usual scene I remembered from high school too. The arrangement was familiar: clumps of girls talking while passing, laughing and juggling the ball in groups, while others stuck to themselves, running warm-up jogs or laying on the field, stretching with eyes cast down at the grass looking serious or surveying the competition like I was. Some girls held on to the goal posts for balance while they swung their legs in a kick and follow-through motion. I remember back in high school seeing some players start to do this and I thought it was the most sophisticated warm-up stretch I had ever seen. I wondered if they had gone to a camp during the summer or something, picking up some fresh techniques.

When I looked closer though, the initial sights at Providence Park were unlike those of any try-out or practice I had been a part of. You can get a good sense of someone’s skill right away from just how they touch the ball and engage in simple passing. I watched the soft, controlled touches of the juggling, the ball rarely hitting the ground. These players instinctively shifted the slack and tension of their feet, incorporating their thighs, heels, toes in the fluid ping-pong-like dance of the ball. I looked around and rarely saw an errant pass, a clumsy juggle. One-touch and two-touch passes appeared effortless, like they could have been texting on their phones while doing it.

I thought, what am I doing here? I expelled it as quickly as it came into my head. I had been stretching at this point for a while so I looked for someone to pass with. Most girls had partners at this point. This was a silly fear of mine. Of all the things that could have made me nervous, I dreaded the possibility of an announcement made by the coach. “Partner up!” Remember this as a kid in gym class? The weird anxiety it would bring sometimes, as you’d look around and watch friends find partners and you hadn’t? But it wasn’t like that here. And actually before I could ask, a girl from Washington state asked me to pass with her.

She had long blond hair and long legs, and was 23 or 24, I can’t remember. I expected to be among the oldest. Most of the women there looked 23 or 24, but some looked 17. As I get older, I think that 22 year-olds look 18, so I added a few years to everyone.

Right on time, we were all called into a huddle by the coach, Paul Riley, and sat on the field around where he stood as he introduced us to the try-out. Riley is from Liverpool and in that scouse accent, he said things like, “we’re here to have fun,” and was slinging jokes right off the bat. He introduced two assistant coaches, Skip and Scott, and after announcing he would only take two of the 63 players, he offered feedback and guidance for how we could all continue playing. He said he’d help us find other teams or clubs, and give us advice on specific ways to improve and navigate this level of competition. I liked him immediately.

Riley said we’d start with some drills that may be complicated, “I know I am going to tell you to go right and half of you will go left, but we’ll figure it out.” His tone was relaxing actually, and it all seemed a little more casual than the militaristic boot-camp style try-out I had built up in my head. He said, “we’re running this exactly as I would do a training session for the girls, not a try-out. You’ll see what we do on a daily basis. For the next 48 hours, you’re all Thorns.” I absorbed this almost desperately and it was plainly galvanizing. He also promised that he’d learn all of our names by the end of day two.

The first drill appeared and sounded easy, basic passing in two lines around a few cones. Done this before, I thought, no problem. But it got chaotic, quickly. All of us were confused with orienting ourselves in a drill that called for short passes, switching lines, and remembering which side the ball should start on. Maybe it was because everyone was nervous, or we hadn’t played with each other. Passes were missed, and balls escaped to the middle of the field. So many women’s voices called out over the chatter, “C’mon ladies!” ranging in tone from encouraging to frustrated. The  coach tried to command above the noise, to instruct and steer us back in line. There was irritation in his voice but also acquiescence, because it was, like he said, what he expected. It was a great leveler – we were all at a first day try-out, distractedly trying to focus, worrying that we were blowing it, passing right when we should be passing left.

Then we broke up to play small scrimmages with a few miscellaneous passing rules but it was straight soccer for the most part. And after that first drill it was like the blindfolds had been taken off or the coach’s scrutinizing gaze was no longer felt; we were let loose to just play. This is when certain players and styles began to stand out. There was a woman who dribbled the ball at her feet, her head up the whole time, a natural leader, choreographing the game. I had described her to a friend afterwards, a fellow soccer fan, saying that she moved so swiftly with the ball as if it wasn’t there at all. He said, “their feet, it’s like a second set of hands.” That’s what it was like.

Others had force, powerful kicks and were like walls on defense, regardless of their size – the thin, bony women as effective as the bulkier ones. Even watching closely I couldn’t discern exactly how nothing got past them. It was skill, yes, but instinct and improvising, every part of the body (aside from the hands) was involved in the barrier and in the rare times a player did get past them, it was not without some kind of interference. Some played a heavily aggressive game, others were like graceful ballerinas, untouched as they seemingly tiptoed and danced on all sides of the ball, twirling around defenders.

The try-outs were broken down into four sessions, two each day, with an hour and a half break in between. During the breaks I researched some of the girls I had just been playing with, whose full names I caught by ear. I read whatever I could find about them or articles written about their teams. A few of them had been awarded various regional or collegiate athletic honors, like “Tournament MVPs” or “Student Player of the Week.” Online, I saw images of them on the field. The pictures were like those of the pros, they looked sharp mid-play in their uniforms, with thin pink headbands in their hair like Alex Morgan. I remember rolling up long pieces of gauze from the first-aid kit in high school to make headbands like that. They weren’t pink but we all thought they looked good.

Try-Outs Day 2

On the second day, the try-out started early in the morning. After only spending one full day together, seeing the same women again in different shorts, soccer socks, and shirts, they all looked familiar. You quickly get to know people in situations like this without even talking. You know how they play, recognize their voices. And by the end of that second day, Paul Riley made good on his promise, remembering each of our names, even though (if I even remember correctly) there were at least three Amandas, and a few variations of Kaylas and Caitlyns.

We scrimmaged for most of that day. The coach sat crouched down on the far end of the field or with the two other coaches in the stands, watching an 11 v 11 play out with a clipboard in his lap taking notes, and every once in a while asking a woman for her name. I wondered what he was writing down and how was it that he would pick two women from two short days of playing. It doesn’t take long to detect the talent though. Not just in ball-handling skills or physical strength. Some women stood out as good communicators, leaders, simply wiser about the game than the others. These players had kept their heads up. They balanced aggression with poise. They had dazzling dribbling moves but also knew how and when to slow a game down. There were twenty or so that stood out, even among so many solid athletes.

I realized I had my own list going and had narrowed sixty-three players to the ten of whom I thought were the best, based upon playing with everyone. I don’t know when it happened, when I had taken myself out of the running, or had let myself finally see it transparently, but I wasn’t on my own list. Still on that second day, I played better, loosened up and had fun. I got slide-tackled a few times by a girl half my size, skinny with legs like whips, and had to stop myself from uttering to her, “hey, let’s just have fun here. Calm down.” But in her mind, she was on her list and this was it for her. Of course she was going all out. She worked hard to be here. She was about 21, I guessed, and there was nothing on her in terms of weight, but her mental muscle was ferocious and she was versed in playing with people twice her size. So I kept playing but realized, I didn’t have that predator instinct anymore and didn’t go up against her. I didn’t see risking the injury worthwhile.

In the stands, I overheard a conversation between a few of the players as we watched the other players’ turn at a scrimmage. They were talking about the schools they went to and seeing who knew who in the world of women’s college soccer and if they competed against the same women. They talked about wedding planning when a girl they had played with got engaged and planned her wedding while competing. “I can’t even have a boyfriend,” I heard one say.

Behind me in the stands sat Cecy, a woman who I had spoken to earlier in the day. She was petite and when I first spotted her, she fit in with most of the women, looking to be about 25. Talking with her though, I saw that her face had no trace of baby fat, and around her eyes, a dark softness gave her a mature beauty, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me she was 31, older than me, and probably the oldest there.

Cecy is from Mexico and has played soccer for indoor teams in St. Louis where she now lives and works as a nanny. We talked about being sore and laughed about remembering playing soccer when we were younger. From listening to us, you would have thought we were in our 50s, reminiscing about soccer 30 years prior. We laughed and admitted that it did seem like a lot had changed in the years since we played in our late teens and early twenties. From the types of drills to the stretching regimens, this was more sophisticated. I never played for any elite, traveling club teams, but I remembered when pre-game stretching for us was simply touching our toes and sitting cross-legged doing the “butterfly” stretch for our groin muscles.

She watched me take off my shin guards. I got them in 1999 and wore them throughout high school. I can’t believe I found them and that I hadn’t lost them in the move across the country from upstate New York or half a dozen moves within Oregon since. I had lost photo albums, favorite clothes and cameras but not these. They are the old kind, with ankle padding and the stirrup strap. Players don’t wear these anymore, and once again I sound older than I am saying this. Cecy and several friends my age since have told me this is not what people wear anymore so it’s not an age issue, I just haven’t paid attention.

The new shin guards are simple to put on, you don’t have to take cleats off as they slide down under the sock where they adhere to the shin somehow. They look as thin and weightless as a passport. Next to mine, it’s like putting a MacBook Air next to an IBM Thinkpad. And on top of it, mine were over 15 years old, the ankle padding pretty loose so that it bunched, making them look bulkier. Below my socks, it looked as though my lower legs were in casts compared to the slender lines of the ankles and calves of the other players. Maybe nobody noticed the vintage shin guards, but I couldn’t help but see them as a symbol of my disadvantage.

It’s not like I just got up up off the couch to try out for this team. I kept in decent shape for most of my twenties, and even when I smoked for five misguided years, I was active. Conditioning wise, I felt good enough to compete with these women. I don’t know if I could have lasted 90 minutes in center-mid, but for try-outs, it wasn’t intensive in that way. We didn’t run suicides or timed miles like I had thought we would. The coaches just assumed we were all in top shape and weren’t going to spend time clocking our sprints — maybe the coaches were also concerned with sharpening the next season’s practice regimen. And at this level, you’re simply expected to be conditioning on your own and in top fitness.

On three Saturdays mornings in the month ahead of try-outs, I went to a pick-up game with men I used to play with years ago at the Adidas campus, thinking once again, playing with the boys, this is how I’ll get good. It was hard-playing; a great scrimmage. Leading up to and during try-outs, I had been hung up on being older, but I realized that feeling of disadvantage or my lagging at the try-out had little to do with that. Most of those guys at the Adidas game were over thirty. Cecy did a great job; she was youthfully agile but played with mature grace. Chrisine Sinclair, one of the world’s best, is 31.

During try-outs, I would lunge on defense. And not only that, I would freeze in that position where I used to be able to bounce right back. A girl would fake me out, and by the time I recovered she was already facing another defender (who had covered my back). I wasn’t agile like these players. I wasn’t quick in that same sprite way anymore. A month and a half doesn’t regain this, neither does playing with the boys. I’m not sure what would.

Reflections After Try-Outs

Nothing could have prepared me for this. Or yes, something could have. Playing non-stop, in school and on club teams, working with coaches and trainers, finding ways to practice during the off-season, going for runs, even when it rained for weeks straight. And it had to start not a month and a half ago, but 15 years ago. And even still, that may have not gotten me to compete at this level. I can safely assume the past ten to fifteen years of most of these women’s lives looked like I just described. It shows. It’s just what you do when this is your dream. And on top of everything else, all the training, they really want it.

Everything from trapping the ball, to corner kicks, to simple passing was on a level of precision and repetition that was second nature. The spectacles of play these girls could do too were awesome to watch. In one scrimmage, a perfect  cross landed on the foot of a player named Melissa and she did a bicycle kick in the goal box. She didn’t score but I had never seen that seriously attempted by a teammate of mine. We used to joke as teenagers after practice and flop around trying to do it, but it probably looked more like we were imitating cartoon characters slipping on banana peels. All the women thought Melissa’s go at it was cool too, and she got some praise in the form of “oohs” and “aahs” but I reacted in my head like we should stop the game and see if there was a clip of this we could send to ESPN.

I wonder if she made the team. I wonder who else made it, as I never found out. You hear about the walk-on sensations. Players who come out of nowhere from obscure schools, without the usual credentials and become assets to the team. Some people don’t think this exists anymore; it’s a myth that you can just walk on to a team, foregoing the existing structures of recruitment like the NWSL college draft. It may be a myth for other professional sports, but women’s professional soccer still feels like it’s in its nascent stages here in the U.S., despite all of its progress and achievements, like World Cup wins and Olympic medals, and internationally famous players like Sinclair and Abby Wambach.

Just last year, the Thorns plucked Courtney Niemiec from the open tryouts and put her on the roster. And this was not the only time the club found talent in this system. I like to think it’ll happen again this year and that the tryout was open game. The coaches did have a chance to research all the players and perhaps watched videos before hand. The registration form online asked for club and school experience, and for past coaches’ contact info to call for references. But Coach Riley took the opportunity to do field work research and watched 63 girls play.

When I got to that part of the online application, I left it blank. I didn’t have relevant credentials; the last coach that could attest to my abilities was from high school. I didn’t play on club teams after 8th grade. My parents allowed my siblings and I to play sports as we wanted. There were parents of teammates of mine who had athletic scholarships in mind for their kids as early as fourth grade. My parents didn’t, but had I asked, I know they would have encouraged a decision to play on travel teams and would have sent me to camps. I took soccer seriously when playing, but I never asked. My mom went to nearly every game and sometimes she treated me to McDonald’s for dinner afterwards, and if we had lost the game, it was quickly out of my head with a milkshake and a large fry in hand. I did cry after losing each season’s last game and would implore my parents to not send me to school the next day. I can’t go to school like this, I need some time. But I always went to school, and moved on quickly, distracted again by boys and Dawson’s Creek.

These women blew my mind. Really, I don’t know what I expected. The whole time, I was overestimating myself but more, I was underestimating them, underestimating women’s soccer altogether. But there were times, 30 minutes into a run, late in the training, I’d be skipping up onto sidewalks rather than tiredly stumbling up them like I’d done at the beginning. My heart rate would be up and steady, I’d be coated with sweat under my sweatshirt, high on adrenaline, and a thought that makes me bashful now would enter my mind. I think I’ll make the team. What if I made the team?! It would stay for as long as the run lasted, fueled by, and subsequently adding to the momentum of my pace. How could I not? I’m out here running and it’s about to rain. I had that one shot in junior year that was awesome and won the game. I kept this pretty much to myself but I needed those moments to remain psyched.

People would jokingly ask, “what if you made the team? Do you want to be a pro soccer player?”

My first reaction would be, “yeah, that’d be great” or something thoughtless along those lines. What was it I was trying to prove? I didn’t really want to be a pro soccer player and if I truly did, I knew it couldn’t happen in a month and half. I just wanted that feeling again, of running and perspiring with a goal in mind, of recapturing a drive that kept me so focused as a kid. To be honest, the whole experience has shifted me uncomfortably but perhaps necessarily. I have a good idea of what I want in life now, but struggle thinking it will bring the same joy and sense of achievement that I found in youth. I want it to be greater actually. I need to put in the same level of work that those women put into soccer, but now I need to do that toward being a writer. And not just for the sake of proving to myself that I can, but to be something fully. Ultimately trying out for the Thorns had more to do with writing this story, and with that, the work has begun.

EPILOGUE

When I first decided to do this, I called my oldest brother to let him know. I expected he’d laugh, but knew I could count on his support even as we’d joke about how ridiculous it was. His reaction still surprised me. He said, “that’s awesome. I still think about trying out for short-stop for the Mets.” He laughed but I know part of him was serious. Not that he’ll go do it but that he seriously would love to and thinks he can contend. He was a great athlete growing up in pretty much every sport. There is a part of him that knows at some point in his life, he could have worked to be there. It’s what makes him a die-hard baseball fan.

At Timbers’ games, it’s the same thing. The fans there are so invested, so exuberant. It’s highly emotional at times. When a player goes down they become rowdy and defensive. One of their own has been fouled or hurt and the pain spreads through the seats as if they’ve all been taken down and can feel it in their legs. And after a victory, the joy is everyone’s. I imagine a lot of these fans played soccer. And in one of many dreams of theirs that wasn’t meant to actualize but also never fully dissolved, they see themselves playing on the Timbers. This is a big part of being a fan, this connection to the game. There’s not just an admiration and reverence for the pros, but an undiscriminating appreciation for knowing, and at the same time, not knowing, what it took for them to get there. The fan relates, whether they’ve played under the lights at a packed stadium or a few years in upstate New York where the fields are uneven and the dirt of a baseball diamond takes up part of the soccer field.

After the final session, I was tired but not yet sore. My boyfriend and I walked through downtown. We didn’t say much and I enjoyed the quiet of the city at night. The completion of the try-out left me with a feeling of calm and relief. I was hungry so we went and got dinner at a food cart. Waiting for our food, I turned around and saw one of the women who had tried out getting into a parked car five feet away. She was among the top five in my opinion; I thought she had a good shot at making it. A guy opened the car door for her, and as he went around to the driver’s side, she applied lipstick in the side view mirror. She probably felt my eyes on her and looked up. I waved a fast, excited wave and she was caught off guard but waved back. She had difficulty placing me, I could tell.

There was enough time before he sped off for me to knock on the window and talk a little about the day. Her smile told me she wouldn’t have cared. But I didn’t and kind of froze, looking awkwardly at my boyfriend, as if star struck. Hours before, we were playing together as teammates. But now on the sidewalk, I was reduced to a giddy, nervous Thorns fan. And that’s how it went, they drove off and I still don’t know if she made the team.

It shifts like that, being a player and a fan. The greats, the people you idolize, are the ones who inspire you to keep playing and who you would do anything to play with. Imagine kicking around the ball with Mia Hamm. But they also make you stop and stare, and acknowledge a distance that even with the same basic experiences of playing, lifts them to a level at which you’re left to gaze up at them with wonder and a humbling respect.

Correction: 4/13/2015- The original version of this piece described Paul Riley’s accent as Scottish, implying he is from Scotland. He is from Liverpool, England.




There are 10 comments

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  1. Peter Grant

    Congratulations Kate!! It doesn’t matter that you didn’t make the team, it matters that you tried. You never know what you can accomplish until you attempt it. Great article.

  2. Gwyn

    Phenomenal article.
    It was a beautiful little piece.
    I do have one qualm with it, however- as a Brit and a thorns fan, I feel I should inform you that Riley is, in fact, a scouser, making him English. His accent is, indeed, Liverpudlian, not Scottish at all. Well, a very dilute one these days.

    • Kathleen

      Gwyn,

      Thank you for your good words on the article. And for pointing out the error. I made the correction, and did some more reading on Mr. Riley. An English Footballer, indeed. Thank you again.

  3. Jamie

    Kate! I laughed throughout. You wrote a great piece on vulnerability, hard work, athletics, communication and life. You made me feel nostalgic. Bravo, Kate! Proud of you.

  4. Donna

    What a fun, fun article. I don’t know if I ever possessed such passion for a sport, but after reading your article, I wish I had. Love your relaxed, funny style of writing. Truly, truly talented.

  5. Mefore Aday

    Great article! So funny and inspiring! I want to get out there and continue practicing the sports that I loved as a kid. Shows how a little grande goal setting can show you what your really made of. Thanks for the uplifting and spirited tale! Success is the product of many failures mixed with blind determination!

  6. Katelyn (Melzig) Earley

    What an uplifting article to motivate anyone to “shoot for the moon,” because “even if they miss they’ll land amongst the stars.” Katie, you were certainly someone I looked up to on the field when we were kids and I was so excited to read this, though it brought me back quite a few years. You’re incredibly talented and I am happy for you that you’ve found what it was you were looking for. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.
    XO
    Katelyn

    • Kathleen Dolan

      Katelyn! It’s been years. Thank you for reading. And for the kind words. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your name. Writing it brought me back to all those great memories as kids, on and off the field. I’m glad it did the same for you. I laughed thinking about you, Krystle, Terry and I goofing off all those years. Thank you again.
      I hope all is well for you and give Tuxedo High a wave for me next time you pass.


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