Ashlyn Harris’s Higher Purpose

By Tim Nash

harris“I live in constant pain and take powerful pain killers and muscle relaxers just to be able to get out of bed in the morning, and I’ve considered suicide more than once because of my condition. I can say the games in the NWSL have given me a reason to live. Thank you for being a wonderful human being, role model and great athlete to watch and follow. Your will to win is a breath of fresh air to me and lets me live each day.”

Ashlyn Harris gets a lot of letters like that. She also has strangers — kids, teenagers, middle aged women — come up to her after Orlando Pride or Women’s national team games and say things like, “You’ve given me purpose again. You’ve saved my life.”

Life-changing is an over-used, watered-down phrase we use to describe new jobs, books or movies, and the newest innovations in technology. But here’s a 31-year-old soccer player having an enormous impact on the most personal aspect of lives of people suffering with depression or addiction, people she has never met.

They’ve found something to identify with in this shark-loving surfer who once hit a bully across the face with a dead catfish. There’s something about her that draws people in, makes the feel safe. Maybe it’s the compassionate, understanding ear, or simply her willingness to listen that makes people feel better about their situation. More likely, it’s that in Harris, they see someone who has been where they are, someone who has struggled with depression, witnessed addiction, had thoughts of harming herself.

Whatever the reasons, she’s changing lives. That’s what Ashlyn Harris has chosen to do with her life. That’s where her passion lies, and in doing so she has done herself as much good as she has others.

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Aly Wagner Makes Herself Heard

By Tim Nash

This isn’t the first time aly1Aly Wagner had the rising star label attached to her. The first time, believe it or not, was 25 years ago.

Way back when Tom Hanks was Forest Gump, George H.W. Bush was in the White House and the internet was one-year old, Wagner entered a juggling contest that served as a fundraiser for her youth soccer league in San Jose, Calif. As others tried to keep the ball up, Aly went about her business. After 20 minutes, she was told to stop. She had juggled the ball 1,500 times and was declared the winner. That was in 1990. She was 10.

The rising star label stuck with her through her youth soccer years with the Central Valley Mercury and an All-American career at Santa Clara University. It even stuck through the early part of her time with the U.S. national team where injuries robbed her of much of what could have been. Still, she played 131 times for the USA and ranks ninth on the all-time assist list with 42.

A true soccer-junkie, Wagner spent her time away from the field watching any and all available televised games, and like all soccer-junkies she spent a fair amount of time talking back to the TV. Today, she is offering observations and opinions on games televised by Fox. The rising star label is back.

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School First for Duke’s Taylor Racioppi

By Tim Nash

It has not been a typical year for Taylor Racioppi.

racioppiIt started late last spring when the Duke University sophomore had to choose between playing for the Blue Devils or playing for the USA in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup. She couldn’t do both. Priorities of the two institutions were conflicting and players invited to U20 camp, Racioppi included, had to choose.

The U20 World Cup kicks off on November 14 in Papua New Guinea, the same times as the NCAA tournament heats up.

Racioppi had to weigh all the factors. She was a veteran of the U20 national team, the second-youngest player on the roster at the 2014 U20 World Cup in Canada. She had played for the U19, U18, U17 and U15 national teams. But last fall as a freshman, she led Duke in points and helped lead the Blue Devils into the NCAA final where they fell to Penn State.

“To be a freshman in college and to have that be your first year of college soccer, that was absolutely incredible,” says Racioppi. “Obviously, it was a tough road. No team gets there easily. That was something I will never forget. I hope I can top it here at Duke with the amazing team we have this year. Last year was so exciting and we got so close, but I have a feeling we are going to get pretty close this year, if not do that whole thing.”

But take away the on-field factors, and her choice was clear. Continue reading

What Vin Scully Taught Me About Michelle Akers

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By Tim Nash

Yesterday was Vin Scully’s last day as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is 88 years old and has called Dodger games for 67 consecutive seasons. A speech Scully gave 34 years ago, helped me understand the remarkable journey of Michelle Akers, and get a little more insight into what drove her through injuries and controversies.

In 1982, I was working as an intern at the Little Falls (N.Y.) Evening News. Little Falls, a cool little town of roughly 5,000 people on the Mohawk River and Erie Canal, was the home of the Little Falls Mets, the Rookie League affiliate of the Major League Baseball team. When I joined the newspaper, the size of the sports department staff doubled from one to two.

My brother Marty was the general manager of the Little Falls Mets, in his first year working in minor league sports. On opening day of the 1982 season, my brother, having secretly hired a parachutist to drop into the field to deliver the game ball, watched nervously as the small plane flew over the field and kept going. As it became clear the parachutist was not in the air, Marty instructed the umpire to start the game. Shortly after the game began, we discovered that the parachutist had landed nine miles away into a group of bewildered softball players in Doglesville. It was an interesting start to a season where I also got to watch John Elway play center field for the Oneonta Yankees.

That’s all beside the point, though. Little Falls happened to be 30 miles south of Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1982 Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson were among the inductees. Scully was given the Ford Fricke Award for journalism that day, and listening to his acceptance speech with my elbows on the stage remains as one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

Thirty years later, while writing a section of the book “It’s Not the Glory” on Michelle Akers, Scully’s speech helped me understand the fascinating career of the greatest women’s soccer player of all-time.

Here’s the Chapter.

The Warrior and the Sea

The crowd, about 300 folks who came on a Friday night to listen to her speak, is curious. Like everyone she meets, they are taken by her physical presence, the regal stature and the way she carries herself that screams “athlete.” Over the years, she has become a good public speaker, setting aside one-liners and popular themes to just talk. Her story is captivating, and she delivers it from her heart. This time, though, it’s a little different. As she talks about the 1996 Olympics and her teammates, her eyes well up and her voice uncharacteristically cracks. The microphone drops to her side. She bows her head, steps back, and apologizes to the crowd. The crowd, however, erupts into supportive applause.

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Playing Goalkeeper is Not That Easy

Thirty-Nine Things That Are, Or Should Be, Going Through a Keeper’s Mind

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By Paul Oliu

As a result of some high profile blunders over the past several weeks, from Claudio Bravo at Man City to Andre ter Stegen at Barcelona, Gigi Buffon with Italy, and the countless youth keepers I have seen, I’ve been talking a lot about goalkeeping lately.  As an old goalkeeper myself, I’ve made my share of mistakes.  And as anyone who is a net minder, there is no hiding when you cost the team a goal. 

Contrary to popular opinion however, I have always said that being a goalkeeper was a thinking man’s position.  I would argue that a keeper needs to consider a lot more variables to make a single play than any field player.  To make it more difficult, there is a zero margin of error.  So not only does a goalkeeper need to consider a number of elements to make a play, he or she must also do so without making a mistake.  A mistake can cost you your team’s confidence, or worse, a goal.

So with that in mind, I put myself through a mental exercise of trying to outline what are some of the elements of being a goalkeeper.  I started with the notion that some colleagues have said to me in the past, and that is the only thing a goalkeeper needs to do is to “shut up and make a save.”  From there I listed loosely in order what a goalkeeper needs to think about every time they are in goal. 

So here it is.  A list of everything a keeper needs to keep in mind every time they step into goal:

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Letting Go and Moving On

Kelsey Zalimeni Hangs Up Her Boots

A few months ago, we posted an article by former Wake Forest University player Kelsey Zalimeni kz5who while working at an art gallery in London tried out and made the Crystal Palace Ladies. Here is an update from KZ. Just a side note first. I have known Kelsey since she and my daughter became friends in kindergarten. She’s always been one of my favorites – smart, very talented and owner of a sick sense of humor. Good luck Kelsey.

By Kelsey Zalimeni

I’m writing this from a Stairmaster on medium to low effort. My twice-restored right knee is super achy, and not from Sunday’s match or last night’s fitness session but from de-installing an entire pop-up exhibition of massive abstract paintings across town from our gallery.

It was me and my colleague Matt (who, for fun facts, bears a striking and amusing resemblance to City’s Kevin de Bruyne), running 40kg wooden pieces of art to and from a courier van in hopes of making it out of the venue by 8pm. This was our 10th day in a row of being on our feet for 12 hours straight. For art world employees this is like completing an Iron Man.

I’m on this Stairmaster a lot more now, and will be on medium to low effort probably until mid-November. Because that’s how it goes now. Gone is my stamina for two-a-days and a heavy lifting in between; I can’t even play 90 minutes without pulling something it seems. But it’s okay! And I’m actually proud and excited to be entering the afterlife.

My childhood and club soccer best friend, Molly Pathman, announced her retirement a few months ago now, and a few friends are still at it and faring very well. But kinda like the day I suddenly ripped out my hoop nose ring in my senior year of college, I woke up recently with the very real and sudden conclusion that it’s time to part ways with high level soccer.

This isn’t a eulogy or letter of resignation, though! In fact, it’s far from it. Consider this my Declaration of Independence from passing fitness tests, my emancipation from stress over performance, and an embrace of a new frontier filled with co-ed 5v5 matches and weekend trips to Paris (just £38 each way according to the underground advertisements on my commute route!).

I’ve had a fantastic time loving and learning my sport, my first and truest passion in life. I’m now enjoying applying the same grit and discipline I developed through sport, to the workplace. The gallery has never been more fun, more challenging. Time to win some medals in my art career and leave the slide tackles to the young bucks with better knees than me.

Off to the pub now, I’ve burned two pints worth on the Stairmaster!

All the best,

KZ

Kelsey Zalimeni played collegiate soccer in the U.S. for Wake Forest University and currently works as Curator and Buyer at the Thompson Art Gallery in London and, of course, plays for the Crystal Palace Ladies.

 

The Kids Played On

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By Tim Nash

Sept. 13, 2001 — I went to a soccer game on Thursday, Sept. 13. It was perhaps the best game I have ever seen.

Roughly 58 hours after terrorists attacked us, my three-year-old son and I were able to watch Glen Hope Baptist play West End Design in an Under-11 game in Burlington, N.C. Colleges and pro sports had all — understandably and rightly — suspended their schedules, finding it tremendously inappropriate to play games given the events of Sept. 11. 

But the kids played on. 

It was a remarkable sight, seeing soccer fields filled with kids – more than 100 of them. They ran, they laughed, and they cheered. For an hour or so, they were free from the questions and fears they now have.  Continue reading