putting my best foot forward

| 17 Aug 2016 | 03:14


Ever since I was 3, my parents have always set high goals and aspirations for me. Some were attainable, such as scoring 100 on my tests or learning how to ride a bike. Others, though, were more of a challenge.

“I have no doubt in my mind that one day, you will be playing in Carnegie Hall and will end up at Juilliard or an Ivy League,” my dad said. The more challenging goals constantly played in my mind, especially as I was learning to play the violin, viola and piano. For the first seven years of my life, music was one of my consistent activities. I advanced quickly through the books and became a good instrumentalist.

Alongside playing multiple instruments, my parents had me participate in other activities, such as dance classes, gymnastics, ballet and the like. In the end, music seemed to be the only endeavor that wasn’t just a phase, but also a passion. It stuck with me.

When I was 8 years old, I attended St. Joseph’s School-Yorkville. To keep me active and to help integrate me into the new school, my parents suggested I attend one of the after-school programs. I had many options to choose from, but decided that I wanted to play soccer.

At St. Joseph’s School-Yorkville, the recreational soccer program was called “Super Soccer Stars.” The program taught me all of the fundamentals of the sport. After a few classes my coach came up to me and said, “Have you ever played before, because you are pretty good?” I said that I had not. He asked for my dad’s phone number and then dismissed me. I didn’t think anything of his request, but I soon realized that moment would change my life forever.

My dad spoke to me that night and told me that my coach had called. He broke down their entire conversation to me and explained how the coach asked me to play on the official Super Soccer Star team. I was ecstatic and eager to start.

I joined the team the following year, and to my surprise, had only boys as teammates. I wasn’t at all fazed to be on what was otherwise an all-boys team — if anything it made me stronger. We practiced and had games at the field house in Chelsea Piers. I found my place on the team as a right-sided defender or central defender. Through my two years on the team, I perfected my skills and learned to be more adept with the ball.

When I turned 11, my parents decided to move me to an all-girls team called Asphalt Green. On that team I met many great people and had reached the next step of soccer: traveling. Our league had games in Westchester and New Jersey. We were decent, but more importantly I was glad to finally play against more skillful players.

During the winter months, I played in dozens of indoor scrimmages, playing against teams from all over New York and New Jersey. In one particular game, we played the Manhattan Soccer Club, the best team in New York.

At just 11 years old, these girls were fast and skilled. They were amazing. In this game, I made sure I played my best. Although I stopped a majority of their attempts to score goals, we lost by one. At the end of the game, the coach came up to me, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Man are you fast.” I just laughed, gathered my things, and walked away.

As I was walking back towards my dad, I saw the coach and another man approach him. They spoke long after the game had ended. I saw them exchange numbers, shake hands and depart. Curious as to what happened, I spoke to my dad. It turned out that the coach wanted me to try out for his team. “One of the best teams in New York wants me!” I replied. “Apparently,” my dad chuckled. After two good years at Asphalt Green, I left the team and made my way to the Manhattan Soccer Club.

This team was part of the second-best league for girls, “The National Premier League.”

This league called for frequent travelling and a larger commitment. We would travel during the weekends along the East Coast and play teams from all over the country.

My first year on the team was rough. Most of the girls had been playing since they were 3 years old and had been on the team since they were 6. I was way behind in terms of skills, but I had natural speed and agility. One of the most challenging things to learn was how to maneuver the ball while also controlling my speed. Luckily for me, my coach was dedicated and helped me master this skill, as well as many others.

At 13, I was named the MVP of two of tournaments. Manhattan Soccer Club remained the number one seed for a long time. Around that same time, I also graduated as valedictorian of my class and went onto Marymount School of New York. Life was great and I felt as if nothing could shake me. Of course, I had spoken too soon.

I began my freshman year at Marymount, which was by far one of the hardest years of my life. The transition from St. Joseph’s School-Yorkville to Marymount was drastic. The curriculum at Marymount was vigorous and grueling. On top of that, soccer continued to be demanding and called for continuous travel. Although I did expect school to be difficult and soccer to be demanding, there were some events that took place that weren’t as predictable.

Throughout my freshman year, several people close to me passed away. It started with my grandmother, then my two aunts, after a friend of mine, and finally a family friend. It was a really tough time in my life because all of those people who passed were the people who supported me and gave me the strength to continue when I felt overwhelmed and stressed by all my responsibilities.

Life during this period felt monotonous. Every day I would go through a routine: Go to school, do homework, practice my instrument, play soccer, eat, sleep, and then repeat. I was not doing as well as I hoped at school and sensed that the soccer field was the only place in which I could let out all of my emotions. That year I won MVP at school for soccer and was offered recruitment spots by a few colleges, but even that didn’t help. 2013 went from being the time of my life to a time of pain; All I could do was hope that the next year would be better.

My sophomore year began and it seemed as if life only got worse. It was November and, like every other weekend, I had soccer games. At this point, our team was in a slump and was no longer seeded number one. We had already lost two games that weekend and we were hoping for a win. The game was tied 1-1 and we had the momentum. We were passing around the other team with ease and controlling the ball. When the ball was passed to me, I made sure the ball was secure and as soon as I looked up, a girl twice my size was running towards me at full speed. I passed the ball quickly to another player, but even after I released the ball she kept sprinting. My cleat got caught in the mud and she ran straight into my knee with such a force that my knee turned outward.

All I heard was a pop. I hit the ground, screaming and wailing in pain. I was carried off the field and brought to the medical staff, which had declared that I had torn my medial collateral ligament. The MCL is the second-worse injury after the ACL. “You are going to be out for about four-five months,” the physical trainer said. I felt my heart sink. Soccer was something I loved immensely and was ultimately something I knew I wanted to do in college. The fact that I would not only have trouble being recruited, but that I would be off the field for such a long period of time troubled me. During my time off, I lost hope in ever attaining a scholarship or even playing again. I began to look back towards my long lost friend — music — for comfort. I missed playing, but I didn’t have as much time between soccer and school to play. The only instrument that survived my demanding lifestyle was the piano. Throughout my five months off, I went to physical therapy and then home to play my piano. Playing for five months made me question why I ever gave up music, but the moment I was cleared to play in April of 2015, that question disappeared from my mind.

Coming back after five months gave me a feeling of euphoria. I was recruited to play on another team in an even higher league than Manhattan Soccer Club. That year, I joined Albertson Soccer Club, a Long Island-based team that plays in the Elite Premier League, which is the highest level. I was shocked that the coach wanted me, but I didn’t hesitate.

The feeling of being back was both great and disheartening. Being back on the field was amazing, but not being able to run as fast, or to have as much endurance, or dribble as nicely was a challenge I hadn’t fully expected. I went through months and months of constant soccer and physical exercise to become a decent player again. One of my greatest motivations was having a coach who supported me and believed in me even though, at times, I didn’t believe I would ever be the player I was before my injury.

My first major tournament after returning was during my junior year. Junior year, by itself, is the hardest year of high school for any student, but I believe it is especially hard for a serious athlete. I felt the pressure to be recruited and do well in school. In that tournament I had played the best I ever had since the injury. Many scouts emailed me after that tournament and then watched me play at other tournaments.

Although the year was stressful, I ended it in triumph: I was recruited by American University where I will play Division I soccer with a full scholarship. I also had a great academic year.

Asia Horne spent a portion of her summer at Straus News Manhattan as a student reporter.