Soccer is life. The rest is just details. Everyone my age that played soccer had or wanted this shirt from the Eurosport catalog. And it preached a motto that we all should follow.
For the majority of my almost 31 years here on earth, this was my motto. It began early on. My mom loved the game and played up until she got pregnant with me. From a very young age, I found love and passion for the game. I love to watch, learn, and play soccer. I always have. I began playing soccer at 4 years old and it has been a HUGE part of my life ever since.
Being a soccer player was a part of my identity. I played year round for almost 10 years. I was fortunate to have access to the best coaches all over the Northeast and play on very successful teams. I set goals to play at the college level. My parents and coaches encouraged me and I succeeded. The day I signed my letter of intent to play Division I soccer at Central Michigan University was an emotional and exciting day for me. I thought it was the beginning of something great. And I don’t want to say that it wasn’t great, because there were some awesome times. But my life certainly changed and veered “off course” because of this decision.
College for most people is a place to go and let loose, find some freedom, have some fun and get an education. College for athletes is a JOB. A full-time, exhausting, emotional, physically taxing JOB. To play a sport at the Division I level, you basically sell your soul to the school. Or at least that is how it was at Central when I went there. Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to say that I left college with no loans. But I also left with lots of emotional baggage and life-long issues.
To make a very long story short, my playing career ended my Junior year with a severe head and spinal cord injury. I was punched in the back of the head by the Michigan State Goal Keeper. I instantly exhibited concussion symptoms and was apparently walking around the field falling down. I don’t remember much. My coach didn’t pull me off the field. He said I needed to stay on and work through it. This would hopefully never happen in today’s game with all the concussion awareness protocols that we have. If you ever find me being crazy about head injuries in athletics, now you know why.
Anyways, back to my story. So I tried to stay on and “play through it.” The trainers were livid. I threw up and had a horrific headache post game. Things only got worse. I took the reaction tests on the following day confirming my concussion and the trainers wanted me to stay out of practice and classes. But I was forced to show up at practice on my birthday, two days later, and blow a whistle every 30 seconds for a conditioning drill. It was agonizing. I asked to stop and was told no. I went home to my apartment later that day unable to function. What happened next, my roommates could explain better. Again, I don’t remember much. All I know is that I walked into my kitchen to tell Kristen that I wasn’t feeling well and apparently I just fell over and passed out. Thank goodness she was a goalie and somehow caught my head so I didn’t hurt myself more. My roommates took me to the hospital where when asked, I couldn’t remember my name or birthday (it was my 19th birthday that day). My dad rushed out to Michigan making the almost 8 hour trip in 4.5 hours. And the rest of the journey is somewhat of a blur. I spent the majority of the next two weeks in bed, away from soccer and school, unable to function. I felt very alone and disconnected from my normal life. My treatment wasn’t going as planned and I wasn’t making progress. I was getting in trouble from the coaching staff because I mentally and physically wasn’t capable of attending classes and/or practice.
After deciding that my care was less than stellar in Michigan, my mom drove out to get me and brought me home. I received AMAZING care from my neurologist here in Rochester. She and her team helped me get back on my feet, literally and figuratively. I was diagnosed with Basilar Artery spasms due to massive amounts of swelling, severe post concussion syndrome and a spinal cord injury similar to significant whiplash. I would pass out spontaneously because the swelling would cut off blood flow to my brain. I had weakness on my left side and other side effects of a spinal cord injury. I was depressed, angry, and unable to do the only thing I ever did; play soccer.
I remember the day in Doctor Dombovy’s office so clearly. I remember the lighting, the posters on the wall, the smell; I remember it so well. Which is hilarious because my memory and cognitive functions have been less than stellar since the injury. But maybe I remember because my whole world crashed down around me on this day. I remember hearing her say the words that I should never play soccer again. That another injury like this one would turn me into a vegetable. That I may have significant life long side effects from this. She prescribed me occipital nerve blocks (those are intense), antidepressants, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, steroids, sleeping pills, and most importantly, gave my soccer career a death sentence.
Life after soccer was a big change for me. It challenged the “Soccer is life, the rest is just details” mentality. I left EVERYTHING in Michigan, my boyfriend, all my friends, my college education, etc. Coming home was a huge culture shock. I was mean to my family and had no friends. My boyfriend broke up with me. Life wasn’t good for a while. I hated the fact that I was on so many pills and had so many doctors appointments. They weren’t helping me. I started lying about my whereabouts and hanging out with unsavory people. I got punched in the face by an idiot boyfriend and ended up calling my parents begging for them to come get me. I spent that night crying in my bed with my sister. I was so lost. I had nothing. Soccer was gone. My boy situation was a nightmare. My family was disappointed in me. I had hit rock bottom. Luckily my 17-year-old sister knew just what to say. She just reminded me that my family loved me and everything, eventually, would be okay. And eventually it would be.
I’m not quite sure when everything changed. I was so miserable. I think at a certain point I made the decision to try to focus on the positives. It was probably after my parents forced me into therapy. (THANK YOU MOM AND DAD!) My therapist changed my life. She helped me learn how to focus on the positives. I decided to stay single so I could work on Carly. I decided to focus on my friendships that were important. I decided to spend time with people who loved me. The people who are ALWAYS there for me, my family. I went to my sisters’ volleyball games and soccer games. That was hard. Watching them play and do what they loved forced me to acknowledge my own jealously because I couldn’t do it anymore. But it was their senior years, and because they were always there for me, I needed to be there for them.
It was a big step for me towards getting better. And not even a month after I made these changes and pledges to myself, I was off my antidepressants and feeling more like myself. Soccer was gone and missing, but I was ok. And then I ran into Chris at O’Callaghans. And the rest, you might say, is history.
Chris has a love and passion for the game of soccer too. It’s probably one of the few reasons he even knew who I was. I was only a sophomore when he graduated from Webster, but I was one of the soccer girls that the upperclassmen knew. We instantly connected and bonded over soccer. He is the one who consistently pushed me to keep soccer in my life. And for that I am so very thankful. I’ve tried playing in some Recreation leagues over the years, but I play scared now. Scared to get hurt, scared of being a vegetable, scared to not play at the level I used too. I’ll never get back to where I was. And that needs to be okay. I’M STILL working on this.
It’s been almost 11 years since my injury. Every year around this time I become reflective and emotional. I long for even one more minute on the field. I crave the competition, the passion, the pride, the success. It was gone and missing for so long. But I am happy to say that thanks to Chris’s push in the right direction, and a call from one of my favorite coaches ever, Kent Brown, I have finally found a safe way to be a part of the game again.
Four years ago I took a job as a Girls Soccer Coach for Webster Schroeder. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only do I get to work alongside some amazing coaches that I continue to learn from, but I get to be a part of Warrior Soccer again. The 5 years I spent a part of Warrior Soccer contain some of the best soccer memories of my life. I achieved unbelievable soccer success under Coach Brown and learned so much about myself as a person. I am honored, daily, to have the ability to help other young girls achieve athletic and personal greatness through Warrior Soccer.
A friend of mine asked me the other day why I coach. She caught me on a day where practice didn’t go too well and I was frustrated. I told her that I wasn’t sure. It’s certainly not for the money. It’s not because it’s easy. High school soccer season can take a toll on you. I spend A LOT of time away from my family and we joke that I have no life during season. But the 8 weeks of soccer season are a time when I feel like CARLY again. There’s something about a cool fall night and the glow of the stadium lights that just takes me back to a time when life was more simple. When life was all about soccer. Soccer is an escape for me. It’s a passion. So, I guess I coach because I want to share that passion for soccer with kids. It’s not just the soccer knowledge, but the camaraderie and the importance of being a part of something. Not just for them, but for me too.
I feel blessed that I get to lace up my boots and share my love and passion for the game with my girls. I am grateful that I’m still learning about the “beautiful game” from some excellent coaches that I used to play for and that are now my peers. I am beyond excited to help carry on the legacy of excellence for Warrior Soccer. I am thankful every single day, even the hard ones, for the chance to have soccer in my life again.
Soccer is a part of my life, BUT the rest of the details are now more important than ever. Soccer helped to form me into the driven, goal-oriented, passionate person that I am today. And that drive, and those goals and passion-filled moments have helped me create the life I lead today. Soccer is, and will always be a part of my identity. I am proud of all I have accomplished and all that is still waiting for me to do. Even though my journey didn’t go as planned, I can’t help but think there was a reason for it happening the way it did. I never would have come home and met my husband. I wouldn’t have the single most important lady in my life, MCG. And who knows, I may never have had the opportunity to coach with my sister by my side, and met some fantastic, talented, and amazing young girls who will do GREAT things in the world.
Soccer will always be my first love. Soccer will always hold a special place in my heart. Yes soccer may have left me with some baggage. My brain doesn’t work the way it used to and I’m forced to play “brain games” to sharpen my cognitive skills. I have a permanent ball mark scar on the inside of my right thigh and my shins sweat an abnormal amount even without shin guards. I still need occipital nerve blocks, and I will never be able to move my left shoulder normally. But its ok. Because even though there are things about each other that we don’t particularly like, soccer and I have no problems. And while our relationship may have changed over the years, I think we finally found a perfect compromise that makes us both happy. And through it all, I still have soccer, and soccer still has Carly. And that’s all that really matters.
Thanks as always for reading, liking, sharing and commenting. Be well. Be Present. And remember to smile today.
Love, Carly xoxo