And so it begins! I am super excited to start this new adventure and share my journey. My hope is to inspire others to dream great dreams, serve their community, and have fun, while living each day to the full with God’s joy that I experience in my own life.
Born into a sports-loving family and growing up an athlete from the time that I was a little girl, sports have impacted my life in innumerable ways. My father instilled in me a passion for soccer early on, coaching and encouraging me to pursue my dreams to the fullest of my capabilities and to never give up in the face of adversity. From age four to seventeen, soccer was a huge part of my world and comprised a large part of how I defined myself. Sports afforded me the opportunity to learn to work as a team towards a common goal, and to never let a setback or obstacle hinder my achievement. Over my career, I played high school and D1 club soccer and planned to continue the sport I loved into college.
My passion for the game and for giving back to my community eventually led me to try out for the FC Dallas Special Olympics soccer team—a decision that changed my life. I was a little reticent at the onset of my time as a partner player on the SO team, as I had limited experience serving those with intellectual or physical disabilities. I have several family friends with children with special needs and I always loved spending time with them, and after that first practice, I knew it was where I was meant to be. What amazed me was how quickly I formed deep friendships with my athletes. The game of soccer brought us together in a way where all of the barriers that society and circumstance can impose do not exist. The barriers were essentially “broken,” and my two years as a partner player, and now as an ambassador, have forever changed me.
My junior year of high school was filled with the excitement of winning the state title with my varsity team, but not long after, I was struck by a new reality that rocked my world. I suffered my fourth concussion and the future I had planned would have to change. Female soccer players suffer the highest rate of concussions among all high school athletes in the United States. I knew that each time I went to challenge for a header or even just went out on the pitch, there was the possibility of hitting my head, incurring yet another concussion. That last concussion ended my dream of playing the sport I loved—the game that blessed me with community, taught me determination, and gave me the assurance that being confident means believing in who you are as a person. Soccer showed me that we are not defined by our hobbies, and the content of one’s character is the ultimate measure of a person.
For most young people it is a common struggle to know who you are, stand up for what you believe in, and feel secure in your own skin as a unique individual. I recognized the power sports gave me early on. On a field, every player is judged and plays by the same rules and standards. Sports level the playing field both literally and metaphorically. After traveling on mission trips to slums in Rio de Janero and shanty towns and orphanages in South Africa, I saw first hand how many barriers exist that can be divisive: language, race, ethnicity, culture, religion. I was struck by the fact that even though we came from entirely different worlds, walks of life, and spoke different languages, the sport itself served as a universal language and broke down those barriers. That’s when I decided that I wanted to use sports and its lessons as a mechanism to break barriers, bond people together, and promote inclusion worldwide.
When my neurologist said I couldn’t play soccer again, I was extremely sad and disappointed, but I’ve always believed that God has a plan and when He closes a door in your life, He opens a window. For me, pageantry has been that window. Although I love the outdoors and all things sporty, I also love fashion, glamour, and most of all the opportunity to have a platform to leave the world a better place than I found it. In April 2016, I competed in my first pageant, Miss Teen Texas International, and was blessed to win the title. During my year, I served with Special Olympics, Athletes in Action, Kicks for Kids, NFL Play 60, The American Heart Association, The Wounded Warrior Project, The Rise School for children with disabilities, and many other philanthropies. Pageantry has proven an incredible journey of further self-discovery, endless opportunities for service, and amazing new friends and possibilities. My story is still being written day by day. We are all a work in progress, and thank goodness God’s not finished with any of us yet! Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I rest in that.
Special Olympics has impacted my life in innumerable ways. I am so blessed by the amazing community that comprises the FC Dallas Special Olympics soccer team. From the total commitment of the coaching staff and coordinating team, to the deep friendships that the athletes, partners, and staff share, it is truly family. A diverse group of individuals, supporting one another on the pitch, sideline, and in life in general. I would encourage everyone to get involved in their community in some way, but there is something very special about Special Olympics that sets it apart.
For more information on how you can get involved with Special Olympics, click here.