I was just 16 years old, yet it felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders in that moment. Let me set the scene: our high school soccer team was playing for third place in state. After 90 minutes and extra time — in a game that included hail, rain, blustering wind, and sunshine — the score remained 0-0.
Penalties would decide our fate.
As a defender, I didn’t take a lot of shots, but my coach put his faith in me and four others. We missed our first, then made our second. I was set to go third. I jogged up to the penalty spot and set my ball on the turf — trying to ignore the fact that we had only played on turf once before.
Clear your mind. Just like practice. You can do this.
The whistle blew, and I looked down at the ball, taking a deep breath to steady my nerves. It didn’t work. Instead, I tried to channel that nervous energy into my kick, and connected well with the ball.
It skidded off the turf and slid just wide of the left post. The tears escaped immediately — before I could even process what happened.
I remember every small detail afterward, but not for the reasons you might imagine. As I made the walk of shame back to half, my teammates huddled around me — offering hugs and words of encouragement. We linked arms as the remaining players stepped up for their kicks.
The great news is that we ended up winning that match. The better news is that sports gave me hundreds of moments like this — tiny gestures that helped me see, understand, and interact with this complex world.
Sports are just a game, and they’ll always be “just a game.” But as an unsure teenager who often hated her body, some of the only times I felt comfortable were on a soccer field, a basketball court, or racing around a track.
That’s because I had a family of sisters ready to prop me up at any moment. On International Women’s Day, join me in celebrating the power of sport to empower women and girls, and bring us together.
When I step onto the field, I’m not playing for anybody but myself and my teammates. What I’m wearing doesn’t matter. How I strike the ball, or hold off defenders, or make a goal-saving tackle — that’s what defines me on the pitch.
It is me. And the ball. And the grass. And the goal.
When I step onto the field, I’m awake. I’m alive. I’m reminded that my actions, my words, and my ideas give me power. Just like a soccer game, my path is not one narrow trail, but rather a series of doors just waiting to be opened. And I have the keys.
I play like a girl. Fierce. Compassionate. Driven. Selfless. Unafraid.
When I step onto the field, I leave with broken bones, sprained ankles, sore legs, and blistered feet. This only serves as fuel, igniting my passion for the game. The bruises, a reminder of those who fought for my right to play. Bones that break as easily as my heart, and yet they come back stronger than ever.
Sports taught me that I can do the rescuing. That I set my limits, not somebody else. That I’m worth fighting for.
That’s why, today, when I step onto the field, I’m empowered to continue fighting. For women’s rights. For equal pay. For civil rights. For the women around the world who still can’t play sports.
On International Women’s Day, get out there and play like a girl.