Monday, March 05, 2012
When Bryce played his first year with United States Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP
), there was a young girl, Sarah Hagen from Appleton, who was also playing. That summer at Region II US Youth Soccer ODP camp, Bryce had a good session but didn’t get selected for regional pool. He came home a bit frustrated, but confident with hard work he could improve. Sarah had an even better session and was selected for regional pool. But she came home nervous and unsure because while at camp she had felt a lump in her abdomen. The lump turned out to be a tumor on her ovary the size of a soccer ball, diagnosed as dysgerminoma, a form of ovarian cancer. Sarah was 13 and getting ready to enter high school. Suddenly her promising soccer career came to a halt, high school was put on hold and she began the grueling process of battling cancer.
While Bryce played his freshman year with only one goal scored against him and an undefeated season, Sarah had two operations and a long series of chemotherapy. While Bryce shaved his hair off when called up to the varsity team, Sarah watched her hair fall out. While Bryce joined his high school team at the state finals, Sarah spent her days recuperating and getting tested to check her progress. By her sophomore year, Sarah was cancer-free and strong enough to play high school soccer, but for only a few minutes at a time. Nevertheless she played well enough to receive honorable mention. By her senior year she was tearing up the field.
She agreed to play for UW-Milwaukee. There she followed the legacy of Laura Moynihan. Laura had been instrumental in establishing girls ODP in Wisconsin. Laura also fostered women’s soccer through the state and the nation. She had also taken over as coach of the women’s team at UW-Milwaukee in 1991. Just before taking the job, Laura was diagnosed with cancer which unfortunately was the one obstacle which defeated her in 1992. Her dedication to women’s soccer endeared her to thousands across the U.S. Her name is attached to the trophy the Under-17 girls win at the United States Youth Soccer National Championships and to the field at UW-Milwaukee where the women’s team plays. While Laura never lived to see Sarah play, her efforts paved the way for Sarah to have the amazing opportunities that opened up for her once she recovered from her illness.
At UW-Milwaukee, Sarah blossomed earning school records in goals (93) and total points (217). She was named Horizon League Player of the Week 15 times, which is nine times more than any other player in league history. Her goals are ninth in NCAA Division I history. What further sets her apart is that she has great humility and a natural leadership quality. Perhaps having cancer at a young age gave her the wisdom to not take anything for granted or maybe surviving cancer provided her with the joy to seize each day with a positive attitude. Since both my sons transferred to UW-Milwaukee, they have reconnected with Sarah who they knew through ODP. She has plenty to teach them about how life isn’t always fair, but you have to make what you can out of what you are given. Sarah has also been called up to train with the U-23 Women’s National Team, was drafted by the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer and signed a contract with Bayern Munich of the Frauen Bundesliga. In her first game with the latter she scored two goals.
I tell Sarah’s story because she should serve as an inspiration to both female and male soccer players. She didn’t give up on her dreams despite the tough year she spent battling her cancer. She took another year to get back up to full playing speed. She eventually returned to ODP, where she made a strong impression on the coaches. Her story teaches us all that soccer can be put on hold, whether forced or voluntary, to give time to other matters in life. Her story also teaches us that soccer as a dream has the strength to see us through the hard times. Most importantly, her story tells us that we need to take each day as a blessing and use it to the best we can. Through perseverance and good fortune Sarah has beat back cancer and soared at soccer. She didn’t ask to be a role model, but circumstances have made her one. Someday she may also have a National Championship cup named after her.