How Sports has Influenced My Life - National Girls and Women in Sports Day

Heather Raulerson

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Sports have always been a massive part of my life since I was young. I remember playing baseball in the court across the street from my house with all the neighbor kids. It didn’t matter if you were a boy, girl, or what age you were; everyone played. We played outside until it got dark, and our parents started yelling for us to come home.

I enjoyed playing softball and started playing in a community rec league during the summers while in middle school. My younger sisters began playing as well, which divided up parent time on who they were going to watch. My dad fixed that by becoming our coach. If you ever had a relationship with your father that was a constant battle while growing up, you would understand. As my coach, he had every right to put me in spots where he thought I would help the team. However, those spots were always as the catcher. Granted, I was terrific as a catcher. I could jump up from a squat and quickly run to catch the pop-up to get the batter out. But, that wasn’t where my passion was. I wanted to play second or third base, and I believed I would do just as good a job out on the diamond as squatting behind home plate. By the time I was about to enter high school, I had quit playing softball—too many arguments with my dad, with me walking away in frustrated tears.

When I started high school, girls’ only options were cheerleading, tennis, softball, volleyball, and track. I tried out for cheerleading many times during high school but didn’t make the cut. With no significant interest in any of the other sports, my time was spent studying by myself. Until...my gym teacher came up to me during class and told me that they were going to start a girls JV soccer team and that I should try out for the team. I did. And I made it on the team! I was on the inaugural girls Junior Varsity soccer team for the high school. They never had this before, so we were the groundbreakers or, should I say, guinea pigs for the school. And we excelled at it! We dominated the sport as it was new for girls back then (1990) for the area!

I found camaraderie in the group of girls on the soccer team that I never had before. We became good friends and started to hang out at after-school activities, which were a first for me to be included in them. My time training to be a soccer player was grueling as we had drills and had to run around four baseball diamonds twice at each practice. And if we did something wrong, we were back to running laps around the fields. I have to say that I was in incredible shape with all the running five days a week!

Surprising to me in this, I had found a new passion! I loved SOCCER! I couldn’t get enough of playing it and practiced kicking the ball at the back of my garage when I was home and not at school. During high school, I played a defender position. Again I was good at it. I had no problem throwing my body in front of the ball to block the other team from getting a goal. Although my bruises would say differently, they didn’t bother me in the least. I considered them as battle scares for games hard-fought and WON! However, I always wanted to play in a forward position, and unfortunately, no matter how many times I requested it, my coach kept me in the back.

My four years playing high school soccer were instrumental in shaping me. I became more confident in my abilities, and my grades even got better with all of the newfound time management skills I was learning. So much so that I ended up graduating #11 out of 616 kids! I missed Salutatorian by one-hundredth of a point, but I was incredibly proud of my accomplishment! I knew that hard work and persistence would always pay off!

When it was time to pick a college, I chose Michigan Tech for many reasons, but one important one was that it had a soccer club. It wasn’t recognized at the time, but we represented the school unofficially when we traveled to tournaments. College was a turning point for me as I was in control. Instead of being stuck in positions (defender) that I didn’t want to play, I was able to get out of my self-imposed or societal bubble and play where I wanted. I became a forward and never looked back! I even scored my first goal at one of the soccer tournaments! I was so happy to see my name show up in the newspaper article! We even got the best team sportsmanship award cause we did everything together, including Team Pees. :) To this day, I still consider these girls from this soccer club as my best friends!

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This confidence helped me through some difficult times after graduating college when my dad passed away at the young age of 46. I was only 24 and just starting in my career. My mom and sisters were moving to St. Louis, which left me alone in Michigan. To help me through this challenging time, I went back to playing soccer. I found several teams to play on a girl’s outdoor team during the summer months and a couple of indoor teams (girls and coed) during the rest of the year. I found the consistency of playing three times a week helped balance out the stress from my job. Plus, I loved my new soccer buddies that became my excellent friends.

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

An exciting thing that I found was that I was always underestimated, mostly when I played on a coed soccer team. I’m relatively short, so I’m not very intimidating on the field. However, once we started playing, that all changed. My shortness was an advantage as I was fast, really fast, and had one hell of a kick. If you were in the way after I kicked the ball toward the goal, you WOULD get hurt. All the years playing defender, blocking, and practicing kicking had built up an incredible amount of strength in my legs. I became the powerhouse forward that I always knew I could be!

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Many people don’t play sports as much as they become adults, so playing as a child is essential to build that confidence that you can do anything. Using my soccer skills, I was able to play roller hockey and ice hockey, and I was the ONLY girl on both of those teams! Nobody was going to say that I can’t play because I was a girl. I remember playing ice hockey one-time where I checked a boy into a wall by where his team sat, and I skated away as he was still trying to get up. I heard his teammates tell him that you get checked bad and by a girl! I was smiling from ear to ear the rest of that game! Whoever said that a girl can't play sports even on boy teams was lying!

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

I have played soccer for over thirty years, coached 10-11-year-old girls to play soccer, managed a women’s soccer team for many years, and only recently stopped playing. Although I still run to keep in shape. I do get the inkling to get back and play again. Who knows, maybe I will! All I need is a soccer ball in front of my feet!

I hope you enjoyed my journey on how sports have influenced my life. Hopefully, it will inspire you to make your own journey!

I’m a little late as National Girls and Women in Sports Day is recognized as February 3rd. It should be recognized every day for getting girls interested in sports. Sports builds confidence, establishes a healthy lifestyle routine that they can carry into adulthood, teach leadership skills, work with a team, and most importantly, build lasting friendships.

Did you know that women who participate in sports in school are more likely to graduate from college? And that women increase their odds of landing leadership positions when they have a background in athletics. It is all that time management skills drilled into you when you are young!

So, get that little girl in your life a bat, hockey puck, or ball. It doesn’t matter what sport it is; just let her try them all until she finds the one she is passionate about and then sit back and watch her bloom!

Girls, You Got This!

#GirlsAndWomenInSportsDay

#KeepPlaying

#LeadHerForward

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Freelance travel writer and photographer who loves sharing her adventures from around the world. It is never too late to pursue your dream!

Rochester Hills, MI
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