I’ve been thinking a lot lately about BIG ideas. Ideas that are so B – I – G you have to capitalize them. Ideas that are so BIG they take your breath away and terrify you at the same time. Those ideas. The ones we dream about while we’re doing everything else.
When I was 18 and nearly finished with high school, all I wanted to do was play soccer. I had other dreams, too, like getting my college degree and traveling, but soccer had been such a huge part of my life and I wasn’t ready to give it up. I was a pretty decent player, not the most skilled or the fastest, but good enough to be noticed by some smaller colleges. Still, I wanted to go after the B-I-G dream.
I wanted to play NCAA Division I college soccer. And I wanted to do it at the University of Arkansas where my parents attended college. I’d been raised a Razorback in exile in Oklahoma and I was ready to head home.
One day I mustered my courage, dialed the number and called up Janet Rayfield, head coach of the Lady Razorback soccer team. It probably wasn’t done this way, but it was late in the school year, late in the recruiting process, and I knew if I didn’t call her now, I never would.
I still remember how hard that phone call was, how nervous I felt as I tried to answer the coach’s questions. She asked about my high school and club experience and informed me that they had no scholarships left, but she would come watch me play if I still had any interest in joining the team. I told her about the only two games I had left on my schedule as a high school player, the Oklahoma All-State game and the club state tournament. She agreed to come.
The day of the All-State game was nuts. I’d had this crazy idea that my sisters and I should do Freewheel, a bicycle trek across Oklahoma that requires you to ride 30-60 miles each day, and it fell on the same week as the All-State game. I’d already ridden several days of the event, but I took that day off and headed to the game, where I joined the other senior girls selected from teams on the eastern half of the state in a battle against girls from the western side of Oklahoma.
We had a full roster of talented players and most people rotated through playing time, leaving and reentering the game. Looking back, the All-State coach must have known I was being scouted that day because I played the entire game. I had a blast and played well, including a great slide tackle and a shot on goal from nearly 40 yards out.
After the game, Janet approached me and introduced herself and congratulated me on the win. I told her about Freewheel and I still remember her laughing and saying, “You mean you’ve ridden a hundred miles this week on your bike and you played in the All-State game?” Ah, the advantages of youth.
Janet didn’t promise me anything when she left the All-State game, but the next weekend my team played in the final of the State tournament. It was a tough game and my team was the underdog against an aggressive team that had dominated our league since I’d been playing club ball. Still, we went head to head with them and everyone played their best. I was relentless, knowing I would never play with my teammates again. I’d also spotted Janet on the sidelines. The pressure was on. The rest of my soccer career hung in the balance that day and I was determined to leave everything on the field, no matter what happened.
We lost that game by a single late goal. I could hardly speak as I walked off the field, but I made my way over to Janet. She said she was sorry about the loss, but that we’d played a great game.
Then she invited me to come play for the Razorbacks.
And with those few words, a new chapter in my life began. I would keep chasing that BIG dream of playing soccer at the college level. I didn’t know the challenges I would face yet, how difficult it is to play at a high level, or the friendships I would make. I only knew that I’d decided one day to stop dreaming about this dream and do something about it. And I’ve never regretted it.
I’m still dreaming about BIG ideas.