When I was younger, I always wondered if there was a deaf soccer team out there so I could feel included. I communicate via American Sign Language (ASL), and I wore hearing aids which didn’t help me to understand the conversations with my hearing teammates. It always frustrated me, and I wanted to be on a team where I could express my opinions.

Like most of the women on the USDWNT, I played with hearing teams growing up. My mom would interpret for me when she could, but most of the time, I was self-taught. I understood how to play soccer, but I lacked the sense of belonging off the field. Was there a team where I could be a soccer player on and off the field? Guess what, there is! I didn’t even know that the USDWNT existed until I was 15 years old in 2013.

Unfortunately, I had conflicts where I couldn’t attend camp until the summer of 2017 in Seattle. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Why? I now have the opportunity to play with other deaf girls, and what’s the big deal about that? Let me tell you my story.

I never understood the importance of a team bond until I joined the USDWNT. I never understood the uniqueness of team chemistry. The dynamics. Growing up, I always played soccer but I never bonded with the girls. I always felt left out, missing out on the conversations every time, but that was normal to me. I felt bad that my mom had to interpret all the time.

So I would just disappear after games and practices, instead of hanging out with my teammates. I didn’t think it was a bad thing because I had become used to it.

My interaction with the team was pretty much limited to smiles and waves as we arrived and left practices/games and the classic “Good Job!”

I didn’t realize what I was missing out on until my first camp in Seattle with the USDWNT. Right away, they were like sisters. They were not afraid to sign out their opinions right there on the field. Wait, I can share mine too! I wanted to be a part of that. That is what I’ve always wanted. It’s a dream team come true.

During this camp, I didn’t just show up to play soccer. I was able to interact with other girls on the team. With this team, I’m included in the conversation. I sign, and I’m not being left out. I’m not missing the conversations! Wow, how often does this happen?

This team has taught me that every player on the team is important as they bring something on and off the field. The chemistry we share is spectacular because we share the same identity, Deafness. Every deaf, individual woman has a huge impact on this team, and that is extremely amazing.

I’ve been to three camps with them now, and I’ve had a recurring thought in my head. This team is different, and I’ve been missing that opportunity for 19 years. 19 years of dream soccer.

Yet, I smile because I’m here now. This team already has a special place in my heart and I feel that I’ve grown so much, even though I’ve only been to the last three camps.

This is what makes this team so special. Each event or camp with this team plants a little seed in every woman, and every time she comes back for the next camp, her seed grows and grows, eventually into a big powerful tree. Younger and new players see that big tree, and it inspires and motivates them to contribute their own successes to the USDWNT.

After my first USDWNT summer training camp in Seattle, I returned to RIT for my sophomore season and found that I bonded more with my RIT teammates because of my USDWNT experiences. During my freshman year at RIT, I was insecure socially, and I could not see why. My first camp with USDWNT taught me the importance of team bonding and why I needed to be more open my sophomore year and beyond.

Motivation is what moves any team forward to success. The culture of the pack is the key for every team. I’ve learned that getting to know your teammates – interacting with them, laughing with them, and playing hard with them are key components to team unity. This is far more significant than the talent of the team.

So, 19 years later, I’m finally creating memories with hearing and deaf teammates alike on and off the field. 19 years later, I’ve found a place where I belong. 19 years later, I’ve found my dream. It’s never too late to grow your tree.