I knew my whole life that I was meant to be an athlete. I found out along the ride that soccer was the sport that would completely take over my life.
I played everything growing up: Basketball, softball, swimming and skiing. You name it, I did it. Athleticism is part of my nature. Being an athlete made me who I am. Twenty years later, I am a Division I soccer player for the second winningest program in NCAA women’s soccer history, and being an athlete is still my defining characteristic.
I decided in fifth grade to focus solely on playing soccer. It was the first of many life shaping decisions I would make in the coming years, and I was forced to make it as a 10-year-old. I wrote down goals and set out to play for as long as I could, at the highest level I could. I took action on these plans and I joined a club team that bred D1 players and U.S. Women’s National Team legends (Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly, to name a couple), where excellence was not something to strive for, rather, it was the standard.
The college process was introduced to me as an eighth grader. While my fellow 13-year-old friends were concerned about where they would be going to hang out after school on a Friday, I was busy packing my bags to do overnight visits at different colleges or traveling the country to play in tournaments, chasing a national championship.
In February of my sophomore year of high school, I verbally committed to play at UConn. It was an exciting time, but the crazy reality was that I was still two and a half years away from actually being able to wear the jersey.
Soccer opened so many doors in my life. It has taken me to beautiful places, alongside friends I will have forever, and more than anything, it gave me the opportunity to become a Husky and join a long line of athletic excellence.
However, along with these perks came countless sacrifices that have left me out of many “normal” teenage milestones. I missed being in the court of one of my best friend’s sweet 16 because I had a tournament the same weekend in Florida. A year later, I missed my junior prom, this time traveling to California for a round of league games.
But none of these quite hold a candle to June 22, 2017; the day Nutley High School graduated its senior class. That was the day my childhood friends walked in graduation to receive their high school diploma, and to say one final goodbye to the past four years. I did not walk in my high school graduation that day. Instead I laced up my cleats and took the field in Chicago, again chasing a national championship.
I am forever grateful for the game of soccer, and I would make every sacrifice all over again if I was given the choice. Being an athlete has made me a stronger person and propelled me through an incredible life that many could only dream of.
I stand behind the fact that athletes are much more than our physical capabilities and that we have more to offer than our name on a roster. But I wear the jersey, I put in the hours of hard work and for my whole life, I have been an athlete — and that is a title I will proudly carry with me long after my playing career comes to an end.
I am more than an athlete, but more than anything, I am an athlete.
Zoë Steck is a student athlete and member of the UConn women’s soccer team.