08.27.20 – Put Me In Coach

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

What more could we ask for from life than to have opportunities?

Opportunities to love. To help. To learn. To work. Connect. Engage. Contribute. Provide. And to compete. To play.

I believe opportunities – even, or maybe especially, during a pandemic – are everywhere.

Sure, finding them might require effort. A little discernment. Good timing, sincere people, determination, and a little bit of luck. But the world isn’t hiding them from you. It’s the opposite. It wants to hand them out. Sometimes, it might appear as though the doors are closed, but I promise you, they are certainly not locked.

Caroline recently learned and experienced this wonderful fact.

This summer, she tried out for a competitive soccer team. Caroline is athletic and coordinated and loves playing soccer. But the reality is when it comes to competitive youth soccer, there is a certain window of opportunity – or so I thought.

We happen to live near a YMCA, which means that we drive by soccer fields every single day. Even from her backward-facing-car-seat vantage point, Grace was always intrigued by the children running across those fields. Once she was old enough to formally participate, we let her play on one of those soccer teams. I think she was 3. Although she liked playing soccer, what she really loved about playing soccer was all of the running.

And that is how it began for the girls. Grace played soccer which meant that so did Caroline. Later, Grace joined the Walton Youth Cross Country/Track Program which meant that so did Caroline.

Since Grace and Caroline enjoyed both sports, they split their time between both – which was so wonderful for us as parents because they had a shared love and common experience – plus we only had one place each season in which to drive both girls.

But then August 2014 arrived. And everything changed. Everything.

Ultimately, Grace changed her focus from running to swimming. Caroline tried over the years to continue with organized running and even experienced success, yet something was missing. And that something was Grace. Caroline continued playing soccer but never made the commitment to a more competitive experience because she ultimately just loved spending time with Grace. She would rather be cheering Grace on at a swim meet than competing in a weekend soccer tournament. When it came to Caroline, spending time with Grace always came first. Always.

Fast forward to June 2020. Caroline was offered an opportunity to try out for a competitive soccer team. Up until that point, Caroline had only played on what we suburbanites call a “recreational soccer team.”

And guess what? She didn’t make the team. But that’s not how the story ends. Because guess what? As our family knows, hope has no finish line.

Following try-outs, I received a phone call from the coach. By his tone, I knew what he was about to tell me, so I interrupted him and said, “Listen, I want to make this easy for you. It’s ok. This is not going to be the worst phone call I have ever received.” He replied with, “But I’m not finished.”

The coach went on to say that he saw potential, but that Caroline had a great deal of work to do if she wanted to make his team. But this coach offered Caroline something. He offered her a chance. He offered her an extended try-out. He offered her an opportunity. He outlined what she needed to do if she wanted a chance at making the team.

And guess what? She did all of the things he asked her to do. All of them.

And guess what? She made the team.

Although I firmly believe that opportunities come from above, I don’t think that they just land in our laps. Rather, I think they arrive through a combination of divine intervention, strong relationships, hard work, and the correct attitude that puts you in the right place, at the right time, with the right set of skills.

To say that I am happy for Caroline just might be equivalent to me saying that I miss Grace. 

But if you think this story is about soccer, you are missing the point. It is not about soccer for Caroline. Just like swimming was never what it was about for Grace. It is about something far greater. Soccer and swimming are just the backdrops for the stories.

As Prince Harry states in the recently released Netflix documentary about the Paralympics entitled “Rising Phoenix,” ‘There isn’t anything else in the world that can bring you back from the darkest places than sport.’

Amen.

PS – Kate T. Parker’s latest book called ‘Play Like a Girl” was released last week. She photographed Caroline for the book. You can see her on Page 90. Guess where that photograph was taken? At the same soccer field that Caroline now calls her home field – The Roswell Santos. Thank you Kate.

“Stretching yourself hurts, it’s supposed to.”  (Caroline Bunke)

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