Photo Credit:Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for the Women’s Sports Foundation
14 year old Soccer Without Borders (SWB) participant Raquel and I entered New York City’s Cipriani Banquet Hall and stood in awe of the luxurious decorations.
“ I didn’t know it was going to be that fancy!” Raquel exclaimed.
Raquel was selected to represent SWB at the Women’s Sports Foundation 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports as a young athlete whose participation in soccer has shaped who she is today.
At 7 years old, Raquel left her home in Honduras to live in the U.S. where many members of her family including her parents had already been living for years. Raquel recalls that her biggest challenge during this time was learning English: “I use to get frustrated because I didn’t know what they were trying to say to me or what they were talking about,” says Raquel, “I didn’t go outside much.”
Not long after arriving in the U.S., Raquel joined Soccer Without Borders where she is still an active member of the program today. Raquel explains, “When I first came, I didn’t really like to talk a lot, but when I kept going to the soccer program, I liked to talk to people. I was more open to them.” Fast-forward seven years and Raquel is regarded as a leader among SWB peers and coaches. She has cultivated her soccer skills and confidence through her long-term engagement with the program. She has become a powerful example of how SWB can positively impact its participants.
The Women’s Sports Foundation honors professional female athletes at the Annual Salute and includes young female athletes like Raquel in the celebration to inspire them to achieve their goals despite obstacles they may face. The event began with a walk down the red carpet where the young athletes shook hands and posed for a picture with Billie Jean King. Raquel believes King’s story is significant: “She proved people wrong. People say it’s [tennis] a boy sport. But it really isn’t. We can all learn. We can do the same things they [boys] can do.”
Next, the young and professional athletes alike were ushered into a holding room before going on stage. Raquel was paired with Heather O’Reilly, a former player for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, winner of three Olympic gold medals and a FIFA Women’s World Cup. In the holding room, Raquel and O’Really had the chance to get to know each other before walking out on stage.
Afterwards, it was time for the grand march of athletes. One by one, each athlete was called on stage for their formal introduction in front of an audience of hundreds with thousands live-streaming at home. Raquel says this was her favorite part of the evening: “I liked when we walked together on the stage. She [O’Reilly] bowed to me!”
Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for the Women’s Sports Foundation
The rest of the evening was filled with awards honoring inspiring athletes who’ve overcome immense obstacles such as Oksana Masters, a Paralympic medalist born in an orphanage who had to have both her legs amputated as a child and Caster Semenya, a middle-distance runner who faced years of discrimination and questions about her sex.
As the evening came to a close, Raquel and I were overwhelmed with the numerous stories of strong and powerful women. When reflecting on the evening, Raquel says listening to the stories taught her to:
“Never give up on something you really love to do. Follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do what you want to do!”