Little did I know what was to come after signing a national letter of intent to play Division I soccer at Lehigh University, on Feb. 9, 2018. However, it didn’t matter: I was ready.
Or, so I thought.
I was full of hope, having committed during the spring of my junior year in high school to pursue my athletic career at the collegiate level. It was the beginning of a journey I’ve dreamed of experiencing since I was 10 years old.
Hailing from Berryville, Virginia, “a town with more cows than people,” I grew up alongside the same crowd; they were all I knew, and it’s who I was.
I built a name for myself at home. “The DI soccer star,” they would say. “That Staples girl, she’s gonna sell tickets one day.”
My family of four and two dogs were my biggest support system. However, the bond I share with my brother, Oakley, is particularly special. Despite the five years of age separating us, we grew to be closer than your average siblings.
As I got older, I wanted to experience life away from my town. But as preseason rolled around, I wanted the exact opposite. My optimism seized upon the realization of what I was leaving behind.
On Aug. 5, seven months after signing my life away to the game, I stepped foot in Bethlehem for the first time as an official student-athlete.
Overcome with emotions when I arrived on campus, I would have to immerse myself into a new environment I was not yet cut out for. I struggled to find confidence within myself, thus the onset of my depression and anxiety.
I was not the player I used to be. I received little to no playing time and struggled to make connections with my teammates. What was seen as a new beginning felt like an inescapable trap. There was no way out, and there was no way up for that matter. I lost my drive to excel in the classroom, and soon began to fall out of love with the game I had grown up with.
Despite the loss of my identity, my new-found appreciation for home grew ever more. I left school whenever my schedule allowed me in order to reunite with the people and animals I loved most.
“The girl that plays with her hair on fire,” as my dad would say, no longer believed in her own abilities. I allowed the criticism, doubts, and smoke of my own fire to cloud my vision.
Amongst my search to find myself again, I realized the root of my problems did not stem from the lack of trust I had within myself. The truth had come out during my sophomore year in college.
On a phone call with my mom at one of my lowest points, my brother Oakley overheard me use the word “suicide.”
His mouth dropped. He pushed his food away at the dinner table, and left without saying a word.
Unbenounced to me, that very same night, Oakley confronted my mother with rage.
“Why did you not tell me? Why did she not tell me?” he said.
“She never would have wanted you to know,” my mother responded.
And she was right. The relationship I share with my brother runs deeper than our blood. We have connected over the years through the very thing I struggled to find compassion for at the time: soccer. Without my love for the game, my relationship with my brother fell through along with it.
Yet, I realized something that night: my inspiration and confidence came through something that was not just myself, but through him. My little brother has been my purpose all along. When I left home, I left Oakley. I left the one person who kept me grounded to the roots of my core, and to the game I devoted my life tow
To this day, I have set my focus towards playing for him. I let his love and belief in myself guide me to be not only the player, but the person I am today.
Oakley is my purpose. He always has been, and he always will.