Like many American youths, I have played soccer since the requisite signup in Kindergarden. My love for the game expanded with every seasonal patch I added to my rec league jersey and continued through the years of matching sweats and pre-wrap headbands on competitive teams. Nothing will ever beat the feeling of my first header goal, or the memory of reaching five hundred juggles under the careful watch of Mia, Kristine, and Brandi from their posters on the backboard my dad built in our yard. No matter how many academic clubs I joined in high school, I took the most pride in being a soccer player. After all, who wouldn’t want to be like any of the icons on the 1999 US Women’s National Team?
The sport took on a new place in my life when I switched gears from year-round traveling teams in high school to laid-back intramurals in college. It was a big change. Who was I if not a soccer player? With the addition of Crohn’s patient to my identity junior year, it became even harder to reconcile who I really was. I was no longer a member of a team; individually strong, but greater together. Even with the support of my family I felt weak and alone in my disease. It defined who I was, what I could do, where I was able to go. It took away my feelings of strength, support, and purpose, traits I developed over time with the help of soccer.
In the years since my diagnosis, I have come to terms with the balance I need in order to get by day to day. Through the help of my medical team, family, and friends, I am in a place where I can participate in most of the activities I enjoy (including soccer) while keeping my health in good shape.
But in a merging of worlds I didn’t see coming, earlier this summer U.S. Women’s Soccer standout and famed PK-scoring poster girl, Brandi Chastain, partnered with the pharmaceutical company AbbVie to release MyIBD Game Plan, a guide for patients and families to start life with the Crohn’s or Colitis on a strong note. Chastain’s 10 year old son was diagnosed with Crohn’s, and rather than take the news lying down, she decided to help other patients and families take control of their lives and symptoms. The plan provides online resources and roadmaps for navigating the world of IBD after a diagnosis.
I could not have been more surprised or excited to see the friendly face of one of my soccer idols starting back at me from a webpage about Crohn’s after years of watching her play and commentate on TV. She even decorated the walls of my childhood bedroom. If I close my eyes I can still see the pro-soccer, anti-smoking poster “U.S. Women Rule with Fire, Not Smoke” above my dresser.
So thanks, Brandi. Not just for teaching me about the perils of smoking from a young age, but for being a positive role model to a young woman trying to keep up with the boys on the soccer field. You’ve always been a symbol of strength and leadership, and dedicating your time and energy to help IBD patients means more than you know. You are proof that strength, courage, and perseverance aren’t just synonymous with winning the World Cup or playing sports at any level. They are also qualities found in the people living day to day with IBD.
You can check out Brandi’s game plan at https://ibdgameplan.com.