Soccer is the sport that witnessed me falling in love with my husband. Perhaps the most romantic of the seasons, that first autumn gave me the best version of myself in the time of year I love most with the person I was meant to marry. Coaching high school soccer in a small town doesn’t afford a large stipend, let alone enough for assistants or goalie coaches specifically; but when my friend Cathy told me we should invite Geoff Krill to practice, as he had been a goalie at Southern New Hampshire University, formerly known as New Hampshire College, I agreed. However, I knew Geoff used a wheelchair to get around, but I did not know him well. I was interested in how Cathy believed he would be able to work individually with my goalkeepers from a seated position. Little did I know how his presence on the field would impact any of us.
My friend from college had been paralyzed while skiing the year before we had graduated. My uncle had been paralyzed when I was a teenager. People who used wheelchairs did not make me uncomfortable. Yet, none of us will forget the first time we watched Geoff throw himself out of his wheelchair to make a point to our athletes about not being afraid to hit the ground. You hit the ground, and you get back up. Your body keeps moving to keep the ball out of the net. His body is still moving despite not being able to move half of it. A crazy thing happens to Geoff’s legs when he in on a soccer field. He thinks his legs remember playing soccer so when he watches he describes a humming or buzzing sensation over his body– the electric force every athlete engages right before taking the field.
We stopped coaching soccer when we were going through the In Vitro Fertilization process to have a baby as trips to the hospital for blood work and egg retrieval were not conducive to running a reliable, competitive high school program. And so we returned to the sport we loved when our own children were big enough, but Geoff readily admits he doesn’t have the patience for the little ones. The irony is that I find him to be the most patient person in our world. Both kids have taken an interest in goalkeeping, but it’s unclear if our son just doesn’t
want to run. Little does he know now how much his dad is going to make him move as he trains to protect the net at all costs. I was really hoping one of them at least would be a fierce defender like their mother, but until then we survive one practice and game at a time.
In last week’s game, we watched our third grader, proudly sporting a goalkeeping jersey and goalie gloves, dive for a ball that literally rolled into his hands at a snail’s pace. The dive was unnecessary. Highly dramatic though and highly unnecessary. The parents all giggled on the sidelines and cheered him on for his “epic” save. His smile filled the empty goal and, while I turned to Geoff exasperated, he could not have been prouder. “Some kids never throw themselves down on the ground like that– he’s a natural.” I kept what I was going to say to myself and let him revel in his “coaching our son” moment.
The high school girls we coached together are now approaching 30, give or take a year or two. They are scientists and teachers and recreation professionals, some with partners and children and careers they love or hate and still others with healthy resumes the length of a goal post. They learned a lot during those high school years, but soccer was really just part of it. Like our second and third graders are learning now, the ball doesn’t hurt that much when it hits your body; the ground is forgiving most of the time. Pass to your teammates and don’t be a ball hog. No one likes the ball hogs later in life either. If you get a chance to take a shot, take a shot! Sometimes you miss the ball, but it’s way worse if you don’t even try. You might get hurt; you might not. But worrying about what might happen doesn’t do any of us any good ever. Take action. Support one another. Only teamwork and sportsmanship belong on our bench. If you pout, you won’t play. Leave your heart on the field. Or maybe find one there and make him your husband.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver, and Greta who are 8 and 7. Please check out her novel True North, website http://www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.