SPORTS

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June 8, 2004

Soccer championship game an unforgettable experience

Everything seems easier when you play for a winning team. Sprinting alone in the off-season is nearly satisfying, organizing your homework while flying to Pittsburgh isn't quite as stressful, sleep comes easily and leaving a warm body in a warm bed to practice in foggy, skin-stinging cold doesn't ache nearly as badly. Soccer remains a sport played beside the other parts of my life, not as a dominating force. Each game feels like a chance to perpetuate that comfort, keep it safe, and grasp it a little tighter.

The national championship game plays in my head uncontrollably like some horrible, blurry movie clip. I'll be riding the bus, bouncing across streets with sharp stares and abrupt stops when suddenly I'm there again. It's like a dream where you can't see faces or objects clearly, just movement. But worse because you know exactly how it ends.

You're not done yet.

Hold on, keep them back.

Be stronger it's almost

Over.

A lot can happen in 29 seconds-a lot more than you'd think, actually.

In 29 seconds, an extreme connection can be formed between two people, the women's 200-meter world record is set, a plane can be missed, nearly 130 babies are born, and tornadoes travel almost 2 miles-events far more significant than a college soccer game.

But I am drifting.

It's darker, more still than I remember.

The ringing gets louder and the movie clip ends. I am at my stop and I get off the bus.

It took me nearly two years and 29 seconds to figure out that it's not just the winning that makes things more pleasing, it's the pleasure that lets us win. Every day, surrounded by 25 people I respect and attempt to understand, I keep invisible records of each movement and sound. The way Bridget gains speed, the words Kelsey teaches me in Spanish, how Jacqui calls for the ball, or the way Coach holds her kids.

The game will play in our heads, always more indistinct and shadowy than before.

People often ask how we plan to pick up the pieces and what the next year will look like in the face of the last. Really, there are no pieces to pick up, just new ones to place and I can offer no answer. But when the question is asked I can't help drifting off into another daydream, this one far less predictable and much clearer.

Sky darkening, the wind bites at my skin and my mouth grabs for more air. There's a strange syncopation in the deep breaths around me. My legs scream for me to stop but the other voices are louder.

You're not done.

Hold on.

Be stronger.