Every time I step onto the soccer field, I give my necklace a little kiss.
It’s a moment to remember why I play this game. It’s a chance to calm myself and be at peace with everything that’s happening around me. More importantly, it’s another opportunity to think about my grandfather.
He was my biggest fan and greatest inspiration.
Life’s struggles never got in the way of his kindness and compassion to other people. Even when he was physically deteriorating, he’d still go out of his way to put a smile on someone else’s face. I strive to be like him each and every day.
So I wear a necklace with his name and birthstone as a reminder of the life lessons taught and love shown. Without my grandfather, I honestly don’t know where I’d be in life.
My discovery of soccer didn’t come without some compromise on my grandfather’s part.
When I was in third grade, I had to make the big decision between soccer and Irish step dancing. Well, it wouldn’t have been much of a decision for an Irishman like my grandfather.
He wanted me to go with step dancing, but he remained fully supportive even when I decided to stick with soccer. I just loved the competition of the sport, and everything came to me so naturally.
And when I wasn’t playing soccer, I was spending time with my grandfather. Every second I got to spend with him was giving me so much joy.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when I was about 10 years old. Surprisingly, whenever he had an episode, I was called to come see him as I was the one person he never forgot. I was the only person that could calm him down.
So his house became my second house.
My grandfather and I have always been incredibly close, but you can imagine how experiences like these strengthened our bond even further.
Truthfully, being by his side throughout this entire journey really sparked a fire inside of me. Without a doubt, he is the inspiration behind why I started working with people in geriatrics with Alzheimer’s.
It all began with a couple of fundraisers in high school and I could simply tell from an early age that this was my calling.
Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away when I was in 10th grade from the disease, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch.
But even when he was sick, he never stopped encouraging me to follow my dreams of playing soccer.
By the time I was in high school, I was already playing in one of the top clubs in Long Island and looking towards continuing in college.
My intentions were always set on going as far as I could. I wanted to make the time I didn’t have with my grandfather worth it by continuing to play soccer.
I’d already picked the college I wanted to attend as a sophomore, but of course, that was bound to change considering how bad I am at making decisions. I knew I didn’t want to jump into just any school because I was very particular about what I wanted.
One of the things I was always adamant about was coming down south.
However, as a New Yorker, that didn’t exactly make things easy on recruiters trying to see my games in person. So the process lingered four months into my senior year of high school.
That’s when I chose Presbyterian College.
I had my doubts initially with it being such a small school. One of the things on my college checklist was attending a big school, but that thought was wiped away entirely when I actually came down for an official campus visit.
It was a very calming yet exciting environment, and I immediately felt like I was at home. I also knew I had a fighting chance to have a big role on the team, something I valued deeply.
But even after I committed, I never stopped thinking about my grandfather.
You see, he really was my biggest motivation. When you spend that much time with a person that you genuinely love, it impacts your life in all sorts of facets.
Besides him pushing me to continue down the soccer path, he ignited this dream of me opening an Alzheimer’s care facility one day.
I initially went into healthcare and management, but after taking a couple of business classes, I realized I wanted to be more hands-on in my work.
That’s when I zeroed in on occupational therapy, and I just absolutely love it. After graduation, the goal is to get my doctorate someday and open my own clinic.
Simply put, my goal is to make a difference. I want people dealing with Alzheimer’s to have some place to go and be with people they can trust. I just want them to be somewhere to enjoy their last moments in safety and comfort.
When I think about this, I immediately remember my aunt’s funeral.
At the time, my grandfather didn’t really understand why we were there. I just remember him getting so upset when we got to the casket because he didn’t know. I had to go through that situation about three or four times—going up to the casket, walking around, and calming him down when he started to cry.
He repeated, “How did I not know she passed away?”
I tried to simplify it by telling him it was just a cold in his brain. I’d assure him that I got them too sometimes, and it makes you forget things.
And then there was that sign of relief.
Whenever I could get him to show that sign of relief, that’s when I felt the best. That’s when I knew I’d brought him some sort of peace. I know it was just temporary, but I know, in that moment, it helped him.
My hope is to bring similar peace to so many others dealing with the disease. Most of all, I just want to make my grandfather proud. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him.
So I keep him with me, engraved on a necklace near to my heart. Before every game, I kiss that necklace knowing he’s not really gone. His spirit is still out there somewhere, watching his little Irish step dancer chase her dreams of playing soccer.
And opening her own Alzheimer’s care facility one day.