After that camp, it was like a switch had been flipped in my head. Soccer stopped just being something I did after school or on the weekends, it became a lifestyle. I knuckled down, started training harder and doing extra work on my technique. I became a more passionate and competitive person.
I could see where I wanted to be and how to get there.
I set a personal goal of getting into Stanford University, a college just outside San Francisco that’s well known for its academic and soccer programs. I worked hard and got the marks needed to access a sports scholarship. It ended up being an awesome experience, studying engineering and playing soccer.
In my first year, we went undefeated over the whole season (26-0-1) and won the national championship. To this day, I still regard that as one of my greatest soccer achievements.
MAKING WAY FOR MATILDAS
The thing that means the most to me as a soccer player is being able to call myself a professional. A lot of women are never able to reach that level or stay there for as long as I have. I can really appreciate that because my career could have been over after just five months.
I decided to try and make the step up in 2015 when I still had a year left on my engineering degree. I entered the NWSL draft and ended up getting picked up by Sky Blue FC.
It was a dream come true, even though it meant moving away from my family to the complete opposite side of the US, to New Jersey.
I chose No. 42, which was the number Dad and Koa wore when they played college football. My debut game was televized around the country and they were back home cheering me on. Seeing me run on for my debut against the defending champions, Kansas City, with that number on my back, meant so much to them.
‘You have talent, Lo,’ she said. ‘You can make it as far as you want. You need to decide if you’re going to be the social kid who gets distracted, or if you’re going to be a leader.’
For a few months I was living a dream, playing every game, and then the rug got pulled out from underneath me.
The crazy thing is Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were the reason I was cut. They were away with the Matildas when the season had started and when they became available, Sky Blue snapped them up. Another girl and I were released to make way for them.
I was angry and shocked. I had thought that if you signed a contract you were set. Apparently not.
As it turns out, that’s just how things are in the States. You can be cut or traded at any time. You’re never secure, which makes it very difficult to plan a future for yourself.
But like I said, I’m stubborn. I was not going to let this be the end of my professional soccer career.
I went back and finished my college degree while simultaneously training for the next NWSL season. I ended up getting picked up by Kansas City and was able to report for day one of pre-season. I haven’t looked back since.
I’ll be forever grateful for that second chance and to my coaches and teammates for supporting me. Kansas City, and my current clubs Utah Royals & Western Sydney Wanderers, have developed me into the player I am today.
I do think there’s a big cultural difference between the NWSL and the W-League though.
The NWSL is the highest standard of competition I’ve played in. I think that comes down to the way players are developed in the States. From club, to college and then to the NWSL, the players that graduate from that system are all really solid. That’s why it’s so competitive.
On the other hand, in the W-League one thing I absolutely love about the Wanderers is the camaraderie. We have a great team spirit and are determined to turn our season around.
Off the pitch, I’m just enjoying everything this country has to offer. Even when I’m tired from all the training, I still head out exploring around Sydney, finding spots up in the Blue Mountains or beaches down the coast.
I’m always down for an adventure.
A phone call at the end of April changed my life forever.
I was having the best day, hiking in the Utah mountains and playing games with friends in their backyard. Then I got the call.
As soon as I heard Dad’s voice, I knew it was something terrible. He asked if I could head home and be seated and then call him back.
I sprinted home, went straight to my room and sat on the floor with my back to the wall. And then I called him.
He told me that Koa had passed away.
I just crumbled, in tears. Receiving that news was completely paralysing. Koa was my best friend.
The first 24 hours were the hardest of my life. I couldn’t eat or sleep.
Dad flew out to be with me and we just couldn’t understand what had happened. A drug overdose that no one had seen coming. It was so sudden and out of the blue that it was hard for us to accept.
Koa had gone to a frat party at his college in Arizona and at some point in the night, drugs had been introduced. A bad mix, or something, had shut his body down. He was found the following morning sitting at the desk in his room.
Nothing can prepare you for that sort of tragedy.
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To the kid who could make me laugh when I wasn’t even in the mood to smile. To my first best friend who protected me from all the harm & sorrow in the world. Kalaukoa, I will forever remember your love, your humor, your dance moves, your laugh … your everything, because you were my everything. To my baby brother, may you rest in peace ❤️
I had training the next morning and a game that weekend in Utah. Everyone was saying I should forget about playing and go away with my family, but I knew that soccer was the best thing for me. I needed to stay active and focused.
In the weeks that followed, my training schedule forced me to eat and look after myself. It kept me going when I barely thought I could get through the day. And when I was on the field, it kept my mind off things.
I only have good memories when it comes to thinking about my brother. Every single day I try to wake up with a smile and do something that I truly enjoy. I try to be happy for him. That’s my way of honoring his memory because all he ever wanted was to make people laugh.
When I laugh, I know that he is with me. I can still hear his goofy laugh and even just that thought makes me smile.
Slowly, I’ve grown strong again. There are times when the loss gets to me, but I try not to show it. With the culture of soccer, being part of team means being part of a sisterhood. My teammates are always there to pick me up.
I play for Koa now. In Utah, I have his name printed on the inside of my jersey. And before every game I write his name on my knuckles.
Kalaukoa Kaha’i Kukailimoku. Those three names mean the steadfast warrior, the cultural hero and the god of war.
I’ll carry his memory with me forever.