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Philadelphia Independence keeper Val Henderson gives a behind-the-scenes take of everyday life with the WPS expansion club. In the latest installment, Val puts the game of soccer in perspective.

Thursday morning, heading back from Chicago after our third consecutive loss, our heads were down and we were much quieter than usual. Very disappointed with how the last couple games went, and knowing how much work we’d have ahead of us, we shifted between anger, sadness, worry and eagerness.

At breakfast, on the ride to the airport, at check-in, we were distracted by the events of the previous night: giving up a goal within the first couple minutes, failing to put one away before conceding another in the second half, being forced to throw numbers forward in a desperate attempt to get on the board, ultimately failing to make anything happen as the clock ticked to 90 minutes.

Going through security people could see it on our faces that we didn’t get the result. Feeling dejected, we were forced to tell them that no, we didn’t get ‘em this time. When we finally made it to our gate we huddled together, miserable, just wanting to get home, thinking “there’s nothing worse than having to travel home after a loss.”

Then all of a sudden an alarm went off. Someone had pushed the emergency stop button on the moving walkway between gates. A man was down. He was having a heart attack.

Immediately a nurse was by his side. A passerby ran to grab a defibrillator off the wall and assist the nurse as best he could. In an airport full of strangers, people in a hurry, people who couldn’t seem more indifferent about each other, a man went down, and time stopped. Flights didn’t matter. Work didn’t matter. Priority was getting this man to breathe.

Hollie Walusz, our athletic trainer, hastily joined to offer some help. Typically dealing with sprained ankles and head hits, she rose to the occasion for a much more grave situation. We held our breaths, hoping this man could find his. The nurse performed mouth to mouth and people kept enough distance to be out of the way but to be available if needed. We all hoped.

And then he breathed. His pulse came back. The paramedics arrived and took him to what we hope was safety.

We all got our breaths back as well. And then we put it in perspective.

To those of us really in love with the game, soccer seems life and death. But we rarely find ourselves at the point of dying on the field. Soccer is mostly about living. While we’ve conceded three straight, our hearts ache, but they still beat. So I can’t help but find myself saying “at least.” At least we’re all healthy. At least we have each other.

And at least we’re in the playoffs. At least we still have the chance to win it all. We may have to claw from fourth place (that’s still yet to be decided), but at the very least we have that opportunity. We can still suck it up and sort it out.  Our future is still in our hands. I don’t take that for granted.


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