Brynnes Mitochondrial Disease effects just about every aspect of her life in big and small ways. During the summer and other hot months in Clovis one of our main concerns is helping her to regulate her body temperature. Brynne doesn't sweat and can easily overheat. This can lead to passing out, a coma, or much worse. One of the most noticeable things to others is her size. She is considerably smaller than all of her classmates. She doesn't have the energy or strength of other children either. So when she begged me to sign her up for soccer this year I tried to just blow it off and hope she'd forget about it. Anyone who knows Brynne knows exactly how that worked out for me. After talking to a friend who is on the board for the league and a lengthy conversation with her coach, we agreed to at least give it a try and just see how it would work out. The rest of the team had been practicing together for about 2 weeks by the time we had all of the details worked out. On our way to her first practice she was determined to do this, but I could tell she was a little anxious about it all.
Before we arrived at practice, the coach had taken a few minutes to explain a little bit about Brynne's condition to her team mates and the parents who were there. They were going to have to make a few concessions for her during games regarding subs depending on Brynnes energy levels and they wanted everyone to understand why.
Brynne was placed on the "C" team which consisted completely of girls who were at least a year younger than her. They couldn't have been a sweeter bunch of girls. They were supportive and encouraging to Brynne from the very first practice and all of them were constantly asking her if she needed a spray from their mist blowing water bottles. Brynne recognized from that first practice that, "all of the other girls were much better than me, but it's okay because I'm just learning". Every practice she gave it her all and came home exhausted in a good way. And she was learning.
After a few games she finally understood the game and the positions. She wasn't afraid to get into the thick of things if she ever got the opportunity.
She ran back and forth across that field as long as she possibly could. She could signal the coaches to let them know when she was needing a break at any time and they would promptly send in a sub.
Brynne never complained or seemed concerned that she was playing with girls who are so much bigger than her, but I have to admit it made me pretty nervous. One game she was knocked down flat by a girl on the opposing team. Two of her teammates were there in an instant sweeping Brynne back onto her feet and dusting her off. One of them even patted Brynne on her head before racing off to get back to her position. I realized those girls had her back and I could relax a little.
The coaches were so patient with Brynne, teaching her the basics and giving her tons of playing time in spite of the fact that she was far from the star of the team. One of the coaches found a special cooling towel that was really helpful in keeping Brynne's temperature down on hot days. I know because he bought one for her, and everyone else on the team! She would sometimes get to start the game off with the first kick and loved having the chance to throw the ball back in when it went out of bounds.
But the best part of watching Brynne play soccer was the grin she was always wearing whenever she was on the field. She loved the game!
Like the rest of the girls on her team, running through the victory tunnel at the end of each game was always something much anticipated
But even better than that was having family and friends to come watch her play.
She would talk about it all week wondering who would be able to come see her play this Saturday.
She was so thrilled when Ashlyn came to visit in October and came to watch.
And again when Kristin came for a visit in November.
But the very best game of the season was the last. Brynne's coaches gave us a heads up and then talked to her at the beginning of the the 4th quarter and explained to her that she was going to be the one to start the quarter with the first kick. Then they explained that they wanted her to just keep kicking it all the way to the goal.
"Wait so exactly what position am I then? A forward?" They told her not to worry about it but just to drive that ball all the way to the goal and then to take a shot.
When the whistle blew Brynne gave that ball her biggest and strongest kick
And then she gave it another
Three kicks down the field and then she kicked it right in!
Her teammates screamed and squealed
Hugs and high fives were all over the place
Even from the girls on the opposing team. And can you see that smile on my baby girls face? She was beaming, and my vision was blurred by my tears of gratitude.
I had just been a witness to the general goodness of the people in our community. The coaches and players of both teams had made special arrangements to give Brynne that opportunity to score a goal at the last game of the season. Brynne isn't quite fast enough or strong enough for that opportunity to be one she would have had on her own. A good game for Brynne was one where her foot made contact with the ball at least once, but not for lack of trying.
The girls on Brynnes team felt so great about giving
Brynne that moment. The girls on the opposing team were even happy about what they had done for the little girl on the other team. It is one of the best feelings in the world to know that you have made a difference for someone else. Given them service, an act of kindness, or an opportunity. I love being on the giving end and do it as often as I can, but the feeling of being on the receiving end that day was overwhelming. My heart was so full as I walked up to shake the hand of the other teams coach. My throat was choked with emotion and I was lucky to be able to convey my humble thanks.
But the real credit belongs to these three guys. These coaches get it. They get the big picture. Yes the kids need to work hard. Yes it feels great to win, and yes it's hard not to be overly competitive in this school district that we live in. But really what matters are the kids. They are playing team sports to learn and to grow. To have positive team experiences. To build relationships with their peers. To build confidence by realizing that they can do things that they didn't know they could do. These coaches took it one step further and helped a little girl, my little girl, do something she would probably never have the chance to do again. And in doing so, they taught the girls on their team that being good people, generous and kind people, feels even better than winning. What a goal!