For Mariela, a Case Manager at Team IMPACT, sports have always been vital to her self-identity.
Through soccer, Mariela became a Division I athlete, an international soccer player, and eventually, a FIFA World Cup competitor. Though her soccer career has since come to an end, Mariela credits sports and team with teaching her the life skills and drive she carries with her every day.
When I reflect on my 27 years of life, the one constant in each and every memory is sports. Sports, specifically being part of a team, have made me the person I am today while carrying me through the toughest adversities of my life. From the age of six, my parents threw me into every sport under the sun. After my first soccer coach called me an “Energizer Bunny,” any parent could understand why mine were desperate to give me as many athletic opportunities as possible. Though I played basketball and softball, got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and competed in gymnastics, no sport compared to the feeling I got while kicking a soccer ball around a muddy field.
Being part of a soccer team gave me an immeasurable number of skills that stretched far outside sports. I learned time management, teamwork, discipline, keeping a positive attitude in the face of hardship, respect, the importance of consistency—you name it, and I learned it. I not only learned how to have humility after achieving success, but how to keep a determined spirit in the face of failure. Being part of a team taught be how to both persevere to achieve my dreams, while also learning that no single individual matters more than the collective goal of the group.
One of the biggest reasons why I am so passionate about girls and women having the opportunity to participate in sports is because I know that sports can be one of the best forms of self-care during hardships. Between the ages of 9 and 12, my dad lived with and ultimately passed from prostate cancer. At that time, terminal illness ruled my home, but thankfully having a soccer team to join each week gave me the space to feel “normal.” To be seen as not the girl whose dad was dying, but the girl who gave 110% every time she stepped on the pitch. Sports gave me a place to build my confidence, form an incredible support system to rely on during adversity, and have a healthy space to clear my mind when life felt too tough.
After having a successful career as a Division I soccer player at St. John’s University in New York City and participating for Team Ecuador in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, I retired from competitive soccer. Though I may no longer play at a high level, sports have continued to be my saving grace. I feel incredibly lucky to continue being active in sports both inside and outside of my job. I truly believe that Team IMPACT is so important for little girls across the country to have a positive place to feel strong, build confidence, and be part of something bigger than themselves.
Just as I didn’t want to be defined as the girl with a sick parent, Team IMPACT doesn’t define girls in the program by the diagnoses they have. Team IMPACT empowers girls to be whoever they want to be by being part of supportive teams filled with strong, motivating, and inclusive female athletes. At Team IMPACT, we celebrate abilities rather than focusing on limitations. We let our children engage in sports at whatever capacity feels good to them. Our program is so beneficial because it not only teaches girls invaluable life skills but also provides them with a space to smile, have fun, and feel good about who they are and what they can do.
I am eternally grateful for the skills and support system that sports have given me, and I can’t wait to continue to welcome girls into our program so that they too can receive every incredible gift that being part of a team has to offer.