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Into Focus: Sandra Yu

Dec. 1, 2016

By Sandra Yu

Over the years I have been asked multiple times why I have chosen to play a sport and dedicate so much of my time to it. Simply put, the answer is because I cannot imagine my life without it. This may sound a bit dramatic – OK, very dramatic – but if you continue to read, I will do my best to explain my remarkable love for soccer.

Everybody needs an outlet, somewhere to channel their energy, somewhere to get out their frustrations. For me that outlet was soccer.

When I was 10 years old, my father unexpectedly passed away. This had me questioning almost everything in my life. Frankly, I did not understand how God could justify taking away a dad from his five children and his wife. It didn’t seem fair. I didn’t understand how something so horrible could happen to me, and I felt like I had been cheated of being “daddy’s little girl.” Needless to say, I was angry.

Sandra with her father, Gerard.Sandra with her father, Gerard.

It was because of this event that I had to figure out a way to let out all my anger and frustrations. Often this meant working out for hours on end and playing soccer. Kicking a ball around did more for me during this time than anything else. It was my coping mechanism and I had fallen in love with the sport.

Before I knew it I was traveling the country and playing soccer almost every day of the week. At one point, soccer essentially defined who I was – at least I thought it did – and when it came to thinking of life without it, it sent me into a panic.

The panic of not knowing who I was without soccer kicked in my junior year of high school. At this point, I had already committed to Notre Dame and had everything figured out. Honestly, it seemed like life could not get much better. But God threw me for another loop. An indescribable injury had me out for almost a year and questioning whether or not I would ever touch a ball again. It felt like everything I had worked for crumbled to nothing. I was angry with God. In my mind, I couldn’t grasp how he could take away the one thing that helped me cope with the loss of my dad. I felt lost and unsure of who I was.

Fortunately, after about a year of meeting with various doctors and trying different treatments, the pain I was experiencing began to subside and I was returning back to my normal self. To this day, I still explicitly remember returning to my first club practice, feeling happy and free and ready to get back at it.

This injury caused me to panic, but it was because of this panic that I realized I had to do a better job of balancing my life. For me, I thought everyone only saw me as a soccer player, and that without it, I would not be much. This injury taught me otherwise, as nothing changed when it came to the fact that I was injured. Everyone treated me the same during this time and I only experienced unwavering support from friends and family. Beating this injury and returning to the field helped me realize why my passion for soccer is so strong.

Sandra as a young playerSandra as a young player.

I thought I would never play again, but looking back now, I see that as long as I was determined enough and could manage the pain, soccer would always be there. It was not going anywhere, and if the pain never went away, it would be up to me if I wanted to play with it or not.

In a world that is continuously changing, soccer provides me with that constant I need to keep me grounded. It was and always will be my mainstay. No matter what, it will be there. When I’m happy and things are going well, it will be there. When I’m angry and don’t want to talk to a single person, it will be there. When I’m sad and need to clear my mind, it will be there. Whether or not my body will allow me to compete how I want, soccer will always be there and, for me, that is enough.

It is enough because while soccer provides an outlet for me, as cliché as it sounds, it is much more than a game to me. You’ve probably heard it before, but playing a sport is not always about playing the sport.

It’s about the experiences and lessons you learn along the way. It’s about the battles and hardships that shape you into the person that doesn’t take “No” for an answer. It’s about the friendships you form, the ones where you know you can talk candidly and still love each other. It’s about playing for something bigger than myself, and for me that means playing every game for my family – especially for my dad.

So now when I think of life without soccer, I don’t panic because it defines me; I simply get sad thinking of how I’m going to miss doing something I love with the people I love. I don’t panic because I’m scared I won’t know who I am without soccer; rather, I get upset thinking about the day when I won’t go outside at 4 p.m. and kick it with my teammates. I don’t panic because it’s the only good thing about me; instead, I know I’m going to miss all the challenges it presents me. I don’t panic because it’s over; I’m grateful it has enriched my life with countless lessons and experiences.

Sandra Yu is a senior captain on the Notre Dame women’s soccer team and is a two-year starter in the midfield. She will graduate in May with a degree in Science-Business.