“Miss, I’m dying!” is perhaps the most common response I hear while the Girls Soccer team is mid squat jump on one of their off-season training days. Other common refrains vary from “I think my legs are going to fall off” to “I’m about to fall over” to “You got this, keep it up!”
When I was asked to be the fitness coach for the Girls Soccer program here at Arrupe Jesuit High School (Denver, CO), I laughed. If there is one thing I could know less about, it’s the sport of soccer. I went to one camp when I was probably ten years old, and gave it up immediately. The thought of coaching, then, was something that seemed utterly absurd. However, I have a remarkable passion for fitness and training (especially for girls), and I felt God nudging me forward, so I agreed.
As with most of God’s unforeseen blessings, my decision to say yes has led to one of my most fulfilling roles within the Arrupe community. The girls on the soccer team (although I admit some partiality) are some of the strongest, most selfless, and determined young women I have ever met. I’ll never forget the first day of lifting, when they all showed up eager and ready to get started. One of the girls was trying to secretly finish off a slushy from 7-11, while another tried to inconspicuously scarf down a piece of pizza. We were off to a great start.
We laid out the workouts for them and demonstrated proper form so that no one was at risk of getting injured. We gave them great rules of thumb for working out and made sure they felt comfortable doing the exercises with no weight before giving them anything to lift. We emphasized the need to know limitations and to ask for help when you weren’t sure. We highlighted that they were capable of more than they could probably imagine, and that we would be there to guide and direct them every step of the way.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud than when I watched the girls squatting, doing assisted pull-ups, glute extensions, among a multitude of other things. During the first set, they all dramatically squealed, made ridiculous faces, and laughingly rolled their eyes, but not a single one of them gave up. They finished every repetition, every set, and they did it while supporting their teammates in the process. It’s a very meaningful thing to see young women empowering each other to do things they didn’t believe they were capable of doing.
God is funny sometimes; I’m convinced God spends a decent amount of timeless existence laughing at me. During every workout, every meeting, every interaction with the soccer girls, God reminds me how much I love doing something that at first I was so reluctant to accept. I have moments where I think God actually whispers “I told you so!” as I laugh at the begrudgingly grateful groans of 20 high school girls in the middle of a grueling exercise. Their commitment and drive to be constantly improving never fails to challenge and inspire me.
The other day, they were doing a minute and fifteen seconds of superman holds, where student-athletes lay on their stomachs with their legs and arms raised off the ground. It’s a difficult move to hold for that long, and at this point, they had already completed around 30 minutes of intensive bodyweight exercises. After I yelled “Go!” and they lifted into the hold, they did something that always warms my heart. They grabbed hands, someone yelled, “We got this girls! Don’t give up now!” and they then proceeded to sing the ABC’s in unison to pass the time quicker. It’s one thing for me to tell them how great they are and hope that they believe it; but watching them empower and affirm each other’s unbreakable feminine spirit in such a counter-cultural way is truly phenomenal. I’m so proud of the young women they are continuing to develop into, and I can’t take an ounce of the credit. They’ve done it all themselves.
In the midst of it all, I appreciate that God is laughing with me. Laughing with me as student-athletes dramatically complain; laughing with me as they try to get me to sing to them “because I owe them for making their legs die;” laughing as they yell encouragement across the room through their staggered breathing. God’s laughing with me, God’s laughing with them, and of course, lovingly saying “I told you so!” To that, all I can say is Thank God (literally); because as I’ve discovered, it’s always in God’s I-told-you-so’s that my greatest joys have been found.