Please welcome Liz Mallory to the Words That Changed My World series. I met Liz through the College Ministry I served with for a few years, and got to know her as a fantastic person in real life, long before I knew she was a fantastic writer too 🙂 I’m delighted to have her over in my corner (pun intended!) today.
I really wanted to play soccer. So I signed up. Doesn’t sound that crazy, right?
I was 12. Long past the age when kids start soccer. In San Diego, maybe it’s the Latino influence, but everyone plays soccer and everyone starts when they’re 5 years old. Except me.
Oh, and no one starts later than 5 years old. You just don’t. Either you start as a kid and get good by the time you’re old enough to play in real leagues, or else you don’t play at all.
Except me. I wanted to play.
I didn’t know one thing about the rules. I didn’t know the names of the positions. I learned about throw-ins and corner kicks, forwards and sweepers. I learned how to dribble and how to aim…well, roughly.
My teammates ignored me. They were experts and I was a liability. My coach didn’t bother with me and stuck me in the goal. I had one friend who taught me almost everything; I didn’t make friends with anyone else. They didn’t want me. I was the lousy one who knew nothing.
It was a horrible season, too. We didn’t win a single game. But I was initiated now. For some reason my parents couldn’t fathom, I wanted to sign up again.
Over the course of the next four years, I went on to play 10 seasons of soccer. By the end, it didn’t matter that I’d started years too late; I was as good as the rest of them. It turned out to be my favorite sport, and my best sport, too. I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the risk.
I started playing soccer because I wanted to, not for anything else. And I reaped rewards.
But unbeknownst to me, other people were watching. Listening. My mom shared with other moms how her daughter was playing soccer even though I was by anyone’s standards too old to start. The story got around.
A few years later, an older girl who I knew from homeschool was telling me about her soccer experiences. She hadn’t started until she was 14. Whoa! I laughed with her about how hard/brave/crazy it is to start playing so late.
“You know, Liz,” she said, “I started playing because of you.”
“Yeah. I heard you were starting soccer and I thought, if she can start late, why can’t I?”
That comment stunned me. She was brave enough to defy soccer culture because of me? I hadn’t known she’d heard my story. I hadn’t been trying to set a precedent for late-bloomers. I just wanted to play soccer.
But what I’d done for myself had laid a path for other people. When I thought I was doing things for my own sake, I was being watched. And followed.
Even though it was just soccer, maybe because it was “just” soccer, it was that comment that made me realize what I do has an impact on other people’s actions and attitudes. I am a role model even when I don’t mean to be.
At any moment, my innocent actions could be the catalyst for someone else’s courage.
The story still heartens me. As a freedom fighter, I try to make every word and action of mine count towards ending modern-day slavery, but sometimes it doesn’t seem enough. My small actions of buying used items and trying to mention sex trafficking at every opportunity so people will be aware—how can my small voice and my one pair of hands mean anything?
But it’s not just my voice I’m raising. Every time I speak out, someone else might really be listening. They might realize for the first time what slavery means, that it’s real, and that they want to stop it. Next time, it’ll be them speaking out against slavery.
I can’t stop slavery alone. But I can help raise an army. If I can get one girl to play soccer, I know I can get people to join me in the fight against slavery and sex trafficking.
Liz Mallory is a writer, editor, and abolitionist. When she’s not drinking tea and writing stories, she writes about how hilarious and surprising life can be. Follow her at elizmallory.com.