It was bitterly cold. Standing by the bench, our team huddled in a group, shivering as we listened to our coach. Gusts of freezing wind blew around us, pelting us with miniscule drops of rain that stung our skin. The moaning of the trees sung in the background. And the sky was dark.
I wrapped my hands in my sleeves, waiting as the referee walked up to the semicircle formed by the players. My teeth chattered as he inspected our cleats. I saw my mother on the sideline, wrapped cozily in her overcoat, raising an umbrella to shield her from the rain. She waved, giving me the thumbs-up sign, trying to encourage me. I smiled bleakly, and stomped the ground, trying to find some warmth.
The game started at the whistle. It was our last game of the season, and I was determined to end it with a victory. The field was ominous, huddled figures bent over, trying to fight the overpowering wind as they strove to control the ball. I quickly ignored my discomfort. My freezing arms could come later. Right now, it was time to play soccer.
I sought for an opening in their defense, immediately attentive. Together, our front line moved in formation, advancing upon their defensive men. We followed the flight of the ball, waiting, like hyenas stalking a herd of zebra. And there was our chance. We pounced, each covering our own man as our striker attacked the ball. The timing was perfect. We quickly gained possession of the ball. I struggled against the wind, running up to join in the attack. Our striker swerved left, dragging two defenders with him. Branching off, our forwards ran up, threatening the opposing defense. The goalie looked nervously at our executed patterns. My breath came in ragged gasps, the cold air stinging my lungs. My lungs. They were burning, yet my legs were still frozen. I forced them to move. We moved in intricate patterns, each looking for the opening and the pass.
A single word.
Jimmy turned and sent off a high cross. Perfect. I ran up with my teammate, zeroing in on the exact spot that the flight of the ball would end. The defender was slow to react, he turned and tried to intercept the pass. But I watched the ball closely as it came spinning down. The ball bounced once, and I saw that I was at the edge of the box. Possibilities sprang into my mind. I was suddenly overcome with indecision. Should I attempt a shot? Or get closer? I saw Jimmy running back from the sideline for a pass. My mom was in the background, yelling support, drowning out all the other people like only moms can do. My mind clicked in the split second it had taken me to assess the situation.
I forgot the cold. My lungs relaxed as I focused on the ball. I swung at it hard and low. My shoelaces connected with the ball as it swung in a frenzied arc. The ball shot off, and I turned to watch. The goalie was desperate. He flung himself at the incoming shot, holding his arms high. He missed. The ball was going past his outstretched hands, into the goal…
Ping! The metallic sound sang, announcing the verdict. The ball bounced off the crossbar and into the air. The goalie recollected himself and easily caught it. The crowd sounded as one in their disappointment.
I shook my head in frustration, then turned to watch my mom. I thought for sure that would have been a goal. My mom smiled brilliantly, mouthing for me to keep trying. My teammates scattered around me patted me on the back, exclaiming their confidence and faith in me. My mood lifted as my teammates’ support soothed my dented ego.
Yes, I thought. There were still fifty-nine minutes to go. I looked up at the sky, defying the weather as it continued to buffet around me. Now the darkness and pelting rain only exhilarated me. This was what I lived for. I turned and jogged back a few feet, ready to receive the next probe by the opposition. The cold was suddenly gone. And I was right at home.