As part of our weekly Wednesday Chasing the Dream posts, we’ll be featuring a USWNT athlete up until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Take the timeline of an average individual and siphon from it the myriad of activities one invests his or her energy into. On a scale, these to-dos, hobbies and life goals may tend to tip one side of the scale above the other. USWNT athlete, Loren Shealy has calmed the teeter-totter effect with perseverance and patience. Although both sides feel the weight of her aspirations, Shealy’s scale is balanced.
It’s a talent she has honed at the University of North Carolina. On the academic side, she was a Robertson Scholar starting in the spring of 2012 making her the first student-athlete from UNC to take part. She was named to the Dean's List and ACC Academic Honor Roll and was a member of the Honors Program. She also participated in the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy as part of the Veteran Leaders Program. She was a recipient of the Elite 89 Award, given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average participating at each of the NCAA championship sites.
And then there’s the other side of the scale. Shealy graduated from high school early to enroll at UNC in January of 2011 as a "gray shirt," and practiced with the team during the spring season which paid off big as she flourished in her career by earning such noteworthy achievements as Tar Heel Rookie of the Year in 2011. She helped lead her team to NCAA Semifinals and Finals multiple times.
“Hockey was my outlet, my escape from school work and I kind of relished in that,” said Shealy. “Both facets of my life got equal attention. They fed off of one another. At practice, that was my time away from school and when I was in the classroom that was my time away from hockey. It helped me keep an even keel. Having too much of the other can burn someone out.”
Shealy was also dubbed with the prestigious title of 2012-2013 Sports Illustrated College Athlete of the Year. But her story could have taken place on another type of green field if her mother hadn’t stepped in.
“She literally made me play,” said Shealy. “I was more interested in golf at the time, as field hockey wasn’t huge in North Carolina. She was really pulling for me to join a team-oriented sport. I think I cried about it, honestly.”
Shealy switched her preference of green playing surfaces in her younger years. As a serious, young golfer Shealy’s parents encouraged her to participate in field hockey to experience sport with a group.
Because Shealy saw field hockey as a close comparison to golf, as well as experiencing a taste of the game in her middle school physical education class, she fell head over turf shoes in love with sport. Naturally carrying a very competitive edge, she was attracted to field hockey's technical, mental and physical challenges. A decision that helped her weave a course through the USA Field Hockey’s Futures pipeline for 5 years which led her to attend the 2011 Junior Women’s National Championship and 2012 and 2013 Women’s National Championship to further improve her already supreme stick work.
Since making the team in 2015, Shealy has had nothing but hockey resting on both sides of the scale.
“This is a huge year for this team and I’m giving everything to hockey,” said Shealy. “Everyone is so motivated day in and day out. I feed off of that and bring energy to that as well. Right, now nothing else has my attention.”
Her family helps to keep that focus alive.
“I always get a pregame text, religiously, from my mom which usually goes something like this: ‘Give it 100+++++ today. Love you and support you’ in a hashtag form.”
Shealy’s younger sister watches every game she can and her dad and mom continue to rally around her. All four of them learned the sport with Shealy when she was first introduced to it.
“They had never seen hockey until I started playing it,” said Shealy. “My mom loves to coach me after all of her experience watching. We all learned it together, which is cool.”
Reflecting on her journey to the U.S. Women’s National Team still leaves Shealy a little stunned.
“It’s surreal,” said Shealy. “I never thought this opportunity would be here. If you would have told me a year and a half ago I’d be here, I would have said ‘No way.’ I wake up everyday and play with the best players in the country. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
But it isn’t all glamorous. The effort and sweat invested into lifting, running and drills on the pitch stack up.
“The toughest part of our training is when we scrimmage each other in practice,” said Shealy. “I would not want to go up against my teammates in a real game. They crush it every single day. When we hit the field for intra squad scrimmages, I’m like ‘here we go’ because you know it’s going to be hard physically and they’re going to bring their A game. If I was going against Kelsey Kolojejchick in a real game, I would be terrified. I could say the exact same thing for anyone on the team.”
Her sweetest moment thus far with the red, white and blue comes from her first tour.
“I wasn’t going into tip the ball but Rachel Dawson looked at me,” said Shealy. “She said, ‘This might come to you.’ Seconds later the ball landed on my stick and I scored. It was unreal.”
Thinking of what Shealy can accomplish when balancing school and hockey and now readjusting her focus to be clearly set on hockey, we have a feeling there are many more moments like this in her future.