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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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Like most young boys in Germany, Arne Friedrich grew up watching soccer, cheering for his favorite teams, and playing the game every chance that he got. At five years old he recalls playing soccer as “pure joy.” As he matured he continued to rise through the ranks with the support and encouragement of his family and coaches. “I was humble enough to know that only a few made it,” said Arne. Recognizing that his chances at a professional career were slim, he continued to play soccer just for the joy that he had discovered as a kid.

His hopes became a reality when he turned 21 and signed with a professional team in Germany. He had always been able to set aside the pressure of games and his performance until he stepped onto the field for his debut with 60,000 fans analyzing his every move. For the first time, the fear of making a mistake and the pressure to avoid criticism became real factors. The expectation only mounted when he was one of only 23 players chosen to represent Germany in the World Cup in 2006. Rivals became teammates, new coaches took the reigns, and Arne strode on onto the pitch in front of 1 billion viewers for the home opener against Costa Rica. “Fear sets in when you face the unknown,” said Arne. Germany won that game 4-2, but both of the goals by Costa Rica were a result of mistakes that Arne had made. The media wildly scrutinized his abilities, questioned his place on the team, and really stole the joy out of his first World Cup experience. But thanks to a good friend and Olympic chaplain Dr. John Ashley Null and his close friends and family, he was able to maintain perspective through the waves of critiques. He remembers his team as supportive and encouraging, even if the fan weren’t and, thankfully, games come and go quickly in soccer and his mishaps were soon old news in the face of the next round matches. Choosing to learn from it, instead of pity himself, Arne took the opportunity to redefine himself throughout the rest of the tournament and celebrated as Germany placed third that year. That World Cup was special because it was his first, but also represented his first experience with the intense ups and downs of victory, defeat, and public perception. When it came time for Arne to play in his second World Cup in 2010, he was more mature, experienced, and relaxed, giving him the freedom to enjoy the tournament and be proud of another third-place finish for Germany.

With two World Cups under his belt and ten years of playing professionally in Germany, Arne was ready to make a change and fulfill another dream of his -- to play soccer in the United States. He originally hoped to play in New York or Los Angeles, but his agent strongly encouraged him to check out Chicago. It only took one day touring the city and one trip up the Hancock Building to view the skyline for Arne to fall in love with Chicago and commit to playing for the Fire. His year in the US was filled with learning English, sightseeing, playing soccer, and discovering the stark differences between the two countries. In American strangers were friendly and chatty, the media was less involved in the world of MLS, and preparation for games was less intense. He enjoyed hitting the beach in the morning before games, learning new English words on his daily commute to the stadium with his teammates, and the beauty of the city. There were differences in the league as well. In Germany each and every game counts towards points that determine whether or not a team makes it to the championship, so even pre-season games are taken incredibly seriously. But in the US the regular season just determines who gets into the playoffs and that’s where the real crunch starts. Each format has its pros and cons, but it definitely made for a different pace throughout the season. Arne laughed that there was one more difference he was surprised to discover -- that media was permitted in the locker room after games. He learned that the hard way after his first game when he emerged from the shower in just his towel to be greeted by a room full of shocked female reporters.

Unfortunately, during the pre-season of his second year in the States, he suffered a slipped disc in his back. He tried to recover in time for the season, but nothing was relieving his pain. Out of desperation for his discomfort to subside, he decided to retire and return to Germany to undergo surgery and recover with his family. The decision wasn’t easy, however, as he had just started feeling at home in Chicago. But Arne also realized that he had achieved incredible success during his twelve-year career and was proud to shut that chapter of his life. The surgery was successful, but the recovery required five weeks of laying flat on his back with no movement. Without the regular rhythms of training, teammates, and matches, he felt almost listless and without direction. “All of a sudden I had to find a new purpose,” said Arne. As he emerged from his bedrest he began to explore potential options and eventually committed to coaching Germany’s U18 Men’s team. He served in that position for a year, but eventually decided that it wasn’t for him and went on to start a soccer school for youth, study marketing, and use his experience to work as an international soccer analyst. He discovered that there wasn’t necessarily one specific thing that he liked best, so he has remained open to a variety of opportunities since his retirement. Most recently he has developed the Arne Friedrich Foundation which seeks to support children in hospice, refugee youth integration into schools, and education initiatives. The work is both exciting and fulfilling, providing an opportunity for him to give back to a community that supported him for so many years. During his retirement he also discovered the work of Hope Sports and has participated in home builds in Mexico on several occasions and now serves on the Board of Directors for the organization.

In addition, he has started a podcast of his own called “From Done to Dare” where he interviews professionals from all different spheres about how they have coped with times of transition, changes of directions, and career setbacks. Because of his own journey to discover purpose and vocation, Arne is keenly aware of the challenges involved. Be sure to follow Arne on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with the work of his Foundation and to catch the stories of other professionals we are dreaming even after they are “done”.

 

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About This Episode

Alev Kelter has built an athletic legacy that few could even dream of. To call her an “all-around” athlete only scrapes the surface of her capacity, versatility, and drive. Growing up in Alaska, Alev tried her hand at all sorts of sports with her two brothers and twin sister, Daria. Early on it was clear that her natural athletic abilities would make her a stand out. By age 14 she was recruited for the Olympic Development Program in soccer, but she did not want to only pursue one sport and give up on her hockey dreams. With the encouragement of her mother she played both ODP soccer and competed on the US National Youth Hockey team. She credits her equally gifted twin sister for pushing her to be a better athlete and individual. Daria also competed at the national level in both sports and each of them were heavily recruited by Division 1 universities. When it came to committing to a school they didn’t want one anothers decisions to hold too much weight, so their father had them write a “Top 3” list of colleges on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope. When they opened them simultaneously, it appeared that the University of Wisconsin was the first choice for both of them.

 

Alev and Daria were recruited to play both soccer and hockey for the University of Wisconsin - something nearly unheard of at such a high level. The hockey team was coached by Mark Johnson, a former NHL player and Olympic gold medalist for Team USA’s “Miracle Team.” The university had a strong history of recruiting players who played at the professional level after graduation and Alev was excited to train with women of such caliber. She was always a student first, and an athlete second, and so was grateful that coaches and professors were flexible to accommodate her rigorous training and practice schedules. Following in the footsteps of her family, she started college as a pre-med student, but it only took one GenEd course in sculpture to sway her to becoming an art major; a fact that she took until her senior year to break to her parents. She discovered passion and freedom in her art classes, but unlike typical courses with portable books and papers, her studies were confined to studio time, which only compounded the complexity of her schedule. But, true to her character, Alev showed incredible commitment and work ethic in managing her studies and sports throughout her college career.

 

For some, playing even one Division 1 sport would be enough of an achievement, but Alev set her sights higher; she not only dreamed of competing in one Olympics, but aspired to play in back to back summer and winter games. The 2014 games in Sochi were on the horizon and Alev had been on - and even captained - the two previous U18 World Championship women’s hockey teams. Despite her obvious leadership and skills, she was not called up for the December Olympic training camp. “I was devastated,” says Alev, “I felt like I let down my family and friends, like all of the work wasn’t even worth it.” She returned to the classroom distracted, deflated, and depressed, something her art professors picked up on immediately. They encouraged her to take some time, give herself space, and pursue the support that she needed to gain perspective on the situation. As her fourth year of college came to a close, Alev headed back to Alaska to be with her family, the mountains, and for solitude.

 

Soon after arriving she picked up her snowboard and made a solo trek to one of her favorite nearby mountains. Without her sister, family members, or any other voices in her head, she stood on the peak, surrounded by fresh powder, and thought to herself, I’m just going to tackle the mountain with abandon. Regardless of if she crashed or fell or nailed it, she felt deeply that she had something to prove to herself. About halfway down she attempted a backflip and landed flat on her back. She stayed there in the snow and sun, all alone with her disappointments and grief. “As I laid there, a really strange memory came to mind,” she recalls. Her sister used to always rub it in that she was born first and Alev came second, a common jest among competitive twins, but in that moment it dawned on her how often she always felt “second.” She was constantly striving to get ahead, to define her position, to prove she belonged. “I had to tell myself, ‘You are no less of a person because you came second. You are no less of a person because of what just happened [with hockey],’” she says. She peeled herself up from the snow, set herself on the board again, and continued down the mountain with a new determination to not let this one “no” define her.

 

Some may just call it providential, but for Alev it was a clear act of God that when she got to the bottom of the hill that day and walked into the lodge, there was a voicemail on her phone from the coach of the USA Women’s Rugby team inviting her to join their training camp in San Diego. “I was convinced it was a prank by my sister,” says Alev. The coach, a fellow former hockey player, was recruiting talented athletes to play for the team and didn’t seem phased by her lack of experience. “I told him that I had never touched a rugby ball in my life and he said, ‘It’s ok! We have lots of balls here,’” she jokes. With nothing to lose, she decided to give it a try. Her only hesitation was how she would be received by the other players who already knew the sport and had been competing international. Fortunately, her arrival was nothing like she had feared. “They welcomed me with the biggest open arms you could imagine,” remembers Alev. Even though they could be potentially taking one anothers’ spot on the team, each woman truly wanted what was best for the program. “It wasn’t the coaching staff that taught me, it was the other women,” she says. They taught her to pass and tackle, how to avoid injury, and the intricate rules and strategies of the game. There she experienced friendship, patience, and honesty, which together fueled an amazing vulnerability and unity among the team. Virtually all of the athletes had crossed over from other sports and each experienced the learning curve of transitioning to rugby. After a few short months, Alev was competing with the team and two years later she paused in the middle of a speaking engagement to open an email with the headline “Congratulations!” and was able to finally call herself an Olympian.

 

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil were not only monumental for Alev, but for the sport of rugby. It was the first year since 1924 that men and women’s rugby was featured in the Olympics, which made that event a historic one. Not only was she representing the USA, but she was introducing her nation to the sport. The team took fifth at the games, but were the only ones to tie the gold medal winning team and Alev was the first American woman to score a try at the Olympics.

 

She sustained a neck injury during the 2017 season that sidelined her for over a year, but she was confident in the value of supporting her teammates from the bench. Rugby is an intense contact sport and, in light of that, she has learned to be grateful for being relatively injury free for several years. The up and coming women on the team are phenomenal athletes and she looks forward to teaching, coaching, and encouraging them, just like her more seasoned teammates did for her. This year involves an international six-stop series before gearing up for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where Alev hopes to make an appearance. Even though her journey to the Olympics looked nothing like what she expected, she is grateful for every twist and turn, victory and disappointment that brought her to rugby, to her teammates, and to a confidence in her identity. She no longer feels pressure to define herself by what sport she plays or what dream she achieves, but by the inherent value she has as a unique individual.

 

Be sure to follow Alev on Twitter, Instagram, and her website as she competes in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

 

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Hope Sports
P.O. Box 120564
Chula Vista, CA 91912
USA

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