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London 2012: A Rainy Night in Manchester

Watching the U.S. women's soccer team take on North Korea at Old Trafford.

Let me set the stage for you.

There’s a girl, who doesn’t look traditionally athletic but is surprisingly so, and who has played many sports throughout her life. Downhill ski racing, volleyball, tennis, softball, baseball, basketball, dancing. But no sport has stuck with her for so long and so intensely as soccer has.

She started playing when she was six years old, for no particular reason that she can remember. She was clad in the teal and pink uniforms of the Bloomfield Hills Rec league and unleashed to roll around in the dew-covered grass and make dirt mounds every Saturday morning for the next five years. 

She remembers being relieved when middle school rolled around and she got her Saturday mornings back. But then something happened to the girl. She realized she missed soccer. She missed picking strands of grass out of her shin pads. She missed the random bruises running up and down her legs. She missed waking up early on Saturday mornings.

So she started playing again. She played straight through until her senior year of high school, guarding the goalposts alternately for Andover High School and Birmingham United Football Club. She got better, and then she got good. She learned to crave that feeling of snatching a soccer ball out of the air, of capturing a shot and hugging it close, of hearing the crowd cheer for her.

She watched her brothers play and then graduated to watching the professional players flash and weave their way across her television screen. She learned the names, she learned the teams, she learned the moves. 

In 2010, during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, she sat and watched every game she could, often silently. Just absorbing what she was seeing. Cataloguing it away for later use. She won the online bracket she had set up with her family by more than 30 points. 

Now it’s two years later and that girl has just set foot into Old Trafford for the first time. One of the oldest, most well-known, and celebrated soccer stadiums in the world, the home of Manchester United. Imagine that scene playing out, imagine that feeling. 

Why did I just tell you all that?

Because I can now tell you about that feeling.

It’s like stepping onto holy ground. Hallowed ground. Some of the greatest names in soccer history have walked onto this pitch to the screams of thousands, billions, throughout the years. Players that I have watched and admired for years have played on this field, and the U.S. women’s soccer team now counts among those players. 

Tuesday night, in the cold and in the rain, I sat and watched my home team beat the North Korean team 1-0 while wearing my U.S. women’s jersey. I chanted U-S-A! I did the wave. I screamed and shouted when a shot ricocheted off the post.

It was exhilarating. Before the first whistle blew one of my friends mentioned that I looked anxious, and he was right. I was jittery, excited, and I just wanted to soak up every moment. The game seemed so much shorter than 90 minutes, I wanted it to go on forever. Remember This was the wish fulfillment part.

Fellows, 20, is an Andover High School graduate entering her senior year at Ohio University. This summer, she is among 16 students participating in a unique program to cover the London Olympics through the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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