Dear 15-year-old Jackie,
Get on the plane.
I know what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling - like you’re about to fail and everyone will be watching. All eyes are on you as you step on that plane, all the people that doubted you and said you couldn’t make it, wasn’t good enough, and weren’t willing to stand by you.
Don’t think about it…how scared you’re going to be, how things might not go your way, or how nervous you are. Don’t let these feelings get the best of you. Don’t let yourself think that you shouldn’t do it.
Just get on the plane.
This plane is going to take you to your dream that you once dreamed of when you were a little girl. You will leave your family behind...your fiancé, your dogs, and all of Austin.
Not only will you soon face your dream but you will also face much more.
It's going to take you to places you will play in front of thousands of fans, you are going to travel the world, you will be surrounded with world-class players - you will be right there on the same playing field as some of the best female soccer stars. It's going to take you to a place where Acevedo will be printed on the back of a jersey and you will be a part of building the game in one of the best stadiums in the U.S.
I know right now you cannot see that, and you have doubts within yourself whether you should go or not but get on the plane and live the dream everyone thought you couldn’t achieve. There isn’t anything in life that has come easy, if anything everything has come so hard - why not do it one more time? Nobody knows you better than yourself and what you’ve had to go through, so trust me you - Jackie, you can do this.
You’re a fighter Jackie. You’re stronger than you realize.
Growing up in Austin, Texas where everything is bigger you were still able to stand out. Not from your talent but everything else that came with it. You grew up a tomboy, you got weird looks from other girls and you took the mean comments that came daily.
There were no other girls that loved the game as much as you did and you let people know that soccer was your life.
“Does she do anything else with her life besides play soccer?”
“She doesn’t even look like a girl!”
“Why do you let her wear soccer clothes all the time?”
“That’s odd, she’s always playing soccer with boys and not doing something more girly.”
Growing up wasn’t easy for you, and when you didn’t think you had people supporting you, you had more than enough support. You were labeled as a troublemaker from elementary to early high-school years. Nothing was meant to be easy for you Jackie, your choices through life created hard times, bad times, and dark times. You walked around with pure talent but a bad reputation. People labeled you, doubted you, talked bad about you, and few supported you.
Hue Menzies. You didn’t know this at the time, but he would be the one who would help you through your worst times in life. He would be the father figure for you growing up - the one person you thought wasn’t there for you during those dark times, but he was there every time. He would be your coach, too. He was at your house when you got in trouble, he was there when you needed to cry, and most importantly he believed in you.
It felt like Mom wasn’t always there, but that’s only because she had 5 other children she had to take care of. She woke up every morning with the mindset of taking care of her children, giving them the best future they could have, and loving them as much as she could. She took time to come to every game, yell as loud as she could, and support you even if she was learning the game each week out at Town & Country fields. She might have been the mom at every tournament or every parent get-together but she was there for you, because every time someone asked about you she always told them the same thing:
“She found something she loves, something that makes her feel free.”
In Mom’s eyes she knew she wasn’t always there, but she was there in different ways. She was there to show you how to live. How to grow from mistakes, and most importantly, no matter how hard it got, she was going to be there for you. All you had to know was to continue to be a tomboy and play soccer in Austin. Growing up, nothing else mattered to you. You wanted to play with the boys, you wanted to play with the best team and you had to learn that it wasn’t always going to be easy.
“I’ll play with the boys and show them why girls are better.”
You scored 8 goals, dribbled fast,tackled other kids, and showed them why you were the best. No matter how many goals you scored,the comments and judgment always came with it. That never stopped. Even when you made the state, regional, and the U.S. Youth National Team, people mutter things as you walk by. You know your talent right now isn’t enough to make it change.
Soccer will be lonely, it’s just a matter of time.
Remember that one time when you were with the U16 Youth Team and they pulled you from the team because of breaking team curfew? You were a starter and performing at your best, but at that time your skill and talent didn’t matter. Because this wasn’t about you, it was about the coach setting examples and expectations. “This isn’t a place for trouble-makers,” she said. I would’ve liked to have said your teammates stood up for you, but we all know sometimes that’s not always how it goes. So you were pulled from the team.
The times in high school when you were in trouble and had to face your parents. When you lost everything because of your poor choices and everyone looked at you.
“What a waste of talent...Nobody is going to want her.”
Do you remember the tears falling from your face? Do you remember being in those dark places? I know none of it makes sense right now, and I know why you ask the question every day:
Why me? Why does everything seem to be against me?
But if anything, you need to use it for strength and motivation. Use it to fight Jackie, and prove others wrong who always doubted you - everyone who thinks you're just that troublemaker who is never going to make it and be a waste of talent.
You didn’t have the best youth years but you had still managed to become an All-American. You went and played for the Adidas Pro team. You were the top recruit out of Austin. You put your head down and worked hard. You did this! You would soon learn that nothing was going to come easy for you.
Fighting is your second last name.
It only takes one opportunity for change. That opportunity was when you got a call from Leo Cuellar. He was the head coach of the Mexican National Team and he wanted you to be apart of his team that would be going to Moscow, Russia. He wanted you to get on the flight into Mexico City and try out for the National Team. Nothing was guaranteed, but it was something. It was more at that moment than anything else going for you.
This is what you thought would be a way out.
Soccer was always my way out, to happiness and success. It wasn’t easy for you, but it never is, so trust me and things will change.
Nothing was right away for you. You continue daily through hard times. You have to wait for your dual citizenship to go through. You weren’t playing because you had gotten in trouble again and everything was on your own. Everything and everyone thought they were right about you in being a failure. You hadn’t been successful in a DI college and now you were training on your own and by yourself. You woke up every day trying to find training on your own. You missed home and family, and you woke up every morning lonely.
Waking up was hard, you felt like you had let everyone down. Your family, your mother, and Hue. Every morning was hard, you weren’t as fit as you use to be, you weren’t at your peak, so you worked everyday to gain it all back. You needed to get yourself back to where you once were before you got in trouble and lost everything. You needed to be fit and as close to a top athlete as possible.
Each day no call. No email.
At this point you're starting to give up on yourself and those doubts become stronger within your mind. Just wait and be patient you will get the call, have some hope.
Then the moment finally comes, and you soon are off to another opportunity. You grab the little luggage you have left over and you're on your way to just play again. You will soon face so many obstacles throughout this journey that will make you even more stronger than you ever thought you could be.
Nothing like what you're use too. It was no Austin, Texas. It wasn’t anything like Knoxville or Edmond. It was anything but what you were used to. The air was hard to breathe, the girls were all staring at you, and you couldn’t speak to anyone. You were a young girl just ready to play. No matter what. You laced up your cleats and you didn’t care what was about to happen. They called you “Gringo,” someone from the U.S.
You don’t talk, you're quiet and too afraid people will make fun of you so you just do what the coach tells you to do and you just play. All you care about is playing, all you want to do is run at players and score goals. You don’t care about proving anything to anyone - all you want to do is play again.
Let soccer speak for you, express yourself on the field.
Heads start to turn, and then players start to believe in you, other players start passing you the ball, coaches are giving you compliments and at that moment - you are free again. You were playing like nothing else mattered.
“We want you to join us in Russia for the U-20 World Cup.”
You belong on the field. You belong on the pitch again. But this is just the beginning of many roads.
You had everything going for you, you were on the roster to attend the World Cup. You finally did it. You were in a stadium filled with fans, you were traveling the world, and you were representing Mexico. You were living in the moment that you once will remember as a memory. Jackie, you won't understand this until later but players would give anything to stand in the different stadiums, play against the many different countries while wearing a jersey that had their last name on the back. You had done it, but there are always rocks in the middle of the road.
You finally had made your family proud, your mom wasn’t happy because you had made it but she was happy because she knew you were free again and smiling. She was supporting you through facetime and calls.
Your future-fiancé, Zack Pope, would be one person who always believed in you. He believed in you when nobody else did. He stood by you when you were at your worst since those dark days in high school. You finally had someone who believed in you so much that was also happy to see you once again playing, once again that Jackie he loved and fell in love with.
There it was, you walked into the stadium. Fans everywhere! Flags hanging across the stands. Viva Mexico roared across the stands. That moment the chills ran down your spine, the hair on your back was standing straight up and you were frozen.
You made it.
You were now that small percentage of players representing a country in a World Cup! You took it all in, but you then came to realize with every dream come true...there is always an end.
Mexico had been good to you throughout your playing career but you always felt left out through the World Cup, international games, tournaments in China, Russia, Paris, and U.S. You always felt like you didn’t belong there. You couldn’t hide it anymore. It had been close to 5 years representing the National Team and you finally will face one of the biggest struggles in life.
Throughout those years, Mexico wasn’t always loyal. You never knew if you were going to get called back into camp, it was always a relief to finally get the call or email inviting you back into camp. You waited by the computer - waiting, wondering and again doubting how you performed the camp or tournament before. Throughout the years in representing Mexico, more players were receiving dualcitizenship. The team was becoming split. Half Americans with Mexican citizenship, and the other half born and raised from Mexico.
The coaches were losing faith in me year after year. It didn’t matter how you performed anymore. They saw me as a disgrace to the country now.
No English Rule. Only Spanish.
It was a very lonely place. It was the first time you felt lonely not only away from the field in a different country, but lonely on the field because you had no way to communicate. This would soon be the reason that made you stronger but took what you loved so much away from you.
“Tu no hablas espanol?”
“Cómo puedes aprender si no hablas espanol.”
“Usted no aprende como hablar espanol usted no puede jugar para nosotros más.”
Throughout playing you had dealt with adversity from the coaches, and from the players. You were on the verge of losing it again. Losing it because you couldn’t speak Spanish. All the hard work, running, sweat! Was that it? All those years, just gone and over with? Couldn’t be. So you waited, you waited for the call, waited for the email. No email. No call. Nothing. Don’t quit Jackie, please. You have more. Just trust me. Remember, nothing comes easy. Records had been broken in Oklahoma, WPSL records were set, Final Four, and still nothing.
Now I know what you're thinking, that’s it. You just think it's over. You’ve had enough and done enough. But you're wrong! Get on this plane because now the real journey begins - it will be worth it.
Phone vibrates. Phone vibrates again. Again. Again. Phone rings. Text message. Email.
“Portland Thorns have allocated Mexican National Player Jackie Acevedo.”
You stand there in shock wondering what in the world is going on. At this point you figured you were done playing. Play on the side when you can. Join a WPSL team, just on the side. Remember in the beginning of this story, the one person who never gave up on you? Hue Menzies.
“Jackie, they want you. Go!” he said...“I believe in you, look at everything you have done.”
Since you were 12, he coached you. Been your father figure. He watched you grow-up from a 12-year-old into now a NWSL professional player. He watched you become an All-American, offered to all Division 1 schools, go to World Cups, break college records, and you will always remember what he said:
“When you don’t think anyone is watching, everyone is watching.”
Doubts ran through your head. Your gut made you think twice if you wanted to do this or not. Media had already sent out press releases. You would think getting on the plane would have been easy.
Jackie, why are you doubting yourself? Get on the plane.
“Zack, I'm not as good as Alex Morgan or Christine Sinclair.
I don’t want to go, it will be a waste of my time. I am tired of traveling, I'm always gone and away.”
“I will see you at 6 a.m. with Kris and Kekuta” he said.
“Stop being a baby, I will get you ready. It's not that you don’t want to go, you're just scared of letting everyone down. Once you believe in yourself, defeat isn’t an option.”
Social media - “We don’t need Jackie Acevedo in Portland we have Alex Morgan, make sure to not pack too much luggage.”
The dedication to keep showing up every morning, to put in work while everything else is against you. You used all the media, all the press, and those that doubted since you were young to drive you. 3 months pass by and then the day comes. I know none of this makes sense right now, you have no idea what I am talking about BUT after Portland you will realize your heart can finally rest.
Portland, the city of soccer. The city every female soccer player wants to play at. Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Christine Sinclair, Allie Long, Vero Bonquet, Jessica McDonald, and Fifa Keeper of the Year Nadine Angerer.
The roster was packed with top players. You were on that roster. The practice pitch was filled with top players who everyone at home talked to you about. You were on that pitch with them, standing there as one of them.
The stadium was filled with smoke, screaming fans, chants, banners, and thousands of fans, all there for the Portland Thorns. There for you! You were a Thorn. Each passing month, you started to mold into the Jackie Acevedo that would give you new inspirations, and a new love for the game.
Jackie, remember nothing has come easy for you, but I now want you to take a moment and realize what you’ve overcome in your life, what you have accomplished, and who you have proved wrong. You're young right now, but in 2015 you will come home. You will have accomplished everything you once dreamed when you were that little kid. You will come home and be welcomed by your loving family, fans, and loving fiancé. You will come back in 2015 and go on a run to the familiar T&C fields. You will find yourself standing there on that exact field you trained on when you were only 14.
In that moment you will cry. You will take a deep breath. And you can finally feel free. You will realize now you are such a strong person you don’t have to worry about those people who doubted you. Those who didn’t believe in you. Those who will continue to ask why aren’t you playing. Jackie, when that happens, tell them this:
I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do in life. I achieved everything I wanted too while playing. I’ve played college, I earned my degree, I have played with a national team, and ended my career with the NWSL. Now I’m ready to give back to the young female athletes at Lonestar that I once was. The young girls that come out and train on the same fields where it all started. Now I get to be their Hue Menzies, but as Jackie Pope.
I can be the one who tells them they can achieve any dream possible.
Jackie Pope is currently head coach at Lonestar Soccer Club, where she began playing club soccer and went on to have a successful career with the U.S. Youth Team, the Mexican National Team, and the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. As a captain, Jackie also led the Lonestar WPSL team to Conference Finals in their inaugural season.