A Long Trip
Oct. 13, 2009
By Larry Watts
The countdown comes in a text message each day. Kelly Lawrence takes a look at her phone and flashes a big smile, sometimes even getting a little teary-eyed.
Lawrence, a senior defender on the Indiana University women's soccer team, hasn't seen her family since February. In fact, she hasn't seen much of her family since arriving in Bloomington during the summer of 2006. After all it isn't exactly a simple car ride from Chigwell, England.
The text messages Lawrence is receiving are coming from her father. They serve as a constant reminder to her that he, along with her mother and brother, will be arriving in town to catch Hoosier dates with Iowa (Oct. 25) and Penn State (Oct. 29), the seniors' final game in front of their home crowd.
"I am over the moon with happiness," Lawrence says. "My family has never seen me play in the States. Every time I talk about it with people I get tears in my eyes. I've been giving them the guilt trip every year and I thought they were going to make it last year, but my father changed jobs and couldn't get the time off.
"I keep saying that the people around here must think I'm adopted because I never have any parents at the games."
But Lawrence quickly corrects herself. She realizes how she has been embraced by many of the parents on the soccer squad.
"All of the parents have been amazing," she says. "They always make sure to give me a hug and make sure I am part of the team. The biggest thing I've noticed in this country is people, especially the parents, are so welcoming and willing to look after me. English people are very serious and reserved, somewhat boring to an extent.
"I hope my parents don't get too overwhelmed by everyone at the tailgate party. They will probably be swarmed by everyone."
Once hugs are exchanged and the tears are wiped away, Lawrence says she plans to give her family a big taste of the culture in Bloomington. She'll be taking them to restaurants, tour the downtown and just let them see what life has been like for her since she arrived in the United States.
Lawrence, who has been a key member of English National teams for the past few years and has worked her way up to the U23 team, knew from the age of 14 that she wanted to play soccer in the United States. Her ultimate dream is to play professionally in the United States.
According to Lawrence, her father, Ian, played soccer most of his life until he was about 24 or 25. "When he had the option of joining a semi-pro team, he said he wasn't into it and had peaked too late," she says. "He always loved soccer, but he never intended his first-born to be a soccer player. He always tells me the story of when he first threw me a ball and, instead of catching it, I kicked it back to him."
The boys in her neighborhood soon found out she could more than hold her own in a match. Some even feared going up against her and it wasn't because of the physical difference.
"That made me feel good when they recognized my ability," she says. "Any time I could find a ball and there were boys on the street, I wanted to play. I knew playing against boys who were technically good would make me play at a higher standard. I developed a lot of my talent from playing against boys bigger and stronger than me."
With her schooling completed at the age of 16, Lawrence thought she was ready to come to the United States to play at the collegiate level. Her father put together a resume and sent it to nearly every Division I program. But the more her family thought about it, they decided it wasn't a good idea to send their daughter overseas at such a young age.
"I already had the qualifications to get into a U.S. school, but I really wasn't ready to decide on a degree or career path," she says. "I could have been socially awkward and I probably would have run back to my dorm room and hid the first time I saw a football player."
Fortunately, the national team offered her a four-year scholarship to an academy 200 miles from her home. She would receive further schooling and would undergo training five days a week and then return on weekends to play for her club team. But midway through her second year, she told her parents she was ready to come to the U.S.
"We had five or six schools I was interested in and my dad started contacting the coaches to see if there were any openings," she says. "I didn't want to go to a big city like New York or Los Angeles. I wanted to go somewhere that really seemed American because I wanted to experience the culture. Coach (Mick) Lyon told us he had an opening and I was here (at Indiana) on July 27.
Since her arrival, the 5-foot-6 Lawrence has established herself as one of the most hard-nosed defenders in the Big Ten. Other than missing her first game as a freshman while getting an eligibility snafu taken care of and her first two games as a sophomore while playing for her national team, Lawrence has started every game she has played. She should have 63 starts under her belt when her parents see her take the field against Iowa.
Selected to the Big Ten All-Freshman squad her first season and earning first-team All-Big Ten the following two seasons, Lawrence has thrived on the Hoosiers' back line. She likes nothing more than to go into one-on-one battles with an opponent.
"I'm really a fighter," she says. "Coaches say you don't have to win all those one-on-one battles, but I egg them (opponents) on. I want them to take me on and I have to say I win most of the battles. I just love the challenge and coming out the winner.
"My dad was a defender and his motto was, 'Take the whole of the ball and a bit of the player,"' she says. "He always says to get a good tackle in during the first five minutes and it sets you on your way. A lot of defenders just use their legs, but I throw my whole body into it."
Although she is primarily back on defense, Lawrence has managed to slip up the right side of the field every now and then. She has five goals and six assists in her career.
"Once I get past midfield, I tend to get nosebleeds," she laughs. "Coach Mick will ask me what I'm doing up there. But I do like to get a bit cheeky every now and then. That sums up how I play -- cheeky.
"I really enjoy the style of soccer I'm playing here instead of the structured style on the international level. This style gives you the ability to be more creative. I'm playing the way Kelly Lawrence wants to play and I think I have really grown as a player by making this decision."
Lawrence's Americanization has had a dramatic effect on her accent. "The seniors say after three years they can finally understand me," she says with a laugh. "Every now and again a few English words slip out, but I think I have been corrupted by the American accent. Going home at Christmas for two to three weeks isn't enough to get my old accent back. And when I talk to my father on the phone, I have to keep reminding myself to refer to my sport as football."
Her stay at Indiana has also paved the way to her decision on her future once her playing days are over. With a major in psychology and minors in exercise science and coaching, she would like to eventually coach college soccer in the United States.
"I hadn't really thought of coaching until I came here because it's a side job for the coaches in England and they all need to have primary jobs," she says. "They don't have the funding or the foundations in England, but when I came here I found out there was money in coaching and you could do a lot of things with it. To give people degrees for doing something they love really isn't an option in England."
But first Lawrence wants to get a shot at the professional level.
"I'll play any position and I'll play in any city," she says. "I could still go abroad, but to play professionally in the United States would be amazing. It's going to be very hard because each U.S. team is limited to five international players, but if I keep playing well, I hope to be seen by the right people. So I guess I'll have to keep this fake accent for a little longer."
As far as Lawrence is concerned, the right people will finally be seeing her on Oct. 25 and Oct. 29.
"The only times they have seen me play is when it gets streamlined on the computer and that's not very good," she says. "Indiana University has been such a big part of me and I am so passionate about this place and the people around here, so it will be nice for them to see it all in person.
"I've got a couple of friends who wave an English flag at the games, but I'm going to ask them to give it to my dad so I'll know right where they're sitting. I'll give them a wave and then it will be time for me to get in my zone."
And good luck to any opponent who dares enter that zone.