Crossing the Finish: STU-S-A, USA, AO, and Other Assorted Letters

“When you can’t run, you walk.  When you can’t walk, you crawl.  When you can’t crawl, you find someone who will carry you to the finish.”

I’ve seen two unprecedented and incredible months of United States Men’s Soccer.  Dramatic stoppage time wins, beautiful flow, shut outs, and the personality of so many players literally spilling out onto the pitch.  I’ve also been a part getting the soon-to-be Bouncing, Badass, Baby Brother Iowa City chapter of the American Outlaws off the ground.  All of that – in retrospect to my life – has led to this feeling like I’m finally running once more and this time, faster than ever.

I make no real attempt to conceal the fact that I was in a pretty low place for a pretty long time and that Soccer has really been a way for me to start clawing and climbing out.  The players, the personalities, the beauty I find in the game, and the family I have found within the community of supporters and players (which feels more and more like a family every single moment of ever single day) really helped me find a light in that dark, dark tunnel.  In a great many ways, it was THEM who pulled ME out, picked me  up, and carried me until I could walk again on my own.  Celtic’s return to the final 16 in the Champions’ League, Seattle’s historic win over Tigres to advance to the CONCACAF Champions’ League, and the USMNT coming into its own under Klinsmann – these were milestones in bringing me back to a place where I could open up and run again.  But the sport is about so much more than hardware and winning.  The Hoops, the Rave, and the Crest all mean so much more than goals and wins/losses/ties… at least in terms of the impact it has had on my life.

Sometimes, I pretend I play.

Sometimes, I pretend I play.

A little over a year ago, I was watching Stu Holden’s videoblog of his recovery from injury as a way of keeping my mind off things.  That led to intrigue, which led me to read a bit more (aka “every article I could find”) about him and his life – which, in turn, led me to start putting things in my own life back together and shifting my outlook from negativity or fear to positivity and hope.  Not exactly the easiest transition to make alone and so night after night, I was watching youtube videos where Stu would tell us how he did his hair or what he made for breakfast all intercut with clips from his rehab… and it made me feel better about life and myself.  Metaphorically, you could say that was him carrying me a bit.

And I got back out there a bit.  As I got to poke my nose around the soccer community, it began to feel like there was a person or event that could directly relate to pretty much everything I felt.  The whole “identity crisis within the gay community” thing I went through was easily silenced in my own head the night Robbie Rogers took the field with LA for the first time (I still maintain that that game only existed for the 84th minute… no other time).

ROBBIE!!!!!

My friends moving and life moving on was easily answered by NEW FRIENDS (imagine that!).  And wanting a community to be a part of and live through and with… well… as if supporting three amazing teams wasn’t enough of that, now there’s this Outlaws chapter in Iowa City that (save for needing a few more people to register [yes, I know, I’m one………. taking care of it tomorrow]) I’ve been blessed to be a part of.

Hats off to AO Portland for the amazing TIFO display.

Hats off to AO Portland for the amazing TIFO display.

And the funny thing is that a year ago, I never thought of any of this happening.  Even then, I was still in a shell and there was such a chasm between me and the sport I used as a way to take my mind off things.  So today, it was full circle.  The story of a man’s triumphs over injury and loss once carried me to the beginnings of a better place.  When Stu hit the turf and began to grab for his knee, I teared up.  FOX cut to him on the bench and I lost it… sitting in the middle of a bar (I hid it well… mostly).  Here’s this guy who’s become my hero who’s hurt.  Here’s this team that has been a beacon of hope for me and you could tell all of their hearts plummeted.  And I felt with them and for them.  I shot Stu a tweet as soon as it happened and the minute it sent, the tears stopped.  Stu’s a fighter and there was a job to finish… and there’s so much more to life than just soccer.

Stu Holden chopsticks

Mix Diskerud subbed in and played his best game in a US Shirt (and though I haven’t seen ALL of his games with Rosenborg, I have never quite seen him play like he did today).  Momentum picked up and even around Donnelly’s, the spirit had returned.  We were laughing about things we saw, getting into the game, and pushing on with all our willpower – not focusing on our fears for “STU-S-A.”  Brek Shea slotted home the game winner and the team did what they had to do to secure the Gold Cup and take the winning streak to 11 games.  The celebration began and was filled with relief, joy, and even more laughter (from coaches, supporters, and players).  Hell, even Stu gave us a little to laugh about (or enjoy as you see fit) when he tweeted out a picture of himself drinking out of the cup and looking all coy in the lockerroom after the game… with Mix in his boxerbriefs in the background.  We all picked one another up for the time we needed to and then we started running once more.  My love with this team and this sport is summed up in a single picture that represents what it’s done for me, what we all do for each other, and what I know at least one bar in Iowa City wanted to do for our “Golden Boy.”

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To my family and friends who have come into my life (even if I don’t know you personally), I love you.

Stu buddy, you’ve got heart and fight in you and I know that there’s literally NOTHING that can beat you and you should PROBABLY be offered a role playing yourself in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I love you, AOIC loves you, no matter what, find away across that finish line.

Landon, EJ, Gooch, Beasley, Brek, Matt, Jose, Joe, Edgar, Kyle, Sean, Bill, Nick, Corey, Jack Mac, Herc, Tony, Clarence, Michael, Michael (there were two), Ale, Mix, Will, Wondo, Alan, and Josh… Love you guys too.  Thank you for bringing me along for the ride AND for letting me bring a bunch of friends too.

AO… well… y’all already know how I feel about you.  Thanks for bringing me in, keeping me humble, hugging me when I need it, laughing with me (or at me), taking covert pictures of dudes on airplanes and sending them to me with a “hot or not?” attached, and coming to visit and watch a game.  Love you guys too!

I’ll give you a song to go out on because I’m in a music mood.

Thank you all for carrying me when I needed to be carried, for carrying those I love, and for running with me and letting me run with you.

No matter what, when you fall, I’ll be there to help you up and I’ll run with you when you’re ready because you’ll be ready… you always are.

Thank God for good food, good Family, fast cars, and Futbol.

Amen.

Holden Onto Happiness

Happiness breeds more happiness.  Yes, it’s cliché and yes, it doesn’t help those who aren’t happy.

I found this trick back when I was still dealing with my breakup and it’s been one of the single easiest ways to snap myself into a good mood.  I knew I’d walk by a place he’d said he liked to buy clothes every day when I’d be on my way to work.  So simply enough, I made it a point to GENUINELY SMILE every time I walked by.  It started by blaring whatever music I could find on my iPod to set a mood of happiness and it permeated out from there to the point that I have realized just how much I smile whenever I’m out and about now.  I’m pretty sure he’s never seen that… and that’s okay.  See, it wasn’t really so much an “I’m so much happier without you, you piece of whatever” as it was “if I smile, I’ll be happy because smiling means I’m happy.”

I HAZ SMILE!

What got weird about that whole thing was when I started to realize that I was smiling because I was actually happy.  That bled into more and more of my life and pretty soon… it’s turned into me being a beaming and giddy nerd.  We’re all entitled to our own opinions but in my experience, the “beaming and giddy” variety are the best type of nerds.

None of this is to say that I still don’t have my ups and downs… but I’m glad to feel a paradigm shift toward optimism in my personality.  I’ve also rediscovered punk-rock bands that I used to love when I was in HS (basically: music that represented the last time I felt carefree) and gotten tickled at the simple prospect of having fun with the entirely absurd in my writing.

Favorite clip from this movie.

That’s exactly a point that came up at dinner last night.  I was discussing “moving on into real life” with one of my artistic minded friends.  Aside from the fact that the atmosphere at Red’s was unbelievable (68 degrees outside, the fire pit was on but not oppressive, the outdoor lighting was perfect, the music was amazing song after amazing song, and the vibrancy of life from everyone on the patio was palpable), we were having a conversation about our futures as young people that was not fraught with anxiety.  For a great majority of people, finding happiness in life is an ultimate quest.  It just so happened that Megan and I were confident that, if only for the next little while, we were doing things that brought us happiness… and we were doing it for OURSELVES.  It might not work for everyone but for us, being able to say “I do what I love and it’s going to be my job” is an unbelievably exciting prospect.

The life I want is not routine.  It’s not mundane.  It’s exciting.  It is the closest I can get to stepping into a blue box that is bigger on the inside than the outside and having adventures nobody would ever believe.  I’m a 23 year old college student who has been to two major soccer matches in the past two months (on his own money), gotten a beer with his childhood hero, who is writing a comic book that is actually going to be produced, who LOVES food (seriously, my healthiest relationship, from an emotional standpoint, is my affair with Bar-Bee-Que Sauce), who loves movies/tv/comics, who writes movies/tv/comics, and who gets to share all of this with the people in his life whom he loves and holds dear.  All this on a server’s budget.  I’m not going to give that up because all of it is such an essential part to who I am.

The past year has been all about finding out who I really am and who I am going to be.  I’m an American Outlaw, an Emerald City Supporter, a nerd, and the list goes on… but the most important thing is that I have started to figure out how to create my own happiness from life around me.  There’s a French proverb that says “Success is the best revenge.”  With respect, a quest for vengeance will only get you so far.  It’ll take you through pain.  It’ll take you right up to the point where you have to have faith in yourself.  It’ll get you right to where you have to let go and reach for the next rope to swing on.  All it takes is a deep breath, a smile, maybe some Yellowcard, and the faith to say “I’m fucking awesome.”  Then, all you gotta do is let go and grab hold of the next rope.  So rather than search for success out of a quest for revenge, just smile and be happy.

I have no problem admitting that I’m nearly 24 and I still have a “hero.”  I’ve had many heroes throughout my life and this is actually the second soccer player to grace the list (the first is Alexi Lalas).  A few years back, there was this blonde dude with all sticky-uppy hair who took the field for the Houston Dynamo.  Dude was BRILLIANT in his play.  Watching him was like staring into the burning core of a star and being able to see the energy created from the nuclear fusion.  He played with a pure passion and love for the game and it was evident every time he took the field (often, commanding the entire flow of the game).  I was still an armchair fan when Stuart Holden was suiting up in Dynamo Orange.  The spark he showed on the field got me pumped up for every game I managed to catch (which, admittedly, was rare in those days).  Then the 2010 World Cup happened and I suddenly cared.  There was that blonde dude with the styled hair subbing on for Jozy Altidore during the game against England.

Stuart Holden. (He’s the one with hair).

I didn’t really think much of it at the time as he only played about 15 minutes (if I remember correctly) and the scoring was already completed for that game… but as the tournament wore on, I began to wonder about that dude who used to absolutely light it up at Houston.  Turns out, he hasn’t exactly had it easy.  Serious injury after serious injury (included a shattered knee) threatened to derail his playing career.  His family went through a huge loss.  Even after the 2010 World Cup appearance, he suffered another serious injury on a bad tackle that has had him off the pitch until about a week ago (he literally just tweeted about having to set three alarms to get up for training with Bolton… yes, it’s 2:45am right now… I’m a night owl… and I love twitter).  I started casually admiring the guy because of his perseverance and what I found as I dug a bit deeper into his rehab was that Stuart (can’t quite call him “Stu” because I’m not actually friends with the guy… but by rights, I feel like I should be simply because of how inspired I am by him) is an enormously positive person.  Even after the loss of a family member, his mantra (and that of the rest of his family) was (paraphrased): “Let’s look at this as a celebration of life and good memories and be happy because we’re capable of being happy.”

Bottom line is that this dude’s career should be over.  Nobody would blame him for throwing in the towel.  Nobody would blame him for being sad.  But here he is, waking up for practice with the Wanderers.  He’s back on the pitch and he’s done it all by being happy.  I make no secret of dealing with depression in the past year (most people do at some points in their lives) but the one lesson I learned that got me through it and has stayed with me now (and will be with me into the future) is “Celebrate life and be happy because I’m capable of being happy.”

Happiness breeds happiness.  If it’s something so simple as just making sure you smile or if you look to a baby-faced attacking midfielder for inspiration and strength, just do it.  Be happy in what you do and how you live.  Do what you do because you love it.  Live because you love it.  It’s worth it.  In the end, you may just find yourself a new team to root for in the process.

“Cuz Bolton Wanderers will never die!”

See ya, Space Cowboy.

(Ed.  Yeah, I’m adding Bolton to my list of clubs I support that is at the end of my last post.  Pretty simple reason.  I’ll root for any team Holden plays for because he’s Holden.  Even if the dude never reads this and I never actually meet him… He’s my hero and that’s worth learning chants, screaming myself hoarse, getting a scarf, and enjoying watching my hero work.)