Through the Ups and Downs

Wayny Balata

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

My soccer journey follows a bit of an unconventional path.

Basketball was my first love, actually.

With two older brothers heavily involved in basketball, it was natural for me to hop on the court at some point, too.

And at around five or six years old, I started picturing my future in basketball.

But, fate intervened.

One day, my dad took me to a park near our apartment. He used to play soccer there with my brothers, and after continuously insisting on my desire to join them, he invited me to come along

So there I was, this little girl who had never played soccer before, kicking the ball around.

And I instantly fell in love.

It was like a switch flipped inside me.

I had a natural talent for it, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

From that point on, it became a constant juggle between basketball and soccer.

I was trying to fit both into my schedule.

But eventually, it came to a point where I had to make a decision. It just wasn’t practical to keep up with both sports at a high level.

So, I had to ask myself, where do I realistically have a better future? Where will I have more opportunities to grow as an athlete?

And at that time, soccer was booming back home, so I went with it.

And I don’t regret my decision one bit.

From Quebec to SMU

Coming from Montreal, Canada, soccer held a substantial presence in my life. Particularly in the neighborhood where I grew up, soccer significantly overshadowed basketball in terms of popularity.

This cultural context further steered my determination to focus on soccer as my primary pursuit. Remarkably, the sport continually presented opportunities, allowing me to progress through various tiers of competition, from regional to provincial teams, culminating in the privilege of representing the national team.

This journey cemented my affection for soccer.

During the recruitment process for college, fate played a bit of a role.

It was during a showcase event against the Ontario provincial team that Mat Cosgriff, the assistant coach at SMU, first observed my talents.

Initially, SMU had not been at the forefront of my considerations.

However, nearly a year later, while revisiting my emails, I discovered a message from Mat. I decided to explore the opportunity and had a conversation with him, which ultimately led to a campus visit.

Upon setting foot on campus, I experienced an immediate sense of belonging.

The campus environment, camaraderie with the female athletes on the team, and the overall atmosphere resonated with me. It just felt right that SMU was where I was meant to be.

Battling through injuries

Undoubtedly, the most difficult part of my journey has been grappling with injuries.

Injuries are an unavoidable part of any athlete’s life, and my experiences have been no exception. From stress fractures in my foot to a complete MCL tear, my path has been strewn with obstacles.

Nevertheless, I have steadfastly refused to allow injuries to shape my identity or deter my ambitions. Instead, I have approached these setbacks as opportunities for personal and athletic growth.

I remember going into my freshman year at SMU when I was still recovering from a stress fracture in my foot.

It wasn’t easy being sidelined from the start while everyone else was out on the field, but I stayed positive and focused on my recovery. I was grateful for the support of my teammates and coaches during that time. They made sure I felt included and encouraged me every step of the way.

Then, near the end of my freshman year season, I suffered a fully torn MCL during a game against Cincinnati. It was devastating, but I didn’t let it bring me down.

I supported my team from the sidelines and focused on my rehab.

It was a long and challenging process, but I knew that I had to stay resilient and keep pushing forward. My teammates were there for me every step of the way, and their support meant the world to me.

But the injuries didn’t stop there.

Over the years, I experienced a few more setbacks, including a strained quad as well as a broken ankle over this past Spring.

Each time, I faced those challenges head-on, learning more about my body and my limits. It wasn’t always easy, and there were moments when I wanted to quit. But I never gave up because I knew that tomorrow was another day, another opportunity to push through and come out stronger.

Upon setting foot on campus, I experienced an immediate sense of belonging. The campus environment, camaraderie with the female athletes on the team, and the overall atmosphere resonated with me. It just felt right that SMU was where I was meant to be.

The journey continues

Now, in my fifth year at SMU, I look forward to being a captain and helping lead the team.

I hope my teammates can look to the resilience I’ve had through each injury as inspiration to remain strong in the most trying times. This team is the most important thing to me, and I’m excited about what we can accomplish together this year.

As I look toward the future, I want to continue playing soccer professionally, at least for a little while. I’ve always had that dream, and I want to see where it takes me.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back home to Quebec and continue my journey there.

In the end, soccer has already taught me so much.

It’s not just a game — it’s a way of life.

The resilience I’ve developed through my injuries and the support I’ve received from my teammates, coaches, and trainers have shaped me into the person I am today.

And I’m grateful for every experience, both the highs and the lows.

My journey has been far from a straightforward trajectory.

Nevertheless, I would not alter a single part of this experience. I’m excited for the challenges the future may hold and remain committed to leading my team this season, regardless of the hurdles that may arise.

Soccer is my passion, my love, and I’ll keep giving it my all.