Chloe Bellerby - My Life Changing Journey as a Student Athlete.
As an 11-year-old budding footballer, I remember seeing the likes of Rachel Daly from my hometown of Harrogate playing in the USA and being inspired. I recall telling my family “I am going to the USA to play one day”. I had no idea how I could make that possible, if my dream could ever become a reality or if it was just a pipe dream – all I knew was that it was everything I wanted and more. I got in touch with Jon Maloney, Head of Women’ Soccer at SRUSA who told me everything I needed to know.
The future for me was uncertain. I battled depression for much of my teenage years, dimly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Football gave me a focus, it gave me a reason to push forward and ultimately, became a reason for why I am still here today. Through much consideration, I knew the states would be the best place for me. I remember Jon Maloney knew my story and background and he was a huge support for me. He told me it would be the best thing I could ever do for myself, and he was so right (and never fails to remind me haha). That 11-year-old girl with this dream that seemed impossible put pen to paper 7 years later and I signed my Letter of Intent and confirmed my commitment for the next 2 years of my life at Sussex County Community College, New Jersey.
I didn’t know what to expect. I had ideas of what it might be like. I was excited to experience a new country, different people from all walks of life. I was intrigued to see how the level of football compared… whether it would be more intense, physical, demanding or mentally testing. All of which, I can confirm it was and is. I knew people that had been to the college I was attending, so I never doubted my decision of choosing Sussex. It put my mind at ease knowing there was other girls from the SRUSA family going to be there with me.
The USA exceeded my expectations. My time here has pushed me to my limits both physically and mentally. In the classroom and on the field. Socially and independently. I have learnt things about myself that you could not learn anywhere else.
August 2018 – my first preseason - I remember being given my schedule for the next month, and I just remember being blown away by the detail, the effort and the diversity this programme was about to offer me. I was about to spend the next 2 years of my life, living and breathing football. ‘The Marines’ stuck out to me. Probably one of the most mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging training sessions you could ever encounter. What had I let myself in for? I had never had my body pushed to the limits like I did in my first preseason out here in the US. I questioned whether this was really for me to begin with. I was completely out of my depth and missed home incredibly, but I soon began to realise that the time here was going to change my life forever. One thing I have learnt in my time here is that, nothing ever grows in your comfort zone. It is when you take a step out to things that make you uncomfortable, you grow. This invaluable idea stuck with me for the next 2 years of my time in the USA.
My time at Sussex saw me experiencing some of the highest of highs, and an occasional incredibly hard low. I have learnt life lessons that have changed me as a person, for the better. I’ve experienced losses that have hurt for weeks. I began appreciating and understanding life in a whole different way. I have experienced first-hand the feeling of hating the road because I was missing home. And I have lived through some of the best times of my life. In the past 2 years I achieved academic excellence in my psychology degree and was put on the Dean’s List, I built life-long friendships with people from all over the world, who have opened my eyes to the beauty of life, in more ways than one. I gained an American family; experienced New York at Christmas; experienced my first Thanksgiving dinner. I became a Region XIX Champion and faced heart-wrenching scorelines and a season I wish never had to end. I discovered I had Multiple Sclerosis and was told I would never play again, to playing every game my second season and being awarded Coaches Player of the Year in my end of season banquet, and then being informed I had won Woman of the Year being honoured at Seton Hall. I got named ‘President’ of the Student Athletic Council and begun the process of bringing Active Minds, permanently on to campus. I also get to look forward to going to Miami for Spring Break, and seeing Niagara Falls before I leave at the end of May.
Making the decision of starting an entire new life in America, can be extremely daunting. It takes courage, commitment and mental toughness. One of my main concerns coming out here was missing home, not making friends and the feeling of loneliness. Of course, I missed home, and experienced homesickness in my first semester particularly. I know I am not alone in this and I am sure everyone who has embarked on this adventure can vouch for me when I say the first semester is the hardest. It takes to adapt to your new surroundings, a new culture, and a new way of life. But I can confirm this time period, only makes you a better person. My teammates were so welcoming, they made me feel part of the team straight away. They showed me around the college, took me to Walmart for the essentials, took me grocery shopping, and anything I needed – they were there for me.
The programme at Sussex changed my life in the best possible way, and I have gained memories that will last a lifetime. I got to train like a professional, I got to spend time with girls that are family, I got to learn from coaches that have such a strong passion for the game, and astounding knowledge with anything football relayed. I experienced playing a semi-final game under the lights in New York City with the concrete jungle around me. I had the opportunity to captain, deliver an emotional pregame speech, hold a mental health awareness game which showed two different teams coming together for such an important cause. I have learnt things about the game that I just would never learn in England. I have developed myself as a player, and a person. The journeys to games created memories that will last a lifetime. I mentioned it a little before, but I gained a family in my teammates. We created a bond that meant we would honestly die for each other, both on and off the field which consequently meant we were successful in everything we did. I didn’t just gain a family in my teammates, I gained a family in the American girl’s family, I gained a family in my coaches, in my professors, in other students on campus. They say that home is where the heart is, and now when I am asked where ‘home’ is, I say I have two homes: England AND America.
I think one life-changing moment for me was March 1st 2019, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and spent 4 days in hospital, told I would not ever play again. I was over 3000 miles away from my family, yet I had 20 people in my hospital room. I have never received support like it before, and what was meant to be an incredibly difficult period of time in my life, actually became one of the most heart-warming experiences I have ever had. My coaches, my teammates, my friends, professors, doctors and friends’ parents showed me that you can make it through anything if you have good people around you.
I will never be able to put into words just how life-changing my time in America has being. I came to the US 2 years ago as quite a reserved and closed off 18-year-old, lacking in confidence and self-belief. I am leaving this country as a strong-minded, confident 20-year-old with huge hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future and the belief I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I was awarded Woman of the Year recently, an incredible experience and event and one I would never have imagined myself to be involved in. I can honestly say I have fallen in love with life again, and I wish it never had to come to an end.
If you have the opportunity to go out to the USA, grasp it with both hands. You will never experience any thing else quite like it. It will change your life in a way you never thought it could. Do things that test you, that push you out of your comfort zone – your experience is what you make it.