Veronica Smeltzer: My Icelandic Adventure, Part One.24 Jun, 2019
On November 9th of 2019, I finished what I thought to be my last ever football match. Having lost the first round of the Division II National tournament, there was no consolation match. My team had lost, and with that defeat, the realization that it was time to hang up my cleats began to sink in. There was no doubt by the standings of that match that it wasn’t a battle- a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation, only to result in a 2-1 loss at the end of the first overtime period.
Upon receiving my participation award for the tournament and gathering my things, I made my way to the bus, ready to begin the dreadful drive back to campus with defeat hanging over my head. Before leaving the complex though, the goalkeeper coach from the other team, Daryl Sattler (founder of Epic Goalkeeping) approached me to congratulate me on a great game and terrific season. He then went on and asked if I had intentions to continue playing after college and if I did, I was more than capable of doing so.
Flashback to three years prior, I had just come to college as a member of Limestone College’s field hockey team, and had intended to play out my four years of collegiate eligibility as a member of that team. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I switched back to football (I had stopped playing at 16 to focus on field hockey and track and field) believing that I was capable of competing at the Division II level. I trained all summer, and at the start of my junior year in college, won the starting spot, and never left until I graduated in May of 2019.
So, when asked if I had intentions to continue, let alone being told that I was more than capable of it, I began to look into the matter.
At the end of my junior year of college, my goalkeeper coach at the time, Nathan Walzer, who now is a coach for the Charlotte Independence in North Carolina, informed our team that he had received an offer to coach at the Division I level at North Carolina State, and as a result, was leaving at the end of the school year. Nate was the man that had faith in me that I could earn the starting spot despite having taken three years off, I was crushed. Yet before leaving, he wanted to meet with me one last time. On a sunny day in March we sat in the bleachers over the field, and he spoke of his intentions and the season that we had just completed. He told me to keep training, and that I was in fact one of the best female goalkeepers he had trained; not merely based on skill, but rather of that based on raw athleticism and drive. He was the first to truly rekindle the fire I had once had as a little girl to play football at a professional level. Honestly, I did not think I was capable of it after missing three years, but for him to tell me I had the ability, I reevaluated what my intentions were then and there.
Fast forward to my senior season and finishing my last collegiate football game, Daryl Sattler was the second individual who helped me to physically get the ball rolling. After I reached out to him in December, he put me in touch with Michael Beatty (owner of PFC Management) and he soon became my agent and started looking for different opportunities for me to continuing playing abroad.
My parents (especially my mother who acts as my personal assistant), stood by me more than ever throughout my entire athletic career. When I wanted to focus on football and play club, they did everything in their power to make it happen. When I decided to focus on field hockey and track and field, though disappointed at how many years I had dedicated to football, they stood by my decisions. And when I wanted to pursue soccer once more, both at the collegiate level and onward to that professionally, they helped me research everything and make it happen. Without them, there is no possibility that I would be where I am today; thus, it is to them, that I also owe my success to.
Upon accepting my position now as a member of Grindavik UMFG, I am quite eager to begin the new challenge ahead. Within a period of two weeks I made the decision to take this offer; to complete all of the necessary paperwork to move and work in another country, and began a new chapter of my life. Two days after graduating college I walked onto a plane headed to Iceland and didn’t look back. Now that I have been here for just over three weeks, I have finally settled into a routine. The level of competition has been similar to what I experienced in college, which has resulted in great, competitive play and players maintaining a high work ethic. I still have much room for improvement but am elated to begin mitigating my fallacies and refining my strengths.
One aspect that has been quite amusing and definitely a challenge has been the existent language barrier. Though most Icelandics natives speak English, ironically enough my goalkeeper coach only speaks Icelandic and Serbian, with a little bit of English. Luckily a lot of the drills can be explained with few words and demonstration; yet when it comes to correcting my mistakes or elaborating on aspects of my form that I could improve on, the conversation is a bit limited. Sometimes when another girl is at training sessions she can translate between the two of us, but without a mediator, a majority of the responses are rather curt.
Currently Grindavik has had a great start in the first half of the season, and I am elated to see how much we grow and come together both on and off the pitch. The goal for the season is to move back to the Pepsi League after being relegated last year, and at the moment we have a great chance after defeating FH, a team that is currently expected to move up to the next highest league. September is a long way away, but I feel quite confident that my team will do well this season, and that I am personally ready for the challenges that lie ahead.