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Rising After Rio

Rising After Rio

Note: The following appears in the September issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.

Pulling the zipper down on her orange backpack, senior goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan slips out her most prized possession. In her hand lay her bronze medal from the 2016 Olympic games. A native of Ontario, Canada, Sheridan was an alternate on the Canadian Women’s National Soccer team. However, she did not get into soccer to become an Olympian.

“I started playing when I was five years old. I was a really shy kid, so my parents decided to get me into a sport so I could become more sociable. It’s funny because I did a complete turnaround…I am so outgoing now.”

Once Sheridan got her feet wet on the pitch, the sky was the limit.

“I started climbing up the ladder really fast. I played in academy with an all-boys team for two years when I was 11 to 13.”

“Playing with the boys was crazy. It was one of the biggest contributors that helped my game. I credit a lot of what I have accomplished to that experience. It really put me outside of my comfort zone.”

After growing with the boys’ team, Sheridan went into Canada’s provincial program and then climbed through the national program. During her time in the national program, Sheridan had the opportunity to play in the U20 World Cup.

“U20 was huge for me. The game was played in Canada, so being in front of my home country made the tournament even better.”

To better her game, Sheridan made the decision to attend college in the United States. However, her sights were not always set on a specific school.

“I felt like I was trying so hard to find the perfect school for me and I wasn’t sure that it was going the way it should. It is hard because it is a big decision…it’s the next four years of your life.

“I was getting a lot of advice and everyone said, ‘When you step on the right campus, you will know,’ but I wasn’t feeling anything, anywhere, and I had been to more than 10 schools.”

As it often does, Clemson made Sheridan experience the feeling everyone was talking about.

“When I came to Clemson, the first day was great. I got to meet all of the girls, and then the second day, as I was driving off campus, my parents asked what I thought about the visit. I told them, ‘I think I get it now,’ because I had this feeling and instantly knew what everyone was talking about.

“There is the family environment, too, which was huge for me being so far from home.”

Though there were a multitude of reasons for Sheridan to fall in love with Clemson, one thing really stood out.

“The idea of having the chance to change a program and make a difference was amazing. The last three years we have brought the program up so much, and I have complete confidence that we can take it to another level.”

On a personal level, Sheridan never thought that she would make the Olympic team while she was still in college, and her path to Brazil looked different than most.

“I was accepting of the fact that I was only 20 years old. It was a lucky shot for me to even be considered for the Rio team.

“I wasn’t in the national camps pool anymore because I was in the lull between youth and senior age group. That happens to everyone, so I was at peace with it.”

However, in February she got the chance of a lifetime.

“I got a call asking me to come to Portugal to play a tournament with the national team. When I got there, I ended up getting my first cap.

“You get a cap every time you step on the field for your national team. Some people have 250 caps, which means they have played for the team 250 times. I have only one right now, but I can’t even put in to words what that feels like.”

The shot to train and play with the national team in Portugal led to Sheridan getting noticed by top coaches for her country.

“The national team had another camp in Toronto, and two of the other goalkeepers had gotten hurt, so I was called in to be the backup and train and travel with them.

“I did the whole ‘Road to Rio’ experience in my home country, which was all amazing, but I knew in the back of my head I wasn’t going to Rio, so it was tough.

“It was honestly a really hard part of the process getting to do and see all of it and knowing I wasn’t going to be in the finished product.”

But Sheridan created a way to overcome the mental aspect of preparing for Rio with the possibility of going being slim.

“I decided to take each experience on its own and not focus on the fact that I wasn’t going to Rio or wouldn’t be with the team in a month. I focused on my training and focused on my friends around me, because by making them better, I was helping my country.”

The national team coaches pulled Sheridan aside at the end of camp to give her heartbreaking but hopeful news.

“The coaches talked to me and told me they were only taking two goalkeepers to Rio, and I wasn’t one of them. But they did tell me that with more time and practice, they knew I would get to the Olympics when the time was right.”

The time came sooner rather than later for Sheridan, who was home in Canada when she received the best news she has ever gotten.

“No more than a week after camp, I got a call and they said, ‘We have some pretty good news…you’re going to Rio!’ I was jumping around the house with my parents, over the moon, could not believe it. It was one of the best phone calls I have ever gotten.”

Even with all of the controversy surrounding the Rio Olympics, Sheridan never doubted going for a second.

“Everyone else was nervous for me to go, but I wouldn’t have passed it up for anything. This is what you dream of as a five-year old. This is what you want. This and the World Cup are all we have to take advantage of in soccer. There was nothing that could have stopped me.” During the games, Sheridan hung out with Clemson alum Natoya Goule, who was running for Jamaica. Goule introduced Sheridan to a certain esteemed athlete.

“Natoya and I hung out a lot. She introduced me to Usain Bolt, which was a really unique experience.”

Now that the games are over, Sheridan is shifting her sights to her senior year at Riggs Field.

“Focusing on Clemson is the only important thing at this point. My group of seniors has one more chance to make it happen. We brought this program from the bottom to the top, and we know there is another level for us.”

The group of seniors has made many strides for the soccer program, but Sheridan believes they can do more.

“We want to see it happen because we have put so much work in, so much effort and made so much progress. It’s amazing to be remembered for the progress.”

The team is striving to conquer new heights together throughout the 2016 season.

“We are definitely pushing for an ACC championship, definitely pushing to get further in the NCAA Tournament than we have ever gone.”

With Sheridan behind them, all this and more can be done.

“All of those things are important, and I think they are all achievable.”