Carson Pickett : Flying For Goal With a Broken Wing
When passion and determination go hand in hand, the steepest of mountains seems like a plain land. Such folkloric stories aren’t found in our everyday life hence when found one, they make an exceptional story. Subhajit Sengupta at Goalden Times talks about one such incorrigible optimist whose love for the beautiful game made her an inspiration for the world beyond the ball game.
You laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.
– By saying that, Jonathan Davis had brought up an inevitable question. How does it feel to be different? To people like Jonathan Davis, it’s bliss, to some it’s a curse; they wish if they wouldn’t have been different at all but to Carson Pickett it’s just all the same. She never really cared to distinguish between what is normal and what is different but accepted her life as it is; normal to her, different to the world.
When Carson was only 6 months old, she was admitted to a children’s hospital in Spartanburg, South California under a prosthetic specialist. She was missing her left arm below the elbow when she was born. The doctor tried three different types of prostheses on her. First with hooks attached to her right shoulder, then the Myoelectric and lastly a standard, passive model. The little Carson, who hadn’t learnt to talk then, kept complaining with her gestures about the doctor attaching things to her body. The doctor wanted his youngest patient to crawl with the help of the prosthetic arm. She did though. But first she removed the artificial arm vigorously and then started crawling across the floor like she was already 2 years old. The hatchling refused to get coddled. As the saying goes –
some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.
Carson Pickett showed the world that disability is a state of mind. It is not disability that trims the wings to fly but the lack of desire. And as long as desire is concerned, Carson Pickett never lacked the slightest pinch of it. During her early school days, Pickett grew up as a competitive swimmer. In her first competitive freestyle swimming meet, she entered the last leg of the relay with her team trailing by more than a full length. She made up the deficit and touched the wall first to win the title.
She jumped out of the pool, she was 6 years old, and we’re over there just crying, bawling tears, Mike Pickett, Carson’s father recalled. And she’s looking at us going, ‘Why are you crying? We won.’ She didn’t understand. It was just tears of pure amazement for me.
“We didn’t know if she’d sink to the bottom of the pool when she jumped in.” She mastered to do everyday things with one hand that others unconsciously do with two. She braided her hair. She swam. She played tennis, basketball and did all those things every kid do but what she did better than most was play soccer.
Born into a sports loving family, Carson was able to encounter a variety of sports. Treasure Pickett, her mother, went to a college basketball final four with Northeast Louisiana in 1985. Her father, Mike Pickett played college soccer for Northeast Louisiana University and South Carolina-Spartanburg and was drafted by a professional team, the Cleveland Force. Both of them became high school coaches. But her father being the greatest inspiration in her life, she chose Soccer above everything and how wise that choice was!
Carson Pickett became the star attraction of The St. Johns Country Day School, Florida. Not out of sympathy but for her unquestionable talent. The ace set-piece specialist is revered for her venomous left foot and long range shooting ability. She’s a versatile midfielder who can also play as an outside back. A regular starter since her freshman year at Florida State,she played in all 25 games in the 2015 season. She is a prolific goal scorer and when she couldn’t find the net herself; she often found someone else from her side to net the ball. Her father and Spartans coach Mike Pickett mentioned “I haven’t had many players in my coaching career that are as good on set pieces as Carson is. It’s a talent”. Of course he’s her father so if that testimony doesn’t count in her support then the statistical data should reflect the real story. Her numbers speak for themselves. She finished her college career tied for 10th place in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) with 150 goals and a school-record of 152 assists in 103 appearances.
In all the years she’s played against us, I [still] remember three goals she scored against us, and all three were jaw-droppers.
“She can strike the ball probably better than anybody I’ve seen in a long time. Normally if you’re playing a player that’s 30 or 40 yards out, you’re not even thinking they’re going to try to score.” Said Ponte Vedra coach Dave Silverberg, another admirer of Carson’s outstanding talent. She guided the Seminoles to a consecutive 5th College Cup finals in 2015 season, moreover her efforts in the 2012 season earned her the statewide honor of being named “Miss Soccer” by the Florida Dairy Farmers along with the award of Times-Union All-First Coast girls’ soccer player of the year. The occasion became even more special for Carson when her father was named “Coach of the Year” in the same season. “For a high school career, she’s done everything you can do” – Mike Pickett insisted. Keeping aside all these awards and testimonies, what is that one dream that every single soccer player tries to live? It’s not that hard to figure out. Wearing the national colors, standing in the middle of a green pitch in front of a packed stadium while the national anthem is being chorused by the crowd and flags are waving…oh you feel life’s worth at that very moment. Carson dreamed of representing her national team and like everyone else in The St. Johns Country Day School, with her potential, she knew she could chase her dream. Her dream almost touched reality when she was invited to the national team camps for the U-17 player pool but as she was left out in the final selection, she could feel she was still a long way from it.
To get selected in the final roster, everyone has to go through a brutal math. Even successful players in very good college programs can’t count on invitations to training camps with youth teams, let alone the senior team. Sometimes it takes a bit of luck, or at least favorable scheduling. Although the United States team at a February tournament in Spain included some college standouts, it was primarily composed of high-profile NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) rookies. Given that the four-team tournament in Norway fell during the NWSL regular season, U.S. Soccer used it as an opportunity to expand the player pool. Thus Pickett found herself among many new faces trying out for the final 20 roster spots in a one-week camp in April in Florida. Pickett left the camp unaware of what would come out of it, with the final roster yet to be decided. She came back to Tallahassee to prepare for her final exams. Being a sharp student who will graduate a semester early, she tried not to obsess about her roster fate. No soccer player with physical disability has ever made it to the U.S. National Soccer team.
She knew the facts and in all honesty the decision is quite justified. In a body contact sport, a player with physical disability would certainly add some disadvantages to the team. So why risk that? But as far as Pickett is concerned, she would certainly not become a liability as she has always been an asset to the side she played for. But what if the national team selectors overlook her college career statistics?
A life with a physical disability is something you would hope not to bear at any given situation. When you don’t grow senses, you don’t see the difference but by the time you start to realize you’re different in a way you hoped not to,the world around you seems sympathizing and no matter how hard you try, you’ll always be considered as incomplete. Carson Pickett’s biggest challenge wasn’t to be selected for the national team but to live her everyday life like normal people do. Before she could understand her disability, she had accepted her life as it came and that’s something she hoped would continue but the people around her did not always think the way Carson did. When she was a freshman at Florida State, she talked about being perplexed about how best to respond when people asked about the message of her story. She was used to the curious looks and the questions that often follow, but she wasn’t trying to deliver a message about living and advancing with disability. “My freshman year, I would get asked a lot,” Carson recalled.
People will ask, ‘How do you deal with one hand?’ Well, how do you deal with two? It’s all that I know.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t care, just because I would be curious too. But throughout my time at Florida State, it really has changed my life. Now instead of people asking me what happened, I have people telling me through Instagram, Twitter, direct messages that I’m their inspiration” – she continued.
People who don’t know her at all are willing to share their personal stories, fears and triumphs. They feel safe telling her. “I think they forget that when they tell me their stories that I can get just as inspired by them. That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is I can be inspired by people who I’m inspiring.” The reality is that she made people forget about her disability. During the season of 2011, someone from another team was talking to one of her best friends, Kaili Torres, trying to ask about Carson. “This girl was trying to describe me,” Carson said. “She said, ‘the girl with one arm.’ And my friend said, ‘We don’t have a girl with one arm.’ … She totally forgot. People I’ve been with forever don’t even think about it.” She now cherishes the moments that came with laughter because of her disability. She told the story when a referee stopped the game for a handball saying she had touched the ball with her left hand and then her father had to come from the sideline arguing with referee to point out that she didn’t have a left hand and won’t have any time soon. She could finally say that she had won the battle of being normal.
Back at Jacksonville, as she was going through her semester exams, something in her mind kept her occupied during her sleep. Like Eduardo Galeano once wrote “Panting, he runs up the wing. On one side awaits heaven’s glory; on the other, ruin’s abyss. He is the envy of the neighborhood: the professional athlete who escaped the factory or the office and gets paid to have fun. He won the lottery. And even if he has to sweat buckets, with no right to failure or fatigue, he gets into the papers and on TV.” As she woke up on the morning before her final paper and turned on her cell phone, a mail notification sound turned out to be the sweetest symphony of her life. The mail comprised the final roster of the national team’s trip to Norway and she found her name on it. On 27th May, 2015, Carson Pickett took the pitch in the 77th minute against Sweden in Fredrikstad and thus became the first player with a physical disability to represent any of the United States women’s national teams in an international competition.
4 days later she was named in the starting XI against England and played the full 90 minutes and both times she ended up in the winning side.
“You can talk about the technical pieces,” U-23 coach Janet Rayfield said. “She’s got a great left foot, she’s got good pace, she reads the game well. Her service from the left flank is very good. She’s a good individual defender. And she’s pretty versatile. She can play anywhere up and down the flank. But she’s also just tenacious. She’s one of those competitive people that doesn’t like to get beat, so you’ve got that psychological piece to her game that I think helps her in that environment.” She embraced the opportunity of a lifetime and used her strength that makes her truly different and special. As things stand, she has started her senior career by replacing recently retired Olympic gold medalist defender Stephanie Cox in the Seattle Reign backline and the world outside NWSL football fanatics await the opportunity to witness one of the finest attacking players of our generation bossing the pitch.
Three words inscribed on the inside of Carson Pickett’s right wrist tell you more about her than anyone else in Florida. “Imperfection is beauty”. The bird born with a broken wing keeps flying for her dreams as long as she knows how to fly.
“The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.”
~ Maya Angelou