Share your story series: Transferring, Coming Out, & Discovering a New Purpose
You know how sports movies aren't really about sports at all? Well, that's kind of how real life is too, being an athlete isn't just about being an athlete. There's always more to the story, more to the person in the jersey.
My name is Anna Miller & this is my story
She/Her | Former DII & DI Soccer Player
I have tried to sit down and write this so many times, but I am not entirely sure where to start. Originally, I thought, well I’ll start where it all started, from the beginning. The beginning of becoming an athlete, how I got into the sport and then continued into it, but That story is not the one I want to tell. Yes, context and background are important, but in all honestly there isn’t really anything special or that unique about how I grew up. I was one of four kids with two loving parents who provided for us (not necessarily without struggle but managed) in so many ways. While they sacrificed a lot, they didn’t show it. I was a white kid living in middle-class white suburbia, with a lot of privilege to compete in a sport I loved so dearly, which eventually led me to college sports.
I think this is where my story really starts. Leaving high school, I was off to university at a Division II school in Portland, OR. Small school, with less than 3,000 people, and I got a scholarship to play soccer there. I wasn’t really offered a lot of options in terms of universities to play at, I mean I was a 5’6 goalkeeper so it’s not like I was getting recruited by the BIG10. I was so excited though, I say this all the time, but I was truly made for DII soccer. I got to the university and loved the soccer aspect. It was the dream athlete life, and I loved the grind of it all. My day-to-day leading up to that point was so heavily revolved around training and soccer. So when I got to a university and was on a team with other athletes who had those same aspirations and values in sports that I did, it was awesome. In my freshman year I didn’t play, which was expected. I mean you’re top talent if you’re starting as a freshman goalkeeper. Don’t get me wrong, it’s frustrating as hell but I definitely understood. I still loved being on the team and always put in the work. I loved soccer and loving my teammates and everything about that college sports grind, but I was quickly struck by how religious this university was. When I went on my visit to this school, I wasn’t sitting in on classes or asking about majors. I was more worried about the athletic facilities, the coaches, the team, etc. I wasn’t really an A+ student, and at this point, I was convinced I could potentially work my ass off and make soccer some kind of career in some capacity. This really came to bite me in the butt because, I wasn’t religious at all, and never really realized the intensity of religion at this university.
I consider myself to be agnostic, believing in something bigger than myself but not entirely sure what that something is. Little did I know I chose a university that spoke about god in every class. My microeconomics professor would literally pray before class…. in microeconomics. We also were required to take the religion classes offered by the university, because these were the pre-requisites to graduate. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to anyone who prays or is religious, because I find faith and spirituality to be really important. Finding solace in something that is bigger than yourself can be really healing, and I have a lot of respect for that. The issues started when the conversations steered towards relationships and love. The narrative was always about a man and a woman. Marriage was a man and a woman. And this was made very clear in so many ways by the university. The best example I can give is that one evening before the start of the fall semester of university there is this carnival-type event in the middle of campus. All the clubs come out and set up tables and booths so students can come and learn more about them, and even possibly sign up for them. I remember walking around and seeing a lot of religious-based groups, and then boom, a Pride group! Now at this time I was still unaware of my queerness, but I grew up with four gay aunts, and so my allyship and need to show my alliance publicly was constant. This club consisted of max five people. When speaking to them to ask about events and sign up for their newsletter, they proceeded to tell me the events were very tentative because the university doesn’t allow them to hold any events on campus due to differing beliefs. I remember feeling all sorts of ways about this, but I grabbed a rainbow pin, and stuck it on my bag, and went about my day.
Fast forward to the second semester and summer after my freshman year of college, and I had a lot of time for self-discovery. I knew more than anything I wanted soccer to be a part of my life, but what I would also learn at this time was that I really wanted a form of companionship, which I knew needed to come from another woman. Upon returning to the university for the start of my second year, I actually was dreading it. Nobody knows this, but I actually called my coach and told him I wasn’t coming back less than a month before pre-season was starting. I obviously didn’t tell him the real reason why because I wasn’t out of the closet yet, but I was set on this decision. He proceeded to convince me to stay for at least one last fall season, and if at the end of the season I wanted to leave then he would enter me into the transfer portal. I really popped off in that fall season. I trained hard over the summer and came into pre-season incredibly fit and ready to play. I earned the starting shirt and started almost every game that season, earning defensive player of the week multiple times, 1st team all-conference, and was an honorable mention All-American for DII. Like I said earlier, I was made for DII soccer. While all of that success on the field was going on, I was struggling so hard outside of soccer. I felt like nobody really knew me. I was hiding this HUGE part of me, one that I really wanted to explore more. I ended up sneaking around a lot and was actually seeing/dating a teammate of mine (would not suggest this to anyone, it can be messy). I know that a majority of my teammates at the time would’ve celebrated me being myself, but that’s not what I was afraid of. I was terrified of the school, the professors, the administration, etc. I was genuinely scared to come out because of the homophobic nature of the university I was at, so I stayed in the closet the whole first semester. But wow it gets really exhausting lying and sneaking around all the time. I also was proud to be gay. I was so vocal about my allyship, and I felt like such a hypocrite being in the closet. So, after a lot of contemplation because of all the success I was having in soccer, I decided I wanted to transfer schools.
It was a decision that essentially changed the entire course of my life. I wanted to go to a school that celebrated every part of my identity, and not just me as an athlete. With a lot of hard work, a quarter off school, and help from some amazing coaches who really put themselves on the line for me (shout out to Tom Bunnell), I was able to secure a roster spot on the University of Washington Women’s Soccer team (no scholarship). I knew that this was going to be a massive challenge athletically but would be worth it in order to attend a university that I could feel safe at in embracing my queerness. So, the transfer happened, and everything was perfect! Just kidding lol, wouldn’t that have been great though? That transfer came with its fair challenges athletically, I mean come on. DII to DI doesn’t seem like it would be that different, but WOW. Playing soccer at a PAC12 university was no frickin joke. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but it was cutthroat. I didn’t really see the field or get any playing time. I didn’t have a scholarship, so I had to take out student loans and get two part-time jobs to help fund my life. That being said, I didn’t have the time or energy to put everything I had into the sport I loved so much. At the same time, I found my passion in school. I was out and proud. I created my own undergraduate research project about identity and sport. There were so many things that came from that transfer that changed the trajectory of my life for the better. While I did have to give up my dreams of pursuing a future in professional soccer, my new dreams were even bigger. I wanted to change the world of sports for all athletes and create safe inclusive spaces for everyone in sports. I have found a passion for coaching and being outspoken about the growth of women’s sports. Advocacy and Inclusion in sport is at the forefront of my vision moving forward, because I feel that sport is such a powerful tool to bring people together and embrace the differences that make us all unique! All the challenges and hardships I faced as a student-athlete, led me to where I am today and to the person I have now become, and I am so grateful for that.