No Sweat

Senior finds passion in varsity soccer career


Riley Pate

Senior Aalaiyah Durden rushes for the ball in a game against Klein Collins on Feb. 10.

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On the field, quick thinking and skillful plays fuel a game. With a competitive spirit like that of senior Aalaiyah Durden, staying cool under pressure despite the challenges had become the normality.

Throughout her high school experience, Durden has taken on the experiences of countless sports opportunities despite the challenges faced.

Currently, Durden defines hard-work by putting absolute effort into her club soccer team, Challenge Soccer, an outside year-round league that she has been part of since second grade.

“It’s a traveling team; we’ve gone to Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Florida and Tennessee to play people across the country,” Durden said. “We were traveling in and out of the state almost every weekend.”

Durden spent her first high school years playing basketball and soccer in and out of school. With multiple varsity sports on her plate, she has been recognized as a top player in the district for both sports as well as managing to balance sports and school to land in the top percentile of her class, showcasing a portion of the numerous opportunities taken by her.

“My parents had put me in everything – flag football, basketball, soccer – and what I really loved that my parents would do was if I had passion, they would tell me to do it, and if I wanted to quit, they were not going to force me to do the sport,” Durden said. “My only regret [in high school] would be not being able to do things I would have enjoyed like yearbook or theater. I wouldn’t change my high school career and I love my soccer team and the friends that I love, but I was sad about not having social time.”

Although some of her other passions were often put aside due to her sports careers, Durden’s undivided efforts to athletics paid off.

“I was on the varsity team for both basketball and soccer my freshman year, and it was kind of a lot,” Durden said. “I felt I was just going to stick to those two and keep going as a junior and senior, but last year, I got injured and tore my ACL.”

Starting as only a four-month process, her recovery turned into a year of physical therapy.

“When I was little, I wanted to be a lawyer, doctor or just anything I saw on TV,” Durden said. “When I tore my ACL, I figured out that [physical therapy] was a job that I would want to pursue. I became interested and found something cool that I like, and now I’m majoring in Kinesiology and hope to get into a physical therapy program to become a physical therapist.”

From her earliest years, Durden has always been surrounded by athletics and competition with her family being involved in various sports, yet through the support of her parents, she was not confined to one path.

“The fact that I just have fun helps [my parents] stay open, because if I didn’t, I’d be miserable,” Durden said. “I have a good support system, and they pushed me and were very supportive to what I wanted to do.”

No matter where her future may lead her to, Durden hopes to continue soccer throughout college.

“My dream career is to be a professional soccer player, so I’m going to keep working towards it,” Durden said. “Right now, I’m trying to get recruited and keep playing.”

When applying for colleges, Durden’s modesty shined through as she only then realized her numerous accomplishments from a young age. Her determination came from many sources –several coming from her efforts to prove her worth.

“The whole, ‘Black people are naturally more athletic’ stereotype definitely had an effect on me as a child,” Durden said. “Soccer is a predominantly white sport where we live, and as a young Black girl starting out, I did feel as though my coaches and teammates saw me more of an athlete rather than a soccer player.”

Being only one of two Black girls on her club soccer team, the environment compared to her other teams shifted an energy within herself.

“I think this happens to a lot of Black girls in sports environments like club soccer.” Durden said. “They see our speed, our power, as if that’s all we are rather than our skills correlating with the actual sport.”

Through her active career in athletics, Durden is determined to prove stereotypes wrong and keeps their words close to fuel her determination and competitive spirit.

“As a young girl I was told many times ‘You’re an athlete, not a soccer player’ and while I didn’t understand the underlying meaning then, I eventually understood the true meaning behind those words as I grew up,” Durden said. “For a while, this did bother me, but I simply used this narrative as motivation to prove to these people that I was more than my ‘natural’ athleticism. I was a soccer player who could perform at any level if I put my mind to it.”