Soccer was my platform for finding my voice. On the field I represented my country for almost 18 years, played in two Olympic Games (winning a bronze in London 2012), and have competed in five World Cups. My experiences as an athlete has given me memories for a lifetime, but it is the people I have met along the way who have most affected my life.
One of the most profound encounters occurred in 2013. Three of my teammates and I went to Newfoundland, Canada, to run a camp with our company iS4.ca, and while there I met a very special young woman. She stood out to me because I could see a lot of myself in her.
She was quiet and shy, like I was when I was a child. I later learned that she was fighting a battle with cancer. I would dedicate a game in her name, put her name on my glove and later send that glove to her with a small note telling her how she had helped me get a shutout that day. I truly believed that she would get better, until this spring when I received an email from her mother that she had lost her battle.
I was devastated! I’d spent just minutes with Makayla, yet her death rocked me to the core. I was determined that her spirit would live on. I called her mother and said, “I’m coming to Newfoundland. Please make use of me as you’d like.”
She asked me why I would take the time to do this? The answer was easy: “For Makayla.”
The day approached at the tail-end of an exhausting two week road trip. It had involved me traveling coast to coast twice, doing multiple appearances, interviews, and more than a few signings. During the last two days of this tour, before my keynote speech for UNICEF, I sat in my hotel room thinking of what I wanted to say, when it hit me. I pulled out my iPhone and, without thought, made this message below. This was the beginning of my 48-Hour Challenge.
The idea was to inspire people to be the very best versions of themselves for 48 hours. To live and act more meaningfully, purposefully, and more kindly towards others for two full days! I was going to do this, and asked others to do so with me. The keynote speech for UNICEF that night came straight from the heart and the fundraiser went better than expected, helping raise money to save children’s lives.
The following morning I flew to Makayla’s hometown and put my idea into further action. I officially met her family at the airport and we started the day at her high school. The school had an assembly and I spoke to her friends, classmates and teachers for an hour.
As I stood chatting, signing autographs, taking Snapchats and Instagram pictures with the kids, when one boy came up to me and said:
“Oh, by the way, I saw your video. For my 48 hours of purposeful living, I stood up to my bully and told him to stop. Your video helped me find the courage.”
Most of the school had watched it and were impacted. Several of them shared their plans of how they’ll live purposefully for the next 48 hours.
From there I visited the hospital and the oncology ward where Makayla had spent the last few years and days of her life. I visited the room where she had spent her time at this hospital. I sat and spoke with some of the other young patients, let them hold my Olympic medal and discussed the power of dreaming big. It was so hard. How many of them would not even get an opportunity to chase a dream. All I could give them in that moment was my time, an encouraging smile and distraction from their pain hoping to bring happiness, even just for a moment.
Next we headed to the soccer field. I thought maybe a few kids would show up but it felt like the whole community came, acknowledging the impact her life and courage had on many people. The soccer field was filled with young, eager kids. I knew I wasn’t going to make them better soccer players in that short time, but what I could do was have fun with them and make this special day unforgettable.
As the clinic ended, I was taking pictures and signing autographs, when the children and parents handed me envelopes. It takes a lot to catch me off guard, but in that moment I was speechless. During my flight home, I opened and read each of the letters, and, tearfully, I knew that I had truly achieved living purposefully while succeeding in the challenge.
Each letter was a detail of what they were going to do in the next 48 hours to be the best version of themselves and to live life with purpose. What started as an idea had quickly spread into a movement.
You can never really tell the power of a single moment. How a single interaction can result in something significant, meaningful, and life-changing. One interaction with someone can leave a profound impact on both of your lives. Digging deep within yourself and discovering your purpose is challenging at the onset, but the vision and direction it gives you provides you with the blueprint to live the best version of yourself… awaking your most impactful, exciting life!
So I challenge you to ask yourself the hard question:
What is my purpose in life, and am I living it?
Take some time to think and challenge yourself for the next 48 hours to live your life purposefully and may nothing take you off that path. Start in your circle and do something that is not just about yourself but others. It’s amazing when you do the little things differently, and for the better, how you can affect a greater number for the greater good.
Start with this 48-hour challenge of being purposeful and deliberate in being the best version of yourself and see where it takes you.
I did—and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Originally published at medium.com