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Home | Episode #76
Cleats to Microphones
June 6, 2021 | Student Producer:

Lily Yates
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Cleats to Microphones
Student Calli Ortega finds that what she thought were her worst moments led her to an unexpected passion. (9 minutes)

More Human intro plays.


Life is unpredictable. As much as we like to think that we have everything figured out, life in its unexpected form happens and changes everything. At the time, these clashes, if you will, seem like the end of the world, but looking back, you realize that these unexpected events embody your individual human experience. With that said, I would love to tell the story of my clashes and how they've helped me become the person I am today. May 7th, 2016. Up until this point, I was an athletic, academically driven 14-year-old girl who couldn't wait to start high school that fall. I was beginning to get very serious about my sport, soccer. I was playing on two competitive travel teams, one with girls three years older than me. On this day, I was playing in the state cup semi-finals with the older team. This was a huge deal for our club.


No team in our organization had made it this far into playoffs in several years. I remember being so proud to represent my team, playing alongside girls who were so much older than me and that I respected so much. I started that game and as soon as the whistle blew, I came out strong. I wanted to win. The first few minutes of that game were probably the best soccer I'd ever played. I felt invincible. This all changed just seconds later. I won possession of the ball and did a Cruyff turn to get away from the defender. I'd done this move a million times before, but for some reason, this time, my body was not in sync with my mind. My anchoring foot was cemented to the grass and my left knee popped and gave out. I immediately collapsed to the ground and screamed in pain. My mind was racing. I couldn't comprehend what had just happened. All I knew was that I couldn't get up.


My teammates and coach ran over to me and had to carry me off the field. I was condemned to the sidelines by cruel fate and my tears of pain morphed into tears of frustration. I remember telling my coach that I'd be ready to go back in for the second half when we both knew that I couldn't even walk, let alone play in a soccer game. Not yet even knowing the true gravity of my injury, I sat utterly defeated on the bench for the rest of the game, where I had to watch my team lose 3-1. I was heartbroken. A few days later, I went to the doctor and learned the fate sealing news. I tore my ACL and meniscus and needed reconstructive surgery.


This was a lot for my 14 year old self to digest. I had less than a month left of middle school and was so looking forward to the summer, and most importantly, starting my freshman year of high school that fall. Surgery meant a six to nine month recovery, which would completely derail my life. I remember doing the math in my head and realizing I would miss my freshman season of high school soccer, something I had been dreaming about since forever. My goal was to make varsity my freshman year, but now I wasn't even going to have the chance. I had attended public schools my whole life and was leaving all of my friends behind to go to a private Catholic high school. I knew hardly anyone and didn't even have soccer to make new friends. I was spending countless hours at physical therapy, channeling all of my frustration into my recovery process. I was making significant progress, but not enough for me to be ready by soccer season.


I learned to accept this tragic reality and began to explore other aspects of my life. One of these aspects was music. I had been playing guitar, singing, writing songs, and even performing live at gigs for several years, but it was always something that came second. With all of my time off from soccer,I decided to dive into my music, think singer-songwriter, pop alternative, sort of like Taylor Swift. I recorded my first EP and released my music on a variety of music platforms. I began to explore a philanthropic side to my music, reaching out to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford and participating in their annual holiday workshop. I packaged up copies of my new EP to give as gifts to the hospital patients and establish a relationship with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital that I still have today. Nearly a year later, I was almost completely cleared for soccer and was able to run high school track. Track season revived my athletic spirit and allowed me to establish strong friendships.


By the end of the season, I was running varsity and was on the 4 x 400 relay team that made it to the section finals. That summer, I was back to playing soccer and things were finally looking up again. I had gotten my life back. Not only had I made a complete physical recovery, but my new found commitment and next level passion for music made my life more complete than it ever was before. Flash forward to July, 2018. It had now been over two years since I had torn my ACL and was in my prime. I was excelling in all areas of my life: soccer, music, school. I was getting ready to start my junior year, playing in tournaments every weekend, going to college soccer camps. At the end of July, there was a big college showcase called Silver Lakes in Los Angeles that my team was going to. I was so excited for this tournament I emailed 15 college coaches who would be there.


The first day of the tournament and the atmosphere was unlike anything I'd felt before. The sports complex seemed to stretch out for miles and miles and there were athlete fuel stations and merch stands everywhere. I felt so proud to be an athlete at such a prestigious venue. After a solid warmup with my team, I was ready to play. The whistle blew and I was off, letting my love for the game consume me. I had been in the game for all of five minutes when it happened once again. The unthinkable. I went in for a tackle with an opposing player who had possession of the ball. Her body slammed into mine at the wrong angle. And just like that, I heard a pop noise and fell to the ground.


I knew immediately what had just happened. It was all too familiar to me. I began crying hysterically, not because of the pain, but because I was in disbelief. How could this happen to me again? I was carried to the medic station where I was unofficially diagnosed with a torn ACL, but I already knew. The worst part was that I was six hours from home and was staying in a hotel. I left the sports complex with tears in my eyes, searing pain in my knee, and a broken heart. My family and I drove back the next day and I was left to face the tragic reality that comes with this injury once again. The second time around proved very difficult to maintain an optimistic attitude. The process of surgery and beginning rehab again was a physical strain, but also a mental one. Starting my junior year knowing I would miss out on so much right out of the gate made it hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel.


I would miss another high school soccer season. And because of the timing of my surgery, I would miss track season too. Physical therapy seemed like a chore. All I wanted was my old life back. Once again, I channeled all of my pent-up emotions into music. I was 17 now and my songwriting and musical capabilities were light years ahead of where they had been two years before I recorded my best songs and really, and released them in my second EP, 17, on all music platforms. I also continued my philanthropic work with Lucile Packard Children's hospital, writing a song for the hospital community that was used for fundraising and marketing purposes. In addition, I forged connections with organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Every 15 Minutes with a song that I wrote called Goodbye. I'm still working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to this day, helping to spread awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.


After almost a year, I was cleared to play soccer again. By this time, my mentality had completely changed. Soccer used to be my everything, and I had hoped to continue my athletic career in college. But after the mental and physical toll that my second injury took on me, I was able to put my life into perspective. I still continued to play soccer competitively throughout the summer and fall, and was even able to compete in my senior season of high school soccer. However, when the final whistle blew in my last high school soccer game, I knew it was time to hang up my cleats. I was sad, but mostly grateful. Soccer had brought me the best and worst times of my life, but these experiences all the same helped shape me into who I am today. While the soccer chapter of my life had come to an end, my music career was just beginning.


I've written countless songs in the last year, performed several gigs, and continued making a name for myself. Music is my home, my sanity, and my escape, and my passion for songwriting and performing grows stronger every day. My clashes certainly derailed my life, but they did so in the best way possible. If it weren't for my ACL injuries, I may have never had the time to take my passion for music to the next level. With that, I encourage everyone to embrace their clashes and look for opportunity in the face of adversity. Thank you.