Feb. 20, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rachel Melhado, a rising senior defender for the Louisville women's soccer team, spent six months travelling the world fulfilling her lifelong dream to represent her country and play on the women's soccer national team.
Melhado, a native of Brampton, Ont., Canada, was chosen to participate in a two-week training camp where 18 women would be chosen for the U-20 Canadian World Cup qualification team. This camp would send her to Costa Rica on the first stop of her six-month journey.
"This camp was held in Costa Rica where we practiced and trained twice a day in hopes of being a part of the 18 players who would then travel to Panama for the World Cup Qualifications Tournament," she said.
Two intense weeks of hard work paid off for Melhado, who was one of the 18 selected for the U-20 Canadian Women's World Cup qualifications tournament team.
"The feeling that I had overwhelmed me with excitement and I couldn't wait to tell my family back at home that I would be a part of the U-20 National team because I knew that they would be very proud of me and my accomplishments," she explained.
Melhado's second stop on her journey would send her to Panama where she would compete on the Canadian U-20 National team in order to qualify for the U-20 World Cup.
"Panama was an experience like no other," she said. "I was filled with excitement, joy and a lot of nerves. It was my first time playing an international event with the Canadian crest on my chest and I just wanted to make all those watching proud."
Melhado helped lead the Canadian National Team to a second place finish and earn a spot for the U-20 World Cup in Japan.
"The feeling of being able to be a part of something that means so much to me was one of the best feelings in the world; knowing I contributed to the success of this team," she said.
Though Melhado was an integral part of the U-20 Canadian qualifying squad, she had to prove herself once more during a series of three camps that would determine the final roster that would compete at the World Cup.
"Knowing that the team could possibly be different from the qualifications team made me very nervous because seven new girls were brought into this camp, all fighting for your position," Melhado explained.
The first of the three camps sent Melhado to Montreal, Canada where she trained and competed for six days, once again making the roster and continuing her training at the next camp. The second training camp had the players overlooking Lake Maggiore near the Swiss Alps in Italy.
"I had never been to Italy before and it is somewhere that I had always wanted to go," she said. "It is one of the most beautiful places I had ever been to. The view from my hotel was a view like no other, it was right on the water and when I looked out the window I had a beautiful view of Lake Maggiore with an amazing sight of the Swiss Alps in the background.
"We got to walk the streets of Italy whenever we had free time to ourselves. I will never forget the homemade gelato and amazing pizza from Italy, but most importantly I will never forget playing the game I love in one of the most beautiful countries in the world."
After eight days in Italy, the U-20 Canadian National team held their final training camp in Switzerland -- a three day camp that had the players training at the Olympic/Paralympics facilities.
After weeks of training, competing, and traveling across the world, Melhado waited anxiously with her teammates to hear who had made the U-20 Canadian National team. "I will never forget the looks on all the girls' faces when we woke up that morning, everyone looked anxious, excited, and scared all at the same time. It was not until 10 pm of that day did our head coach call us outside for a meeting about the team going to Japan."
After anxiously waiting, the entire team was selected as the final roster to represent Canada at the U-20 World Cup.
"All of our faces lit up because for a lot of us, this was our first encounter with the national team at a FIFA event, and for me that meant the world," said Melhado "The first thing I did when I got back to my room was call my mom and dad to tell them the good news and I knew that they were so proud of me. They had watched me follow my dream and work towards a goal of mine that they always knew I would achieve some day."
The team then travelled to Japan playing the host nation of Japan, Argentina and Norway in group play.
"I will never forget the nerves that I had running through my body as we stepped out on that field," she said. "They weren't bad nerves, but good nerves, excited nerves and once the Canadian national anthem began to play, it really hit me, more than ever before. The sense of pride and honor to represent my country at an international event was being fulfilled and for those two minutes of the anthem I remembered what got me to that moment and how once that whistle blows I have to leave it all on the field and play from the heart."
Canada would not make it out of group play in Japan with Melhado making an unfortunate error in a 2-1 loss to North Korea sending the Canadians home earlier than they hoped. And though her experience didn't end as she had planned, Melhado does not regret any of her journey that sent her to six different nations around the world.
"I had the best time of my life, playing the best sport in the world, and the game I love," she said. "It was a very bitter sweet moment for me because as much as I would have loved to continue in the World Cup with Canada, at the same time I was able to go back to the University of Louisville. I learned a lot over those long six months of training and preparing for one of the finest tournaments in the world and as hard as it was sometimes, and as much as at times I didn't think I could do it, I knew that this was who I was and who I have always wanted to be. I wouldn't change my experience for the world and I will continue to carry those memories with me for the rest of my life."