A faithful champion at heart, she is forged in fire.
The kind of person you want by your side when your back is against the wall. This force of nature exists in the cute and compact form of a 5’4’’ spitfire, 60kg of fast-twitch muscle, heart, and grit.
It’s an early Saturday morning in September of 2015. At 9:57am EST I received a short string of texts from a friend:
“Need to talk to you.
Need your help.
Sounds a bit crazy, but I have a goal
I want to make the 2016 Olympics
I have nine months to prepare…”
Less than a year later, I watched this former teammate and mentor step out on the world’s biggest stage: the 2016 Olympic games.
“Aline’s own story was remarkable. As the goalkeeper coach for UCLA’s women’s team and a former standout player at Central Florida, she had watched Brazil on television in last year’s World Cup and decided to try one last attempt at making the national team for the Olympics. And she did it, beating out last year’s World Cup starter, Luciana, for the backup spot in goal.”
Despite a heartbreaking result, Brazil WNT has still come out on top: gold-worthy in their nation’s eyes. Never before have we seen such a deep bench of talent, let alone such passionate fan support for women’s soccer in Brazil.
In response to Wahl’s article, our former head coach at Central Florida and current head coach at UCLA, Amanda Cromwell, had this to say about Aline:
“Aline’s own story hasn't really been told but everyone should know this: her drive, determination and passion are unparalleled. Aline is every coach's dream player and every player's dream teammate!"
It’s true: she is a dream player and teammate. If you’re among the lucky few to have had Aline as a teammate, you’re smiling as you read these words because you know exactly what they mean. Aline loves the game so much that when you’re around her you cannot help but fall in love with it too. Her passion is contagious. Her hugs are like medicine. Her spiritual and compassionate perspective of the world can spark a motivational fire in even the iciest and most cynical of hearts.
Her passion and tenacity sometimes appears as staunch obstinacy, like the time she taught herself how to snowboard. In deep Colorado powder she stood up on a skinny rental board for the first time, granting zero help from a professional instructor or her more experienced friends. The first hour was painful to watch: there was a lot of face planting in the snow. We surrendered to not coaching her, yet the sight of it had us all in stitches. Of course she got the hang of it eventually, and I hadn’t laughed that hard all winter.
The instant I read Coach Cromwell’s words, it struck me how few people have gotten to hear about Aline’s journey. As a former college player and now a coach myself, I have gained a deeper understanding of what it takes for these athletes to make it at the top level. “Quitting” is dropped from the lexicon. Olympians go after it with all that they have. If you want to be better than average, you have to be willing to sacrifice, to go above and beyond the call. You have to be willing to follow through on what you committed to, even when you don't feel like it. You find a way. It’s a bittersweet reality that athletes can spend years— four years or more to be exact—of methodical training for their sport and still fail to make the cut.
Aline did it in 9 months.
Many elite athletes have sponsored support, and 24/7 access to trainers and coaches, who handle every little factor of preparation for them: daily nutrition, body composition, strength training, technical training, recovery, and their athletes’ mental game.
Aline had to be her own coach for the bulk of those 9 months.
Some top players have coaches that recognize their potential and tirelessly advocate on their behalf.
Aline was once told by national team coaches she was too short, not necessarily the right fit.
By September her mind was made up. She had something special to offer the national team and believed they would embrace her when the time was right. This athlete sought out the experts she knew, tapped into the resources at UCLA, asked for help, and took matters in her own hands. I have rarely come across a player so willing to make the type of sacrifices necessary and commit the way Aline did. It doesn’t mean jack if you have a full time job: training for the Olympics becomes your job, or you’re fooling yourself. You punch in every day for conditioning, technical sessions, weight room, practice, and then repeat. Consistency rules all. It means tracking biometrics, educating yourself on nutrition, and journaling all of it. Day in and day out, week by week, she did her best to stick to her plan. She embraced the process as its own reward: she inched closer and closer to her vision by tackling strategic short-term training goals.
Aline pursued this while juggling insane hours, starting her own business in order to make a living, and traveling constantly on the road for UCLA games and recruiting. All the while, she faced some very human struggles of the heart and mind. Olympians wrestle with the same mental and physical stressors as the rest of us: fatigue, anxiety, and self- confidence. There's a misperception that once you get to the top level, you should have it all together. Olympians are human beings who navigate all the same internal conflicts and distractions as the rest of society, and under far more intense pressure.
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”
– Jacob August Riis
As we stayed in touch throughout Aline’s journey, it began to resemble the classic running gag of Wiley E. Coyote cartoons: where ACME anvils fell out of the sky and plans fell apart at the worst possible time. Obstacle after obstacle was hurled onto her path. To begin with, her lease in California was scheduled to end before her return to Brazil, so let’s kick things off with a huge uprooting. There was a car accident that resulted in having to ride a bike to get around anywhere. She almost got a front tooth knocked out at practice, and then an ominous ankle injury. The MRIs to follow would reveal that Aline would need to be out for approximately five weeks to heal.
Sidelined from injury while in season with the Guerreiras Grenás, the pressure was already on for Aline to return as the starter for one of the most anticipated games of the season. Two days before the match, a serious illness struck and nearly ruined her chances to finish the season and make the national team camp at all. At the time, no one knew if it was a stomach virus, food poisoning, or most distressing: Dengue fever. Determined to continue training, Aline attended that Monday’s practice regardless. As her symptoms deteriorated further, she was forced to leave for the hospital halfway through. Courses of intravenous treatment and fluids helped enough to allow her to return home that night. Unable to eat or drink without gastroenteritis for over 48 hours, she slept when she could and struggled to retain the last dregs of her energy for Wednesday’s game. Buoyed by meds administered only hours prior to the starting whistle and a pack of BeetElite electrolytes in her system, Aline stayed on her feet. Yet the stakes rose higher: she had to perform her best that night, vertigo and pain be damned. The National Team’s coaches would be present and all eyes were on Aline. Her roster spot for the Olympic team was not yet guaranteed, and each play counted.
Stepping up is an important concept: it means to rise above yourself. Aline stepped up that night, knowledge of her physical state hidden from everyone but her own team. The strength of their keeper acting as an anchor, the girls fought hard to a 1-1 draw. Young athletes take note: rarely do we get to witness the kind of mental and physical stamina Aline displayed that night.
Not a single hurdle could deter her. Discipline is remembering what she wants. Aline would build the dream brick by brick: morning, noon, and night. Accomplishment is hundreds of hammer strikes, blow by blow, to chip away at the outer marble in order to reveal the masterpiece sculpture within. Anyone who has ever learned to play music, hit a record lift, or finally completed a marathon knows that repetition expecting a different result isn’t always insanity; sometimes it is just the way of growth.
Why would Aline make this decision? Why would she put herself through it? It seems crazy.
“The trouble with you is that you think you have time. We don’t know how much time we have. What would it be like to live with the knowledge that this may be our last year, our last week, and our last day? In light of this question, we can instead choose a path with heart.”
“…A path with heart.” Such is Aline’s choice to return to the beautiful game, to have listened to that quiet voice calling out: “You’re not done yet,” and to answer the call.
She is a pioneer of her own making. Beginning from her earliest days growing up on the playing fields of Campinas, to her standout college years— persevering through career-threatening injuries—and eventually earning her place atop the UCF record books. She’s gone from starting a business and mentoring countless young players and coaches, to Olympic adventures on sport’s biggest stage. And here’s the thing about self-made pioneers: they have to try harder than everyone else. When you’re one of the first at something, the spotlight is always on. It seems that proving yourself never stops. Aline has not only proved herself, but she and the rest of team Brazil have inspired several generations of players while doing so.
As an American soccer fan, if you ever get the chance to watch a Brazil match with Brazilians, I highly recommend it. Passions rise, the rapid-fire Portuguese chatter grows exceedingly louder with each play, and hilarity ensues. I remember one afternoon in mid June of 2015, watching Brazil on TV during the group stage match of the World Cup. Life was good in Marina del Rey: three friends all lounged on the couch, glasses of wine in hand, munching on organic chips and Sabra hummus. Aline’s phone continually buzzed from an endless stream of texts about the game. I teased her about how she should be in goal for Brazil instead of hanging out with us. She smirked but remained stoic on the subject. I had come to expect that kind of quiet humility from her. At the time, her instincts were revving up. The more she quieted her mind, the familiar tap-tap-tap of her intuition grew ever louder: urging that her playing career was not complete. In spite of her fears, she had to decide if her dream would become her reality. I am so glad she believed!
“Let’s teach our children about wings and roots. Imagine if every child grew up understanding that they will have wings to fly in search of their purpose and dreams, while also having certainty that their roots will always be there to comfort and love them even in the face of failure.”
Cheers to you Aline. Thank you for teaching us how to honor our calling and chase our dreams.
Author: Caroline Carter Bond
We all fear.
For millions of years, fear has been a survival mechanism for humans; most of us have probably studied about this at school at some point. But there’s another side to the coin that we are not being taught: humans are wired to be brave. Strength, courage, and persistence are innate of our beings.
While in some situations fear help us survive, it can also keep us from living the life we've imagined. Sometimes the best thing for you, might be on the other side of fear. Here’s my favorite definition of courage: “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of it”.
So the moment I decided to put my cleats and gloves back on, there I was once again, fighting the fears, the doubts, the uncertainties and choosing to let courage be my guide. I had one very defined goal in mind: do everything I possibly could to make the 2016 Olympics.
When the goal was set and the decision to go back home was made, I wasn’t sure if that was the right time to make that move. I didn’t even have a plan of how I was going to get where I wanted to be. But in my 27 years of life, I’ve come to understand (both from experience and from observing) that time is never perfect. If we wait until we feel ready, wait until the time is “right”, that time may never come. When we believe and decide on something, any time is right! Overthinking most often holds you back, paralyzes you in the face of choosing to step out of your comfort zone.
I can honestly tell you that the best decisions in my life came from a risk I decided to take. Many of my blessings started to take form from an initial leap of faith. Life is unpredictable. Not seldom, we find out that even the safest roads, the planned paths, can and will surprise us, many times imposing adversities we didn’t foreseen. So if life’s unpredictability is inevitable, we might as well chose the path that speaks to our hearts.
The decisions I made when I was able to quiet the mind and start listening to my intuition changed my life - for the better. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of them, but walking side by side with my fear was an inexplicable certainty that everything would somehow fall into place. I can truly say that this courage and certainty comes from the firm belief that risks and decisions are worth it as long as they are aligned with our values, principles and purpose in life.
Doing things with good intentions and making decisions without compromising my values aren't the only things that bring me security to step into the unknown. Knowing that I have a family who supports me and a mother who always encourages me to follow my dreams is the most comforting thing in the world. The certainty that I will still be loved even if I fail, gives me incredible strength and motivation to strive for better things.
So let’s teach our children about wings and roots. Imagine if every child grew up understanding that they will have wings to fly in search of their purpose and dreams, yet having the certainty that their roots will always be there to comfort and love them even in the face of failure.
My faith and my loved ones are the foundation of my courage, strength and motivation. The first and every single step of my “Road to Rio” has been filled with the certainty that at the end, this journey will be worth it and that I will be loved and supported by my loved ones, regardless of the outcome.
I am Brazilian. I love the beautiful game. It runs in my blood, it fuels my soul.
Right when I started college, I discovered a deep desire to not only play football, but to share it with the world. Football is like an universal language which all of us speak, whether you know that already or not. A fascination for coaching started to burn inside of me. Doing it felt good, it felt rewarding, it brought me contentment. I began coaching during my freshman year of college, when I was a student-athlete at the University of Central Florida; and I haven't stopped since then. I knew coaching was the right profession for me, one in which I could do it in a purposeful way.
I was blessed with a successful career in college. Once I was done, I had the opportunity to play a professional season abroad (Finland), which was an amazing experience. There, I was able to continue my coaching, working with the youth goalkeepers from the club I played for. When I returned from Europe, my desire to stay in America was enormous (I love this country!), but that would mean discarding the possibility of playing pro, since there wasn't a Women’s Pro League at that time. Without hesitation, I noticed I had one clear thing in mind: I wanted to stay in college athletics and continue my education. Greatly because of important mentors in my life, I was starting to realize that I was quite good at coaching. So I set goals… I wanted to become a bad ass coach.
The first step for that was working under a competent staff, and surrounding myself with people who were what I wanted to become. So I stayed at UCF, to work under one of the top coaches in the country, Amanda Cromwell, and her talented staff.
My coaching career happened pretty fast. In the blink of an eye, I had my tiny car packed all the way up, traveling cross-country, on the way to Los Angeles, California, with a mission in hands: coach the UCLA goalkeepers, some of the best ones in the nation. I was so happy! I felt ready, I felt excited! Before I knew it, I finished the season as a National Champion! (How awesome!?). The 2013 season was unforgettable. I saw the best football ever played in college soccer and worked with highly talented and dedicated athletes.
Oh well, life was good… I worked at one of the best intuitions in the world, loved my co-workers, loved the team and had the lifestyle I always dreamed of. Life was pretty awesome and I felt pretty content with where I was………........................................................................................until the Women's World Cup came around.
Every game I watched made me miss playing the sport that’s ingrained in my soul, the passion that’s in my blood. Comments like “you should be in goal for Brazil”, “what are you doing here? why aren't you playing for your national team?”, “you should be the starting goalkeeper”, from not only friends and family, but especially, from soccer minds who had seen me in action and followed my playing career. Every one of those comments kept adding more wood to the fire in my heart. I started feeling unquiet. I was happy and grateful for where I was; but part of me kept nagging, kept showing me something was still undone. My playing years weren't over and I had finally accepted that.
It was time to listen to my own advices, the advices I always gave every athlete I ever coached: “dream big”, “don't settle for less, don't get complacent”, “set the bar high and go after it”, “chose to live an extraordinary life”… I started to feel hypocritical, like someone who wasn't walking the talk. So I decided to, once again in my life, step into the unknown. It was time get out of my comfort zone and chase the dream again!
So let the “Road to Rio” begin…