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