After the last game of the season, on senior night, CSU women’s soccer head coach Bill Hempen was asked what he will miss most about his graduating players.
“Their willingness to face adversity and basically keep going,” Hempen said. “It wasn’t a perfect world for them to live in from the start, and yet they made the best of it.”
For senior Megan Speed, Hempen’s words are all too true.
Speed’s road to CSU is different than most, and comes down to an unbreakable relationship with her mother.
In 2011, Speed – who is a graduate of Fort Collins High School – was named Rookie of the Year for the University of Northern Colorado women’s soccer team. Speed appeared in 13 matches for the Bears, starting in four of them.
A promising career at UNC looked to be a lock in Speed’s future. But instead of returning to Greeley and suiting up for her sophomore year, she took a year and a half break from soccer and returned home to Fort Collins.
Megan’s mom, Peggy, had been diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma. Suddenly, soccer didn’t seem so important. Megan needed to spend time with her mom.
“It happened so close to me leaving that I didn’t want to go in the first place,” Megan said. “But my mom had seen something I’ve been working for and she wasn’t going to let me give (soccer) up that easy. Throughout the semester, I’d go home every week and see her. I just felt like I wanted to be at home with her throughout her treatments. So it was really hard, we sat on the bed and cried about it, but in the end I feel (coming home) was the best decision I could’ve made.”
Megan had planned to return back to UNC after taking a semester off to care for her mom, but the more she stayed at home, the more her heart wouldn’t let her leave.
Soccer had taken a permanent backseat, until 2013 when Colorado State University announced that they were dropping water polo and adding women’s soccer as an NCAA affiliated sport. Once again, soccer took its role in Megan’s life. Playing in her own backyard for CSU under the tutelage of renowned women’s soccer coach Bill Hempen was a no brainer.
“I had been out of school for a lot longer than I had planned,” Megan said. “And it just seemed that I get the chance to play again, and stay at home with my mom, it was too good to be true. It was perfect.”
CSU fielding a team was not only a blessing for Megan, who got a second chance at the sport she loves, but also for her mom. Peggy became the first ever season ticket holder for the Rams, and she makes it to every game she can. Getting to see Megan play soccer again was never a guarantee after Peggy’s diagnosis, and that made every game so much sweeter for the entire Speed family.
“I didn’t know if (Megan) would just be done (with soccer),” Peggy said following Megan’s last game as a Ram. “For her to be able to play (at CSU), I can’t even begin to tell you what its done for our family, and for me. I would have felt so guilty if she had to give (soccer) up.”
The ride at Colorado State hasn’t always been the smoothest. With three years of Division-I play now under the Rams’ belt, the team has tallied only nine wins. In the same stretch of time, the UNC Bears have won 30 games.
But for Megan, coming home was never about winning. It was never about soccer. It has always been about family.
In Megan’s final year, the Rams went 3-15-2, and failed to get a win in conference play, going 0-10-1 in the Mountain West. For Megan, those are just numbers and nothing more. While of course she would have rather won all 57 games she played in during her Rams’ career, sharing the ride at CSU with her mom made it all worthwhile.
“It was better than any season I could’ve had somewhere else not with my mom,” Megan said. “We lost a lot of games, but my mom got to be there and I got to be with her at home all the time, through everything, even after the cancer. I would much rather be at home and with her than anywhere else.”
Being the youngest out of five children, and the only daughter, Megan had already developed a special relationship with her mom. Through Megan’s time at CSU and being back home, that relationship has only grown.
“I could probably move out if I wanted,” Megan said. “But there’s a reason I enjoy being home. We can get a little sick of each other, we are very similar so we can butt heads, but we have such a good relationship it doesn’t affect anything.”
Peggy wouldn’t have had it any other way either.
“I didn’t know cancer was going to be my next road,” Peggy said in a shaky voice and with watery eyes after her daughter’s last game. “It was hard losing Megan, and then to know that I had (my diagnosis), which so many people have to overcome things so I hate to be a baby about it, but it’s a life changer. I don’t ever want to let Megan go, that’s probably the hardest thing. I have so enjoyed having her just be home and having her with the family.”
When Megan decided to transfer from UNC, nothing was guaranteed. It was uncertain if she would ever play soccer at the collegiate level again, and if Peggy would ever get to watch her daughter from the sidelines.
Three years since her move back home, Megan has finished her collegiate soccer career at Colorado State and Peggy has been by her side for the whole ride.
There are still good and bad days, but Peggy is currently free of cancer.
“It has been the most fun road ever,” Peggy said. “I could’ve never dreamt it. If I had to do cancer all over again, for this, I’d do it in a second.”
Collegian Soccer Reporter Chad Deutschman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ChadDeutschman.