One eternity ago, or just yesterday (depending on how sentimental I’m feeling), I stepped off a plane in Stockholm and got in a grey Opel van driven by a charismatic grey haired man named Olle. There was snow everywhere and falling from the sky. The highway barely looked plowed, but we flew down it so fast that I found myself gripping the door handle. One windshield wiper just stopped wiping halfway into the trip and Olle pulled over into the snow bank to fix it, while cars and trucks whizzed past. I remember thinking how unfortunate it would be to have flown all that way just to be killed on the side of the road.
We survived though, and three hours later we made it to Borlange. Olle bought my roommates and I sandwiches at the gas station (totally normal in Sweden) and dropped us off in our apartment where I promptly passed out and woke up in a puddle of my own drool with no idea where I was. It was nearly pitch black outside, and my phone read 4 pm.
Olle was back and banging on our apartment door. Once we’d all put our pants back on and thrown on a few jackets, he drove us over to the team locker room where we tried on training gear and I sat on a portion of bench underneath a basket labeled “1” that would become mine. We tried on uniforms, and I drank a shot of gasoline that Olle called coffee. We also walked (across a vast sheet of ice) to the indoor facility, which I immediately fell in love with. It was big and warm and had a concrete wall running the entire length. I knew in an instant that that wall and I would become BFFs (which we later did).
Afterwards, Olle took us to a giant supermarket. He prompted us down the aisles, and ended up doing most of the shopping for us as we stood jetlagged and examining the labels of things we had no idea how to read. On the way out we met our first Swedish teammate, Salle.
It all seemed very foreign at the time. Things were smaller (the milk cartons, the cars, the people). There was the hum of a different language in the locker room. The girls were so technical and the game was quick, but in a different way. There were names to learn and games to win, and the team had been stripped down to the bare bones in the offseason, so we all kind of settled in together in a way.
Looking back on that first day, so many things changed. We won. A lot. And things change when you start to win. We got new players, a new field, a stadium. We got WiFi on our bus. We got a new briefcase for the medical kit, and Fika after every training. Our coach came on full-time and we had extra training in the mornings. We got fans. Like a lot of them. Enough to fill our new stadium and then some.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream and Kex bars and Cokes after every game. We lost some games. I almost lost my sanity a few times. We defended a lot my second year, accumulated a lot of yellow cards, and got some results on sheer will. I broke a couple of ribs, spent three days in the hospital with a catheter, lying completely flat hoping my kidney would stop bleeding on its own. I also had thumb surgery between seasons. One of the best 1v1 defenders I’ve ever played with (and an A+ human being) tore her ACL. We had the usual team issues – and frankly some not so usual team issues. Two years is a long time, especially when you’re on a bus with the same people for like half of it.
Leaving was hard. I felt woven into the club, removing myself was like pulling up stitches. But as far as we’d come, we were still a small team from a small town, and the club was looking to cut the budget and give younger players a chance.
I’d always known I’d have to leave at some point. But that’s the strange thing about playing overseas. You end up giving so much of yourself to places and people, knowing that you may never go back. You arrive somewhere as one person, and you leave two years later as another. So it literally feels like you’ve left one version of yourself behind.
I’ve often gotten a deep sense of nostalgia for Borlange just like many of us have for college, or the town we grew up in. Life goes on. We move away. We move on. I moved to Iceland. I took a tour of the NWSL.
And then Olle called me. One day, out of the blue. Just as I was being released from Portland.
When the girls on the team found out that I was coming back, one of them snap-chatted me “Welcome home.” And I have to say, if you’d told me 3 and half year ago, while we were flying along the snow covered Swedish highway to what I feared might be a premature death, that someone I hadn’t even met yet would call Borlange my home and welcome me back to it, I’d have said you were crazy. But as it happened, it felt totally normal.