Justine Do is a difference maker on the soccer pitch but the Richmond teen's ambitions go well beyond the sidelines.
"My dream is to be involved with medicine, working in a lab or in the field," she said. "I want to find cures or do something like Doctors Without Borders where I can travel to villages and connect with people through soccer."
A few minutes with this articulate Grade 12 student at Hugh Boyd secondary student and it's easy to see why she is headed to one of the most prestigious schools in the world.
Do has combined her soccer talent and exceptional work in the classroom to earn a lucrative deal to attend Yale University. She is going to Connecticut in 2014 after talks with the Ivy League school began nearly two years ago.
Yale women's varsity head coach Rudy Meredith became interested in Do after watching her during a pre-event at Sportstown for the annual Western Canada Soccer Showcase. At the time, Do was a member of the provincial under-16 team.
"We weren't even allowed to play in the tournament but (Showcase founder) Ciara McCormack had arranged for a few us to go to Sportstown where a bunch of university coaches watched us play some indoor soccer," recalled Do.
The NCAA recruiting process meant Meredith could only have a casual discussion with Do's mom since she was still in Grade 10. However, a line of communication was established as her soccer career continued to flourish. She helped the Richmond Red Hot Selects complete a banner season by winning the provincial U16 championship, then accepted a spot in the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency program.
Do made an unofficial visit to Yale at the start of her Grade 11 year and immediately fell in love with the New Haven campus.
"I had basically made up my mind the first half hour I was there," she laughed. "It was just so inspiring seeing how everybody was, not just the soccer team. They are all there for the same purpose and that's to be happy and successful at what they want do in their life. I just loved the environment.
"The coaches are like a second father or an uncle to you. They have picked you to play for them not because you can score goals but genuinely because you are a good person that they want to develop as an athlete and a person."
Do described herself as a "bench warmer" during the early years of her soccer career before she began working with Clive Clarke at the U13 level. Clarke made her realize her potential on one of the most successful teams ever to come out of the Richmond Girls Soccer Association. Do was slotted in at fullback where she became a dynamic player, often jumping into the play as an extra dimension to the team's vaunted attack that featured current U20 national team member Summer Clarke.
"I can't think of a coach who has been more of a influence," said Do. "Clive is a good person, great coach and an even better mentor. He not just helps you grow as a soccer player but emphasizes what it means to be a true athlete and a person.
"It was so fun to play on that team. It's weird how it ended up being only 12 of us (on the roster). Our chemistry off the field reflected in the way we played."
Do would have liked to stay another year with the Red Hot Selects but she couldn't say no to the Whitecaps' offer that covers all her training expenses. It meant a huge commitment for herself, and her parents too, with nightly training sessions at least four times a week up at Burnaby Mountain.
This season, she has a car pool buddy as Summer Clarke has now joined the Residency Program before she heads off to Louisiana State University on a full-ride scholarship. The pair also have their driver's licenses, although their parents still must come for the ride.
"Summer and I are dangerous and adventurous," laughed Do of their skills behind the wheel. "We take our turns driving."
Do will graduate in June and her Whitecaps season will conclude in early August. She then wants some time to catch her breath before heading to Yale.
"Coach Rudy is really supportive of my decision and some don't get to make that choice," she said. "I would have been basically going right from the Whitecaps to school. I wanted some time to experience maybe working, traveling or volunteering.
"It's so easy to get caught up in the future but I also stress to myself it's so important to enjoy every moment you are going through."
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