For Loyola University Chicago women's soccer player Ana Claudia Michelini, soccer has always been a part of her life. Growing up with a majority of her family living in Brazil, the sport has played a significant role in cultivating her experiences. But it was when Ana first decided to play soccer that she was forced to confront a long-standing tradition. "Futebol" is a man's sport.
Brazil boasts a men's national team renowned for its winning tradition throughout the world. With five World Cup titles, two Olympic silver medals and five Copa América championships there is reason to celebrate.
Women's soccer is a different story. It was only 33 years ago that a national ban was lifted allowing women to play soccer for the first time since 1941. Since then, it has been an uphill battle as players such as Marta Vieira da Silva work to change tradition and culture.
"In Brazil there are very few women who play soccer," said Michelini. "It actually took me awhile to convince my parents to let me play. My dad always considered it a man's sport so he signed me up for every other sport to get me away from it. Finally, when I was eight I had badgered him enough that he signed me up to play. Now, I can honestly say he's my biggest fan."
Born in Ames, Iowa, Michelini and her family moved to Brazil for five years, returning to the United States when she was six years old. After convincing her parents to let her play soccer, Michelini immediately took to the sport, playing for the West Des Moines Xtreme and Ankeny Attack, and collectively earning four state cup championships with the club teams.
Continuing to build her soccer resumé, Michelini played for the Ames High School women's team and by the time graduation arrived, she had committed to Loyola.
Three years later, Michelini enters her final season as a Rambler. She has much to be proud of over her collegiate career, appearing in 57 matches, scoring four game-winning goals and leading the team in 2011 with five goals.
The player is quick to attribute her success to the support of her family, who she has visited every summer since playing for the Loyola soccer team. Making the trip to Brazil after her freshman year, Michelini spent the summer enjoying time with her family, but heading back after her sophomore and junior years, she returned for work experience.
Hoping to gain some insight and background as a marketing major, Michelini interned for two summers at Agrocete Indústria De Fertilizantes Ltda., a South American agriculture company.
"I had the opportunity to work in the marketing department at Agrocete," said Michelini. "It's a family owned company, so the department only consisted of me and two other people, which was nice. With it being so small, I got to do everything from helping with ideas for product design to proofreading releases."
Of course, returning to Brazil could not keep Michelini from the sport she loves. Even as the common perceptions of soccer undergo change in the country, Michelini has had no trouble proving herself on the field. She recalls fondly the first time she played a pick-up game with her boss and his friends.
"We used to play what's called Swedish football, or 7 v. 7," said Michelini. "I always played with guys and the first time I went out there my boss' friends were like `Oh who's this girl? She doesn't know anything about soccer.' So my boss had to explain to them that I played for a college team."
Michelini pauses for a moment during the story, a smile spreading across her face.
"I ended up scoring like three goals that game," she laughs. "They kept quiet afterwards."
Now with experience on her side and memories to last a lifetime, Michelini plays her final season at Loyola, hoping for nothing short of success. Both for herself and for the team.
"I would love to win the Horizon League Championship, and I feel like this year is our year," said Michelini. "If we can sort out the little problems that we're having right now, we'll have a really good team. It's still the beginning of the season, but I think we'll get into a routine and build good habits. It's going to be our year."