by Steven Sanchez
The majority of us have dreams of traveling the world. There’s so much out there we want to see. So many different cultures, customs, beliefs, ways of life, food, the list goes on. Those dreams are usually dashed by the aesthetic that is “so little time” to do all the things we want to do and see. For adults, more often than not, it’s our obligations—mostly our jobs and careers—and the time we dedicate to those commitments that don’t make room to travel.
Another fantasy to add to that list is playing professional sports. Getting paid to play a sport. Can the activity you participated in as a kid can be a livelihood? Most people would respond with “where do I sign up?” We revere professional athletes, for reasons that are known and obvious, such as paydays that can number in the millions, endorsements, celebrity status, you name it. Even with all those extra added ingredients, the most intriguing aspect that outweighs all that is being able to tell people that you play a sport for a living. That your job description is throwing a ball, kicking a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball, being on a field or a court, no matter what the sport is. It’s very fortunate to have that, which represents only 1% of the human population.
Well for one such lucky athletic standout from Clovis, her business is her pleasure and her pleasure is her business as a traveling professional soccer player. That woman is Anisa Guajardo. The former Buchanan grad has lived quite the life and her resume proves that.
• Attended and played for Pepperdine University (2009-2013) Malibu, CA
• Drafted to Boston Breakers (2013) NWSL
• Heidelberg United (2014) Melbourne, Australia
• Melbourne City (2014 -2015) Melbourne, Australia
• Valur Football Club (2017) Reykjavik, Iceland
• Sundsvall FC (2018) Sundsvall, Sweden
• Pumas UNAM (2020) Mexico City, Mexico
• Pachuca (Present) Pachuca, Mexico
• Mexican National Team sub-17, sub-20
• Full team: Olympic Qualifiers: Vancouver, Canada (2012), Women’s World Cup Participant: Canada (2015)
Her positions were as a Forward, and Winger/Outside Midfield. My, my, my, that is one stellar background. Her passion for soccer started at the same time she was getting the travel bug as well.
While she was growing up, her family lived abroad in both Latin American and Caribbean countries, and soccer was played everywhere. She played it because everyone else did. It came naturally to her and she showed talent from a young age; her devotion to the game began. Her passion for soccer grew the more she kept up with it and after hearing her express her feelings about the game, you understand why she loves it so much. “Soccer has always been a way I could express myself. Having the ball at my feet makes me feel good, as if I can create whatever I want,” Anisa explains. “It is enticing to be part of plays that, with just a few quick movements, can turn into works of art. I try to make my own art passionate, creative, aggressive, and joyful. I always leave my heart and soul on the field, and when people watch me play, I feel they can understand me, who I am and what I care about, better than if I try to explain it.”
For her, the everlasting takeaway would be, “In a way, in the past, soccer became a definition of who I was and what I stood for.”
Her connection to the sport is indelible and it paints a perfect picture as to why she would continue to play, even if it’s not popular in America. In the USA, the sport isn’t held in the same regard as football, baseball, or basketball, but in other countries it is “the” sport. Not only does men’s soccer struggle for equal attention, it’s even harder for women’s soccer when it comes to viewership and pay. Unlike Mexico, where the fan support is astounding, and the fans are dedicated to not only their men’s teams, but also to their female counterparts. But for Anisa, she sees a bright spot in the future. “Soccer is the world’s game. With time, more children in the US will take an interest in soccer, and they will be dutifully followed by their parents. And as more time passes, those children will themselves turn into parents who will proceed to pass on their passion and knowledge of the game to their own children. The cycle will repeat itself, until soccer is competing amongst the giants, fighting for its right to be named ‘America’s Game.’”
Not only is she speaking from a player’s perspective, but also from a coach’s as well. She’s served the sport on the field and on the sidelines as a coach on different occasions; she has been the third assistant coach for Clovis Community College, volunteer assistant coach for Fresno State, head coach for Baird Middle School, and she spent a little while as an assistant coach for the Clovis Crossfire. Even though she has coached, she by no means sees herself as a coach. For her, agreeing to the role of coach serves a deeper meaning: it develops her appreciation for the sport as a player. “Spending my time with young players—middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college players—reminds me about the part of the game that is constantly lost on me while playing pro… the fun aspect, the ‘playing like a kid again’ aspect,” Anisa says. “In some ways, the opportunities to work with these teams prepares me better mentally and emotionally than anything else I’ve tried. Young players have so much courage and passion for the game, watching them go out there and just play inspires and grounds me.”
Going from a player to a coach is quite a transition, and if there’s anybody who knows a thing or two about transition it is Anisa. Traveling is in her blood. From a young age her family has moved to four different countries and traveled to countless others. That resilience served her well for every stint with every team she has played for. “Moving to a different country to play professional soccer, alone, away from everything I know, everything comfortable, definitely wasn’t easy, but I knew I could survive it. More than anything I learned to be adaptable and patient, all the while experiencing new cultures and ways of life,” says Anisa. Even though adaptability at times is a challenge for her, there’s always been one favorite thing of hers that assists with making the transitions less stressful. “My favorite experiences in Sweden, Iceland, Australia, Spain, Mexico, etc., always included being by the ocean and feeling that, even though I was somewhere far from home, I was always connected to it when I was by the water, since the sea touches every shoreline on every continent. Countries may be different, but the sea to me seems ever unchanging,” Anisa says excitedly.
Considering all the places she’s been and seen raises the inevitable question, which country is her favorite or the one that stands out the most? “Iceland, definitely. I have never experienced a country like it. It’s so unique and wildly beautiful in its own right. No other country compares. The landscape is amazing and you can literally feel the powerful energy of the island,” Anisa tells us. The other one that comes close is Mexico, because she has a personal connection to the country. “Coming to Mexico was such a natural transition for me, it felt in a way as if I was coming home. I have always been so enamored with Mexico, it being the birthplace of my father, and also having spent two years myself living in Guadalajara; I feel very at ease here,” she remarks.
But one thing that hasn’t been easy for her is seeing what has been happening in America for the last few years while she was overseas. I went to high school with the soccer phenom, and my memories of her were that she was reserved, to herself, and sociable. But her character was expressed best through her play on the field. Political awareness and information is something that I don’t recall Anisa ever talking about back then, but this past presidential administration awoke a social justice instinct in her that she felt was now the time to express.
When it comes to the livelihood and well-being of other human beings, she believes we all have an obligation to stand up against injustice and wrong-doing. “We should all do what we can to help the progress of equity and equality, and what I have as a make-shift soap box is an Instagram account,” says Anisa. “I use it in order to do what I can: spread knowledge and information to anyone willing to listen. And who knows, maybe someone with a much bigger platform can see my posts amongst many other similar posts and decide to make greater strides and create bigger changes.”
And honestly, she’s not too hung up on what other people, those close to her or the fanbase of the team she plays for, think about what she posts. She made a conscious decision when she first opened an Instagram account that she was going to be as genuine as possible, and the page is for her. If others choose to follow (or unfollow) her…then that is their prerogative.
She’s added herself to a list of professional athletes who have used their social platforms to speak out against injustices and fight for equality, like former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, NBA great Lebron James, and tennis champion Naomi Osaka. The list goes on. For Anisa, when she expresses herself it’s a reflection of what she believes. There’s no ulterior motive. When she feels comfortable enough to share a piece of her mind with others, she does it, and the reasons are completely her own. One might assume that her being a pro athlete with a platform, that she must take up the same mantel, but her athletic profession doesn’t serve as a reason as to why she’s decided to use her voice for change. “My social activism has nothing to do with me being an athlete. They are mutually exclusive. I speak out because I am human and like many other humans, I am repulsed by the oppression, discrimination, injustices and abuses inflicted upon my fellow humans residing within a system that seeks to diminish their rights and power,” Anisa told me.
There’s been an influx of pro athletes who are taking the steps to change the world for the better. One might assume that she’s buying into the same philosophy. But is that a reality? Can athletes change the world? According to her, that responsibility isn’t just limited to athletes. She thinks anyone can change the world. We may not all have the largest platform, but we all have the ability to help and love others. It’s these seemingly small acts that make the greatest difference. It’s a simple belief that she has held in the highest regard, and she has a quote from Mother Teresa to support that belief: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” It’s a motto that has stuck with her all her life. “This quote has helped me tremendously over the years when I feel so inadequately capable of making a difference in the world. It reminds me that maybe my only job is to love my neighbor, and that is enough. If everyone did that, we would have a much different world,” declares Anisa.
Because of all the traveling she’s done, she’s been exposed to so many ways of living in other countries that it seems like a different world from ours. She’s seen a plethora of cultures and customs. Some are the same, and some are different than America. From her view, she’s able to compare and contrast America’s standing when it comes to life and health. The way the country has been…it does need improvement. What is it that other countries do that America should adapt in order to make itself better? “There is a greater sense of communal living and understanding in other countries, especially in Europe. And the aspect held in highest esteem? Family,” Anisa says. “From Iceland, home to the most intricately interwoven, and carefully preserved family trees; to Sweden, where Friday evenings are strictly reserved for staying at home and enjoying family dinners. It struck a chord with me, witnessing the social dynamics in these countries and others, whilst comparing this with what I observed and experienced in the US.”
Travel the world…check. Accomplish everything she’s wanted from the game…well, her journey isn’t over yet. Before it was just about results, winning trophies, making the team, going to a D1 college, playing pro, play for a national team, play in a World Cup. And she has accomplished most of that. But she isn’t playing the game for materialistic things. She feels that the more humans chase things, that’s when happiness and content elude us. That’s why she decided a few years ago to chase fulfillment instead of things. She has moments where her eyes are on the prize, where her ego gets the best of her, but it’s something she’s working on in her journey. If anything, soccer is the tool that is chiseling her into the person she is meant to be. “I believe passions are assigned to us with the sole intention of shaping us, through adversity, into whole beings outside of said passion (in my case, soccer). I strive to build my character, my patience, my faith, my virtues and morals through the use of a modest yet powerful soccer ball,” Anisa says.
Let’s hope that she finds fulfillment from life and the game that she’s searching for, not matter what country she is in.