World Cup soccer player considers giving it all up to become a doctor

Growing up, I knew very little about women’s soccer. It was not broadly accepted as a professional sport yet. While I loved the game, I did not envision a future playing soccer professionally. For years, I aspired to study medicine, but the only college my family could afford offered no med program. I didn’t want to do anything else, so I took a job as a waitress at a local grill to make ends meet.

  • 12 months ago
  • June 11, 2023
8 min read
Miriam currently plays for the women's Argentine National Soccer Team. As she faces her second World Cup, she stand ready to give up the game to become a doctor. | Photo courtesy of Miriam Mayorga
Miriam Mayorga, 33, grew up in San Carlos de Bariloche, in the province of Río Negro. As a teen, she played for the Mutisias and Luna Park soccer clubs. In 2012, she joined UAI Urquiza, one of the top women’s soccer clubs in Argentina. While playing for the club, she studied medicine at the Universidad Abierta Interamericana. In 2017, she joined the Argentine National Team, playing in two editions of the Copa América and in the World Cup in France in 2019. She is currently preparing for the the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, set to take place between July and August of this year. She passed all of her coursework to become a doctor and anticipates leaving soccer for medical practice after the next World Cup games.
The Argentine Soccer Association, the governing institution for soccer in the country, began to officially organize women’s tournaments in 1991. At that time, only eight teams participated in the championship. Historically, the playing and training conditions were below the essential minimums, and it was the players themselves who sustained the activity, allowing its development and growth. It was not until 2020, for the first time in history, that many female soccer players began to receive a salary for their work.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Growing up, I always felt conflicted. My love for soccer matched my passion for medicine, but my family could not afford to put me through school. With limited options, I feared I would never live out my dreams. 

Today, I am months away from playing in my second World Cup, which will surely be the last in my career. After that, I will finally go into medicine. I am the first college graduate in my family, and a professional soccer player. This journey still feels surreal to me.

Read more stories related to soccer at Orato World Media 

Discovering my love for soccer came naturally 

As a kid, my father bought soccer equipment for my brother to encourage him to play, but he was never interested. I, on the other hand, borrowed his things to play soccer with my cousins and friends whenever I could. When the school day ended, we gathered in the neighborhood and spent the entire rest of the day playing. Sometimes we ventured far from home.

Competing against other groups in the neighborhood, we played games in the middle of the street. At a nearby sports center with a small cement field, we organized tournaments. I loved playing without holding anything back. As long as I followed my parents’ schedule and did well in school, they gave me the freedom to go.

For a long time, I was the only girl playing with all boys. Then, one day, another girl showed up and she introduced me to the Mutisias Club. No longer playing on the streets with my friends, I felt a little lost at first. This team was serious as they took on organized play. From the ages of 10 to 15, I attended every single game, and it felt thrilling. Adrenaline pumped through my veins every time we stepped on the field.

An unexpected meeting with Diego Guaci propelled me towards a serious soccer career

Growing up, I knew very little about women’s soccer. It was not broadly accepted as a professional sport yet. While I loved the game, I did not envision a future playing soccer professionally. For years, I aspired to study medicine, but the only college my family could afford offered no med program. I didn’t want to do anything else, so I took a job as a waitress at a local grill to make ends meet.

I worked at the grill for six years, earning a decent income, but eventually sought employment that gave me weekends off so I could play in soccer tournaments. Once my involvement with the team grew, I often found myself alone at training sessions. My teammates had busy lives outside of soccer, working and taking care of their children. It was okay; I liked training by myself. It cleared my head and allowed me to plan out my future, little by little. Then, one day, at 22-years-old, everything changed.

A photograph of Miriam with professional soccer player Lionel Messi. | Photo courtesy of Miriam Mayorga

My team and I competed in a tournament at Luna Park, fighting all the way to the finals. In the very last game, we emerged victorious. When the buzzer sounded, my teammates and I ran to one another and embraced, our joy overflowing. Throughout the game, a very important spectator sat in the crowd: Diego Guacci, soccer coach for Club Deportivo UAI-Urquiza. [UAI-Urquiza is a long-established and well-known soccer club in Argentina which serves as a main source of players for Argentina’s women’s national team. It is affiliated with the Universidad Abierta Interamericana or UAI.]

When Guacci witnessed my performance, he walked over and extended an invitation to me, to join the UAI-Urquiza women’s team. I could not believe it. I stood there, staring at him in disbelief. Accepting his offer meant that I would relocate to Buenos Aires and completely change my entire life. Listening to Guacci speak so highly of me – expressing words of praise I never expected to hear – I knew, I had to accept his offer. 

Taking a bold step forward into a new path  

When my mother found out about the proposal and learned of UAI-Urquiza’s affiliation with a university, excitement radiated off her. Now I could finally pursue my studies. No one in our family ever attended college before. In fact, neither my mother nor father completed primary school. Despite not having a full education themselves, they understood its importance and raised us to comprehend the connection between education and personal advancement in life. Still, I never imagined having an opportunity like this. Though fear and doubt crept in, my family’s support propelled me forward.

At the age of 22, Miriam and her team, Luna Park, competed in a soccer tournament and won.| Photo courtesy of Miriam Mayorga

Although I had saved a little money of my own, the president of my soccer club insisted on organizing a food sale to raise funds for my trip to Buenos Aires. When I climbed on the bus for the twenty-five hour ride across Argentina, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. Adapting to a bustling city proved difficult. I learned how to navigate public transportation and adjust to the considerable distances between the university, our training facility, my apartment, and work. Balancing my job, studies, and training left little room for rest. I felt myself always racing against the clock and holding stress; but I stayed on top of everything.

With my medicine degree finally in hand, I received life-changing news

In March 2019, I finished all my classes for my medical degree but still faced one final round of examinations. I felt incredibly nervous balancing a very tight schedule which left little time to study in the way I wanted. My anxiety worsened as the day drew near. As I set off for my exams, I tried to breathe and focus. Inside the exam room, I did my best to address all of the clinical cases they presented. When I finished, they asked me step outside and wait. My heart pounded out of my chest, surrounded by fellow students.

Finally, the instructors stepped out of the room. When they spoke the words, “You passed; you will officially be a doctor,” my classmates and I embraced one another in celebration. I quickly sent a message to my family’s WhatsApp group. From the day I began my medical program, my teammates started calling me “Doc.” On that day, I finally felt like I earned my nickname. It marked a significant milestone in my life, but soon after, an unexpected message would interrupt my plan. I got called to join the Argentine national soccer team.

A surge of emotion overtook me when I spotted the message, but I waited until I arrived home to read it entirely. When I shared the news with my family, my mom cried with happiness. Being a part of the National Team altered all my plans. I quickly competed in the Copa América, and found myself among an elite group vying for a spot in the World Cup in France. In that moment, I prioritized soccer and put my medical career on hold. I knew I needed to savor that moment.

Planning for the biggest game in my career and saying goodbye to soccer

I stepped into the iconic stadium, home to the Paris Saint-Germain team. Donning my Argentine jersey for a World Cup match felt surreal. As we sang our national anthem, I gazed at the stands of people and an overwhelming pride came over me. We knew we were making history in women’s soccer but did our best to focus solely on the game. Up until then, women’s soccer lacked a following but our efforts connected many more people to the sport.

Back in Argentina, we felt a palpable change. In the past, mostly family and friends watched us play. Now, strangers shared anecdotes about matches. Electrical appliance stores played our games on every television screen, and spectators around the world knew our names. The recognition magnified our motivation to keep going. I distinctly remember seeing the impact of our visibility on young girls. They began joining clubs and coming with their parents to games.

I felt a tenderness and joy seeing them. As a young girl, I had no role model to follow. I did not see a viable path in professional women’s soccer. Looking back, it feels like a whirlwind, unfolding faster than I ever imagined. While I believe this next World Cup will be my last, I will always cherish my time on the field. These amazing memories will accompany me, as I finally start my journey working as a doctor.

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