Athlete of the Issue: Natalie Pontikes

By Eleanor Pontikes 13052503_1388602391166077_1615730808_o Natalie wasn’t always the fearless athlete she is today. 12 years ago, she was struggling to score, or even get a foot on the ball in her AYSO soccer games by the Chicago lakefront. So, our parents did what any parent would do to help their daughter beat all the other kids forced to play recreational soccer to the ball. It was no easy task. She had to score her first goal, and then she would be able to get the guinea pig that she longed for. In typical Natalie fashionalthough she wasn’t always the goal scorer, she always had the goal-getter mentalityshe scored not one goal, but two! And two guinea pigs (RIP Basil and Clover), one PCL torn, and the legendary hat trick against Parker later, Natalie became a three sport captain for soccer, ice hockey, and field hockey in her senior year. To say that this compensated for all the adversity she faced in previous years would be an understatement. After AYSO, Natalie entered the world of travel soccera cruel comparison to the sportsmanship and snacks of AYSO. Like the name implies, weekends were cut short with the driving to random suburbs, so social events were attended an hour late and sleeping in was an unknown concept. Then there were the coaches. “I’ve had coaches that screamed and swore at me, told me to stop being stupid, told me I wasn’t trying hard enough, told me I wasn’t as good as I used to be, and told me I wasn’t starter material.” Thankfully, middle school provided new sports and coaches, filling the negative void of travel soccer. Natalie played field hockey and soccer in middle school, and even dabbled in basketball her 8th grade year. This desire for new experiences showed yet again as Natalie signed up to play ice hockey her freshman year. With some minor experience in skating from figure skating camps as a young child, she jumped into this new sport with only knowledge of positioning and her athleticism. Our parents were terrified of this fast and seemingly dangerous support but made the drive to Johnny’s IceHouse every week anyway. Their fears became a reality when Natalie missed a week of midterms her sophomore year due to a concussion and six months of hockey and soccer during her junior year because of a torn PCL ligament in her knee. The hardest part of missing these seasons was not only the absence of playing, but watching both teams make it to the final game in the state tournament where the hockey team won state and the soccer team lost in a brutal final game. Natalie reflects on that time, saying, ”Knowing when to push through an injury and when to take it easy is really tough. My serious knee injury was awful, but in the end I did come back much stronger, physically and mentally.” This attitude helped her jump back into sports her senior year. After her injury, Natalie was more dedicated and committed to sports than ever before. She was frustrated with some of her teammate’s lack of desire for playing their respective sport. “One of the hardest things is being on a team where you care about the sport way more than the rest of the team. Being inspiring and leading by example got me through that.” This leadership is what has helped Natalie excel across different sports. Like many already know, Natalie is inspired by athletes such as Ronda Rousey and the great movie Miracle, which documents the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to win gold. These inspirations and influential coaches have helped Natalie become the person and athlete she is today. Despite the negative coaches, “I’ve also had unbelievable coaches that knew when to ask more from me, and when I was giving them everything I had.” It’s cheesy, I know, but I am so lucky to have a sister like Natalie to get inspired by and play next to on the soccer field. But it sure is a tough act to follow!! Come support Natalie and girl’s soccer this spring (schedule on Romanet). Yeah. Pass, shoot, score. Pass, shoot… And score.]]>