SOUTH SURREY â€” It was Nicole Setterlund’s dream to play soccer professionally, but that dream has come to an unfortunate end.
She has had soccer coursing through her veins for 17 years, ever since she started with the Semiahmoo Rascals at age five. Now the 22-year-old defender/midfielder has hung up her cleats due to ongoing concussion issues, just weeks after being drafted to the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
For Setterlund – who grew up on the border of South Surrey and White Rock – the sidelining injury came out of the blue, despite having a history of head injuries stemming from high school.
"It was sudden for me because I didn’t realize that it was a reality," she told the Now. "You never think as an athlete going into each game that this could be your last game."
Based on her on-field accomplishments, the Semiahmoo Secondary grad was seemingly destined to go pro: She competed in the Canada Summer Games, led the Canadian U-17 Women’s team to gold at the CONCACAF (North and Central America region) championship, and followed that with a silver finish two years later on the U-20 team. Her love for the sport took her up the ranks to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite program, but her fearless playing style made her injury-prone, putting her on concussion watch when she joined the WSU Cougars as a midfielder.
That style led to her most recent – and most severe – concussion to date, in her last game at the collegiate level.
"I went up for a header against UW and I just connected with another girl’s head on the team," she recalled. "I had a bump on my forehead the size of a baseball and had some minor somatic brain injuries."
Despite the hard hit, Setterlund entered the NWSL draft in January and was selected by Chicago in the third round. She didn’t think that her on-field career would end before preseason camp began. But advice from her doctors, and her parents, was enough for Setterlund to leave her dreams on the field.
However, while her time with the Red Stars has been cut short, Setterlund knows she isn’t done with soccer. As she wraps up her social sciences degree at WSU, she has already started coaching a U-14 club team in Pullman. And while she may be enjoying the sport from the sidelines, she has a lot of personal highlights to reflect on.
"Just going to my first ever national team camp," she said, recalling one of her fondest memories. "I remember the first time I got to step on the field with Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Emily Zurrer, all these people that I’ve grown up watching, I got to go and train with them for six weeks across the world.
"Little moments like that, I would have to say, are what really defines it."