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Former Washington Youth Soccer and U.S. National Team star Michelle French is seeking to help others the way they helped her.
Give Michelle French just 90 minutes - whether it's a game or a practice - and she'll teach you something about soccer that perhaps you didn't already know.
Give her more than 90 minutes - say, 14 months - and she'll teach you something about life that perhaps you didn't already know.
The former Washington Youth Soccer player and U.S. Olympian, who got her start in soccer long ago with a Federal Way club called the Starshooters, continues to teach both kinds of lessons today.
On the field, she's in charge of three girls' teams - U-11, U-15 and U-17 - with Eastside FC, a Washington Youth Soccer club based in Preston, between Issaquah and Snoqualmie. Last summer - well before the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - she played every minute of every game for the Seattle Sounders Women.
"Everything is better. I just had a scan a couple weeks ago, and it came back clean," said French, taking some time to chat before settling down for some New Year's Day football. "We just have to keep an eye on it. It's just a matter of how frequently I have to go in for check-ups — six months, then a year, and then as time goes on, the time [between check-ups] increases."
While she went through treatments in the hospital, especially right after the diagnosis, things changed for French. Her schedule changed. Her routine changed. Even her appearance changed when she shaved off her red hair prior to starting chemotherapy.
Her outlook, her approach to the cancer battle, and for that matter, her approach to life?
Those things never changed.
French's own generally positive attitude had much to do with that. However, all of those Eastside FC girls who had come to count on and look up to her played a role, too.
"The biggest thing was definitely the kids I coach," said the 32-year-old French. "Someone close to them goes through the process and maintains a positive attitude throughout the whole thing, so anything that happens to them in their life doesn't have to be a negative. When they can see a positive ending, it was just a good learning experience.
"I think that's why I had to go through this. It's an opportunity for people in my life to learn something," she added.
FEELING THE RED FLAGS
French, a college All-American at the University of Portland in 1997 and '98, and a Parade Magazine All-American at Kennedy High School in Burien in 1994 and '95, even credits soccer itself for the fact that she's alive and well and plans to be kicking around for a long time to come.
"I know my body, and I can feel and see if things are different. That helped initially," she said. "And then, just being able to deal with it and treat it more as an injury. Whenever I've been hurt or sick, or whatever, you know there are steps you can take to get better.
"When I found out (about the cancer), you hear it and you let it sink in. Then there was that moment of, 'Oh my gosh, this is a big deal,'" French said. "Then it was, 'What do I need to do to get healthy and play again?'"
Faced with a life-changing struggle, French had the support of the soccer community fully behind her at all times.
"Just the first few weeks I spent in the hospital, I found an enormous outpouring of support, not only from teams I coach, but from teams I compete against and coaches I go up against, players I played with and people within the whole community who had so much help and support to offer me," she said.
Confident that she's well on her way to being out of the woods medically, French hopes all of those people who were in her corner when she needed them most will do the same for others.
"There's always someone in the soccer community who needs help. And there are a number of people who need that help now," she said.
Appreciation for what she received, and encouragement to reach out to others — consider it another lesson taught by Michelle French.
Washington Youth Soccer • 500 S. 336th St. Suite 100 • Federal Way, WA 98003
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