Five young South Florida women are shaking up sports locally and nationally—even toppling the giants in their fields.
With the U.S. women’s national soccer team winning its fourth World Cup and vehemently fighting for equal pay, young girls everywhere are looking up to their (s)heroes. Some may recognize South Florida as a football hub, but Palm Beach County is home to women athletes who are paving the way for young players across the world. Each day this week, Boca mag is profiling one of those athletes who calls South Florida home—and this will not be the last time you see their names on big screens.
For soccer goalkeeper Catalina Perez, there’s nothing more special than hearing the Colombian national anthem on a game day.
“It’s a feeling you can’t really get from anything else,” Perez says. “That’s one of the things that just drives you to want to compete.” For nine years now, the Colombian-born athlete reared in Boca Raton has heard that anthem in cities around the world. Perez was 15 when she tried out for the under-20 Colombian national team in 2010. Previously, she had been competing for local soccer club Team Boca and Saint Andrew’s School.
“I had the opportunity to go to the under-20 World Cup in Germany, and that’s where I just felt like, ‘OK, if I really work hard at this, I could have opportunities in the future with this team,’” Perez says. “It was a great opportunity to see what that level was like and what that level demanded.”
Perez would go on to secure a spot on the 2011 roster that placed fourth in the Pan American Games, and trained in pre-Olympic trials in 2012. Before the age of 18, Perez was a regular on the Colombian roster, and her international play had prepared her for Division 1 soccer, first at the University of Miami and then at Mississippi State.
She even competed with the Colombian national team at the 2015 Women’s World Cup and faced off against the U.S. national team. For 47 minutes, Perez sparred against legends like Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan on the biggest stage in the world for women’s soccer.
“It was just a surreal experience,” Perez recalls. “It was the game that I always dreamed of playing.”
Though Perez is grateful for her experience, it hasn’t come without its challenges. She has spent long stretches away from her family and torn her ACL in her left leg twice, benching her in 2014 and 2018. One tear is enough to stop many players, but not Perez.
“When you’re coming back from an ACL, it feels like forever. You question, ‘Am I ever going to be the same athlete again?’” Perez says. “I feel like it’s keeping the faith in those moments that this is one moment, it’s not my life, and I’m determined to get back to where I was.”
Perez has come back strong and is competing with the Colombian team at the 2019 Pan American Games. She credits her success after both injuries to perseverance.
“Go after it 100 percent,” Perez says. “Believe that your leg will be fine, believe that you will be better. … Stay around people that love you, support you and will help you through those moments, and try to find the same enjoyment you had before. That will really help you move forward.”