I am finally home after my first soccer tournament, and I cannot remember the last time I was this exhausted. That’s not surprising, considering I played four games in 40 hours. I have dozens of bruises and scrapes and sore muscles that somehow made it through all the stress I’ve put them under in the past three days or so. Now, I finally have the time to fully rest and recover.

Our first game of the four was played on artificial turf. Fake grass has its pros and cons. Lots of players, especially on the high school and club levels, are overjoyed to be playing on a completely smooth surface. But for me, the cons far outweigh the advantages. When I run on artificial turf, it feels like the impact of each step bounces right back into my legs. The ball bounces weirdly when you’re least expecting it. If you hit the ground for any reason, the blades of “grass” slice your legs like a million tiny paper cuts.

Worst of all, some types of man-made turf produce more friction than natural grass does, leading to a higher risk of injury. We didn’t only lose our first game, we also lost two players to potentially season-ending injuries: a fractured wrist and a possibly broken ankle. It’s for reasons like this that I wonder how professional players ever play on turf.

Our next two games were on natural grass, but that didn’t stop us from losing two more players to injuries! Our fourth match was this morning, while all of us were still exhausted and stiff. Making matters worse, when our coach called us together after our warmup, he announced, “It looks like we’re playing with 10.”

Soccer is usually played with 11 active players per team. We had only 10 available to put on the field, while the other team had 18: 11 for the field and seven substitutes. I could feel all our hearts sink in unison. We were tired and sore and demoralized by our losses earlier in the tournament, and I think we all just wanted it to be over.

We took the field anyway and, miraculously, scored the first goal. That was an accomplishment in itself. Goals are generally few and far between in a soccer match. The other team then evened the score and got two more goals on top of that, but we made them fight tooth and nail for every inch they advanced down the field. It didn’t matter that they could bring on seven pairs of fresh legs every few minutes. We took their misplaced elbows and well-timed sprints and refused to back down. We may have lost, but it was the strongest we’ve looked all season—without breaks, without any loss of intensity, and without a full team to boot.

I learned something about my team and myself today. In the face of adversity, when it feels like we can’t go on, we can pull ourselves together and fight until the final whistle blows. I have never been more proud. ♦