Aug. 11, 2008
After not making Canada's Olympic roster following the Senior Team Camp, future Commodore Chelsea Stewart planned on watching the Olympics on television like the majority of the rest of the world. She had no idea that she'd end up on the sidelines in Beijing.
In fact, she had no idea she'd be on the sidelines until last week. Now instead of being at home in Washington, Stewart is in Beijing as a member of the Canadian Olympic Soccer Team. So far Canada is 1-0-1 in competition and will play Sweden on Tuesday in the final game of pool play.
To say, the last week has been a whirlwind for Stewart would be an understatement.
"I never really imagined it," said Stewart, who took an 11-hour flight from Washington to China last Tuesday. "When you start a sport, it is always a dream to go to the Olympics or be a pro athlete, so it has always been a dream and an aspiration, but I definitely never imagined it would happen this early."
Having finished camp, Stewart planned on having the month of August off before she began training with the Canadian U-20 National Team for the U-20 World Cup in November. However, that all changed last week when she received a phone call from the Canadian Olympic Team.
"(The team) left two weeks ago to go to Singapore and adapt to all the time differences," Stewart said. "While they were out there, one of the players reinjured her knee, and they had to bring one of the alternates in. I was just hanging out in Washington and got a phone call from the team manager saying that I needed to be prepared to go and get ready in case a call-up happens."
Sure enough. Canada needed another player and Stewart was at the top of the list. However, what ensued was 72 hours of uncertainty.
"I got a phone call two days later saying that I'm going," Stewart said. Not even 45 minutes later I got another phone call saying that I possibly didn't have medical clearance because I sprained my ankle (a few weeks prior), and they didn't know if they were going to bring me in.
"Then 24 hours later, I got another phone call telling me I'm good to go."
The uncertainty of her future would have been enough to push some people over the edge, but not Stewart, who has become accustomed to major changes in her life.
After signing a National Letter of Intent with Vanderbilt in February, Stewart had to make a decision between coming to Vanderbilt this fall or competing for Canada at the U-20 World Cup.
Prior to that, the 18-year-old had to graduate early from high school in Minnesota in order to make the Canadian U-20 World Cup Team.
The decision to forgo college this fall was not easy for Stewart, but she credits Vanderbilt head coach Ronnie Coveleskie for helping her through the process.
"Coach was really supportive," Stewart said. "She helped me make decisions with the team and she helped me choose what I was going to do with Vanderbilt. Either way, she said she was going to be there for me. She's been really helpful with the whole decision process and she helped me get through some of the hard times."
Although, Vanderbilt could use Stewart's presence on the field this fall, Coveleskie couldn't be happier for her opportunity.
"For her to be representing Canada at the Olympics and then again at the U-20 World Cup, is such a tremendous honor," Coveleskie said.
In part because of the international experience Stewart is gaining this fall, Coveleskie believes that Stewart will impact Vanderbilt immediately when she arrives on campus.
"I think that we are going to have an incredibly exciting player to watch in Chelsea Stewart," Coveleskie said. "With her being on our field for four years, she has a chance to change Vanderbilt soccer because of her international experience and her overall commitment and excitement about attending Vanderbilt. She loves to play soccer and she has an infectious personality."
Because of many factors including her experience and late arrival to the team, Stewart is yet to play in the Olympics. However, the experience she is earning is something that will help her the rest of her life.
Her experience may help her as early as this fall at the U-20 World Cup in Russia, where Stewart will be counted on as one of Canada's top players.
"She's an Energizer Bunny," Coveleskie said. "She never stops running. She is all over the field and they can put her anywhere."
Beyond her ability as a player on the field, Coveleskie believes that Stewart's status in international soccer has a chance to transform the entire program.
"With the international experience that Chelsea Stewart will bring, you hope that it is going to spark the attention of other recruits as well as international recruits," Coveleskie said. "We are hopeful that all of the fantastic experiences that Chelsea is having are going to translate into people recognizing that Vanderbilt wants to be a soccer school and that players that are committed to a future of playing women's soccer can be a possibility at Vanderbilt."