Angelica Esperanza Ramos, 25, is not living the life that she had dreamed of as a student athlete at Copperas Cove High School. A fierce soccer player, she was, by her own admission, focused only on three things: School, church and soccer.
So great was her desire to become a D-1 soccer player, Ramos even opted out of the traditional high school rites of passage, including prom and homecoming. But she doesn’t regret her decisions.
“I gave that dream all I had, and then some,” she said, as she raised her hand to her face, the gesture revealing the remnants of a hot pink manicure.
“There is no denying that the loss of that dream was painful physically and mentally,” she continued. “But it brought me to where I am now, and I am grateful for that.”
In high school, Ramos was a jock. A very serious jock. And she had the awards to prove it — enough to fill up her own bookcase and a couple of other people’s. In four short years, she had won the All-Tournament Award as a freshman, the Player of the Week twice in her junior year, and the MVP of the Killeen Soccer Tournament — just to name a few.
She had even begun to catch the eye of the D-1 athletic recruiters — a crucial step forward that would, she hoped, result in an offer to play on a college or university team. And then, perhaps, a career as a soccer player.
As prepared as she was for her future as an athlete, Ramos could not have imagined what was to happen when an otherwise healthy, disciplined young woman would become more familiar with anatomical references, medical diagnoses, and surgical options than she was with the latest soccer terms.
It was September of her sophomore year in the waning days of the summer when she took the field adjacent to the Copperas Cove Police Department to join a casual pick up game. She was, she says, going for a step over move when, all of a sudden, she heard the distinct hollow cracking of bone. It was her right knee.
Shuttled to the emergency room, she would soon learn not only that she had inexplicably torn her ACL, but also, her LCL and MCL.
Ramos would experience a devastating injury: Her ACL, LCL, and MCL would inexplicably tear and require extensive surgical intervention.
In the months that followed, she would endure two of what would eventually be three surgeries, three year-long rehabilitations, and obstacles that would have completely devasted anyone with marginally less resolve.
“It is almost impossible to put my sorrow into words,” she said, her deep brown eyes shining with the possibility of tears.
“For years, soccer was my whole life. My one and only ambition. And in a flash, just like that. It was ending. Even the recruiters who had once had me on their radar officially designated me as ‘injury prone.’”
As grim as the situation was, Ramos would not yield. She could do it, she thought. She would find a place, even if that place was not the D-1 university program she craved. After graduating from high school, she would attend Western Texas College, and earn a spot as a walk on.
From there, she would earn a place on the soccer team and prove her worth.
If she could do that, she thought, anything was possible. Other girls had gone from a two-year college to a university program before. If she had to take a step back to step up, she would do that. Playing and school was still the most important thing.
“I was where I wanted to be,” she said, her eyes, at first, downcast, and then lifting tentatively to make eye contact. “I had literally just set foot on the soccer field where I was on the sideline doing a warmup move when my knee collapsed beneath me for the last time.”
Her parents drove the eight hours from Killeen to Snyder to take their daughter home and straight into medical care. The days, weeks, and months afterward passed in an almost unconscious blur. Her motivation was obliterated.
She could feel herself involuntarily withdrawing from the discipline she knew she would need to rehabilitate her injury and return to some semblance of normal.
“I was a different person when I wasn’t working toward a goal,” she admitted. “It was like pulling on a rope every day, just trying to get that dream lassoed and a little closer to me. But after the third injury, I just completely let go of everything, and I didn’t care if my own life disappeared with it.”
And, as things sometime do, physical injury and emotional turmoil would turn into yet another life lesson.
Involved in an abusive relationship, she had gone out with her boyfriend who became violent. She managed to get him out of the car and drove away — only to be stopped and charged with DUI.
“It sounds made up to say that I was at the lowest of all low points,” she confessed. “I was fined and spent five days in jail. When I got out, I knew it was past time to reconcile the person I had allowed myself to become with the person I wanted to become.”
Summoning the discipline she had once mastered, Ramos developed a different kind of game plan. This time, it had nothing to do with soccer.
“I had earned an associate degree in 2019 from Central Texas College with a near perfect grade point average,” she said. “Within a week of leaving that jail, I was standing in the admissions office at A&M-Central Texas.”
As a junior undergraduate student, she declared a major in psychology, determined to put everything that had happened to her to use one day as a licensed professional counselor. She began to assemble experience that would complement her next goals: her undergraduate degree in psychology and after that, graduate school in the College of Education’s counseling psychology program.
She took a job as a student worker in the University Career and Professional Development Office, volunteered to work as a student advocate in the University’s Title IX program, ran for and won the position of president of the psychology club, and a senator for student government.
This past spring, she was honored with the University’s Pete Taylor Leadership Award at the 10th Annual Research Banquet. She had presented a research project that was part of the Pathways Program, but never expected to be nominated, much less win the award.
“It was the last award announced for the night, and all I could do was sit there and fidget,” she laughed. “I had won awards before, but they were athletic awards. Not only was this award for academic research I had presented, but it also happened because I had made a positive impact on my peers and on a topic that I love.”
Perhaps it is true. If adversity is an inevitable part of life, it is what is done with it in those dark moments of recognition and recovery that make finding purpose miraculous.
Evidence of this belief is literally a permanent part of Ramos. On her forearm, she proudly wears two tattoos. One, a simple stalk of flowers, declares, “Bloom with Grace.” The other, a depiction of the world, is festooned with a banner that bears a biblical reference.
It is, she says, a verse from the Book of Isaiah, who, in response to the creator’s question of whom he should send to be in service to the world, replies, “Send Me.”
Her many injuries, her struggles to rehabilitate and realize a dream, the disappointment of losing it, and everything else that followed, is now not just the past, but a prologue of a sort for her future.
“Grace is what you earn when you stare adversity in the eyes and decide to make yourself the person you know you are — no matter what you have been put through.”