Anatomy of a Student-Athlete
One week ago today, I got drafted to play pro soccer for the North Carolina Courage. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But there’s a bit more to the story than just that.
It’s interesting, the difference between hearing about something and seeing it for yourself. I remember thinking that during an anatomy lab last month. As a premed student in my senior year at Duke, I’ve taken a fair number of difficult classes. But Anatomy 333L turned out to be one of the toughest of my four years. It was also the most fascinating.
Some people might get queasy at the sight of a cadaver, but I was captivated. It is mesmerizing to be able to see the more than 650 muscles that make up the human body. Bodies are made up of thousands of parts, and most important, are home to the soul.
That class has really stuck with me. Beneath the surface we are all so complex. There’s so much we don’t see.
It started innocently enough. Usually does.
I was boarding a flight and the man sitting next to me was trying to ask me a question.
“You’re … that girl, right? Where do I know you from?”
This was a few weeks ago and I was heading back to Duke from winter break. My mind was so full replaying the intense month I’d just had that I didn’t even realize he was talking to me. As a defender for the Blue Devils’ soccer team, I was thinking about how it had only been a few weeks since we had made it all the way to the Final Four. We lost the semifinal game on PKs, a heartbreaking defeat that ended my college career.
But at the same time, I had this feeling of immense pride about the impact my teammates and I had made on college soccer in our four years. We broke nearly every school record there was, and got to play in two Final Fours. On top of a busy athletic semester, I was also taking five courses — one more than most students — to fulfill my premed requirements. Right before winter vacation, I’d finished final exams, and now I was waiting for my grades. And on top of all of that, the draft for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was coming up on January 18, which meant I had spent days sifting through videos to send to coaches.
So, yeah, I’d say I had a lot on my mind that day.
As I was getting into my seat, I could sense he had more he wanted to ask me. That feeling most women know when a stranger is staring at you, about to start an unwanted conversation.
“Wait, yeah, I know what it is,” the man said. “You’re that Duke girl … the girl who went viral, right?”
Before I could answer, he did.
I nodded, but I didn’t respond right away.
Yes, yes … that was me. I was Morgan Reid. But which Morgan did this man think he knew?
It was clear … he just knew the Morgan from headlines on the Internet.
DUKE SOCCER PLAYER MORGAN REID WILL MAKE YOU WEAK IN THE KNEES WHEN YOU SEE HER IN A BIKINI.
INTRODUCING THE DUKE SOCCER PLAYING SMOKESHOW WHO IS NOW THE CURRENT LOVE OF MY LIFE.
MEET MORGAN REID — DUKE SOCCER PLAYER — HOTTEST PHOTOS.
I hadn’t said much all flight. But as the plane was landing, I felt like I had to say something.
“Yes, I am Morgan Reid,” I said to my seatmate in a polite tone. “I was a four-year starter at a top five Division I program, while also being premed in the classroom. I’m about to get my diploma from Duke University and hopefully start my professional soccer career. Nice to meet you.”
For a few moments, I felt great. I’d set the record straight — with one person, at least.
That feeling wore off after a few days. I had a new worry. With the NWSL draft less than a month away, I started to wonder if coaches would see the real me? Would they see me as the player who’d made the ACC honor roll three years in a row? As somebody who started all four years of her college career? As the defender who represented her nation in the U-17 Women’s World Cup?
Or would they just see me as … a headline?
The day of the 2018 NWSL draft finally came last week. I’d sent out my homemade highlight tape to every team. All I could do was wait and hope.
The draft is four rounds, and only 40 players get taken. Pick after pick went by, and I saw five of my Duke teammates earn their shot at the next level. I was beginning to get anxious that my time was running out.
Then it happened.
“With the 38th pick in the fourth round of the 2018 NWSL College Draft, the North Carolina Courage selects Morgan Reid from Duke University.”
I had to check the monitor twice. Was that my name on the screen?
Just like that, my senior class had broken the last record we could—with six picks, Duke achieved the most draft selections all-time of any university.
My teammates were ecstatic for me. Better than most, they knew how hard I had worked for this moment.
I’ve spent hours studying human bones and memorizing the Latin names of hundreds of different species. I’ve spent months learning all of the body’s organs and how they function. And I spent countless days hunched over a microscope examining different bacteria. At Duke, I felt like I was well on my way to becoming a real medical professional.
But then one day during my sophomore year, my Instagram photos started appearing in articles everywhere. And all of a sudden, I had tons of new followers — and a lot of comments on my photos that didn’t remind me of any Morgan Reid I’d ever known. It was like my body was under a microscope. My photos were being probed and picked apart by strangers. Throughout my years of studying at Duke I had garnered a whole new appreciation for the human body, but suddenly it felt like I was the specimen being looked at.
The comments were pretty nasty. I tried my best to tune them out. But they just kept coming in.
She’s pretty, but too thick.
Your body is nice, but your face is busted.
Ewww, she looks like a man. Being that muscular isn’t cute.
I tried to delete as many comments as I could … one day I couldn’t take the negativity anymore. I called our p.r. guy to ask him how to get the websites to take my photos down. He told me that if the articles were “positive” then they were fine. For women, attention can be a really complicated thing.
Was some journalist ogling my Instagram photos supposed to be a positive thing?
After sending a few emails, I was able to persuade only one website to take its piece down. But at that point, it was just too late.
I had gone viral.
Before long, the Internet trolls started to show up in real life, at my games.
That was a common heckle. Thick legs and short arms — they were saying I looked like a dinosaur. I heard worse than that, too. But don’t get me wrong: The heckling didn’t affect my play. I started every game that season and was playing well. Still, it got to me sometimes. You can’t help but internalize some of it. Because here’s the thing about bullying: When it highlights insecurities you already have, it’s very hard to completely dismiss.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new for girls. I’ve always had very muscular legs. They were ideal for soccer, but by high school I’d learned to hate my thighs because they weren’t as skinny as they were supposed to be. I hated that a pair of skinny jeans didn’t fit right. I remember overhearing a guy in high school telling a friend he wouldn’t date me because I was too muscular. I used to think my body didn’t look feminine enough.
I would have felt alone if not for my Duke teammates. One day during a team-bonding session, I admitted that I was struggling with body shaming.
My teammates shared that they also struggled with body-image insecurities and told their own stories. Some of them feared putting on too much muscle when we lifted weights. Others talked about how they were super critical about specific body parts. Their calves were too big. Their arms were too fat. Their thighs were too thick. Their stomachs weren’t flat enough.
We all had similar experiences, and I think by talking about it we realized how ridiculously hard on ourselves we were being. By understanding that we shared many of the same self-doubts, we made active efforts to support each other as often as we could. Only good things come from reminding your friends that they are beautiful — just the way they are.
Over time, I learned to use the jeering as motivation. If a fan yelled at me about my scrawny arms, I would roll up my sleeves. If someone called me “manly,” I’d be sure to go extra hard on my next tackle.
More than anything else, though, I think my work in the anatomy lab, taught me to appreciate my body .
In that lab last fall, I got a chance to see the human body in a whole new way. Once you see up close just how fragile and strong the human body is, you can’t help but marvel at it. The more you learn about it, the more it commands your respect.
And on some level, I think it dawned on me how absurd it was to put so much emphasis on the outside of the body.
With an Instagram platform of over 185,000 followers, I want to use my social-media presence to challenge the beauty standards that make female athletes feel insecure about their bodies. There are many women out there who are anxious about training because of the extra weight they might put on to get stronger. Often, girls are uncomfortable gaining mass when it means that they won’t look like the models in fashion magazines.
I love sharing soccer photos and workout videos because I want to show that it’s beautiful to be strong. It’s beautiful to be muscular. It’s beautiful to be built.
After I got picked at the NWSL draft, I walked off the podium and met with the Courage coaches. They shook my hand and told me how glad they were to have me on the team. They mentioned how they’d been watching my play for the last few years and complimented me on Duke’s success.
That was it — just a short conversation. Direct, straightforward. Nothing too special. But then, later that night, I thought back on how that moment with my future coaches made me feel.
It wasn’t what they said so much as what they didn’t. They just wanted to talk to me about soccer. Nothing else.
To them, I was simply a player — judged for my work ethic and my hard-earned abilities.
A lot of what is said about me on the Internet is out of my control. But on that day, I made my own headline.
Morgan Reid Drafted.