Letter to a Warrior Mom

Sam Robles/The Players’ Tribune

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At this point, you know as well as I do what I’ve experienced in recent years.

More than anyone else, you know everything about me, in and outside me, and you've followed what I’ve had to go through to get here, being part of the group that plays the World Cup.

And more than any coach, fan or journalist, Mom, you saw how hard I had to fight to make this dream come true.

So, Mom, I want to confess something to you from the bottom of my heart.

Are you ready?

Here it goes…


Calm down — no need to worry here. Nothing serious happened, far from it.

As I sit here, on the other side of the world, I pause to think about everything we've lived together, Mom.

And that’s what I want to tell you before facing another battle in the World Cup.

When I say, “It’s all your fault,” the first thing that comes to mind is you telling everyone that, since I was inside your belly, I was already kicking, kind of saying what I would become, right?

Seriously, Mom, even as a child, you noticed how much I loved playing soccer. And I didn’t even care if it could only be with the boys. Somehow I managed to get by.

And do you know who I learned this from?

It was from you, Tatiane!

When my father wasn’t around, you were the model that guided my conduct, teaching me how I should behave.

Mom, you didn’t have the money to care for all those kids, but I never saw you complain. What I did see was you waking up and going to fight.

In my own way, I would do the same on the football field.

Mom, you didn’t have the money to care for all those kids, but I never saw you complain. What I did see was you waking up and going to fight.


I had no boots or socks, I still didn't know how to position myself tactically, but none of that mattered. What mattered was how much I wanted to get there. How much I wanted to play football.

And that, Mom, I learned from you, who worked in a family home as a cleaner to support us, earning less than 200 dollars a month.

That money wasn't enough for what we needed as a family. So what to say about the dream of being a soccer player?

But you know, Mom, that at that time I just wanted to have fun at the football academy, playing lightly, as if I were joking. What amazes me, looking back, is my intensity, wanting to play at any cost.

Even if I had to cross the Anhanguera Highway to get to the academy and play with the boys.

Jeez, I would do that unaware of the real danger I was facing. Eight years old and crossing that highway … alone!!

Courtesy of Kerolin

Maybe you don’t know all the details, Mom, but everyone at the academy treated me like one more. Nobody took it easy on me because I was a girl.

It was the same when I used to play on the farm where we lived, do you remember? My cousins wouldn’t care if I was a girl. They would play for real. They would kick hard when I was the goalie, and sometimes the ball would hit my face, or any other body part, to be honest.

Not to mention the grittiest defender I could ever face, Zidane. His name could suggest he was a crack player wearing shirt number 10, but actually, he was relentless in marking. That’s right, Mom, we used to play with Uncle Zidane, the pit bull, who would come drooling to take the ball off my feet, and I had to think fast and cut him hard.

He would mark me individually, and I had to get away without him headbutting me (or even biting me). I’m glad I survived in one piece to tell you all these stories, right, Mom?

Yeah, that’s right, God is good all the time!

Despite the many obstacles, Mom, you wouldn’t let us give up, showing us where to go. It’s like you used to tell us when difficulties arose: “There’s always a way.”

So, when I was at the academy and saw the chance to play against the U-17 team, I went ahead despite your misgivings and bet all my chips on that opportunity.

Today I know that you wanted the best for me, so, thinking about my future, you wanted me to take a professional course. You wanted me to pursue something more certain within an already given path.

But it’s by walking that one opens the way, right?

Sure, Mom, you certainly remember that I woke up at three in the morning to be able to go to Valinhos and then face a seven-hour bus ride to Granja Comary to play against the national team. I can remember the taste of the breakfast we had on the bus: a delicious orange juice and a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich.

Mom, I think I haven’t told you then, but my feeling for that game was ... do-or-die.

I’m being completely frank and humble here, as God knows my heart: I wasn’t surprised that we beat the under-17 team, because I played as if I were facing Zidane in the defense and the boys in the farm’s dirt field.

The real surprise came afterward, right, Mom?

On the next call, bingo!… I was on the list.

Do you remember how much you cried that day?

We haven’t talked about it, but I’m sure you thought about everything that happened to me until then. After all, a few years before, I almost lost my leg, do you remember?

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune (2)

It happened when I had osteomyelitis. For me — and I think for the doctors, too — understanding everything I went through is still a mystery. First, the infection, with severe pain. Then, medication-based treatment. The high cost of medicines. Waking up crying in the night. Grandpa’s help. And then the surgery.

Three months in the hospital, Mom, can you imagine it?

I remember I didn’t know if I could bear it: the hospital food, that whole time inactive, unable to play….

And the recovery was too long for my liking. At first, I didn’t even have the confidence to put my foot down without resorting to crutches.

And during that time, Mom, when the future was uncertain, I remember you staying by my side like a rock.

That’s why I don’t look back with a heavy heart.

In fact, I think that unbeknownst to us, Mom, God was preparing us for a much greater trial.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Mom, I still remember what I was doing when I got the news.

It was February 2019. I was at Granja Comary, training with the main team for a tournament before the World Cup.

It was then that the phone rang.

On the other side, the voice of my coach at the club, who told me:

“Look, I have some news, but it’s not very good. You failed a doping test.”

“But what is this?”

Then she explained that it was more serious than I could have imagined.

Yes, it was true. And you know, Mom, that I never knew how it happened.

But one thing was sure: I wouldn’t play in the World Cup, just when it looked like I was having my best moment, Mom.

It wasn’t fair.

I could help you and my brothers for the first time, so it felt like that dream was being ripped away from me.

And that’s when I realized how much an apparently random phrase by Cristiano Ronaldo has a lot of truth to it.

“When you win, a lot of people call you. When you lose, only your mother calls you.”

Courtesy of Kerolin

No, I hadn’t lost a game. It was more serious than that. There was a moment when I even doubted I would play again.

Then I found out that clubs reject athletes accused, albeit unfairly, of doping.

I also found out that journalists and even some fans can turn their backs when you fall.

I found out that people not believing in what you have to say is even worse than losing a match.

And you know what else I found out, Mom? That in the darkest hours, when no one wanted to be by my side, you taught me a valuable lesson.

When everything seemed lost, you showed me that it was essential to be solid and resilient.

But you didn’t show me that with your words or powerful prayers only. No, Mom, you led me by example at a time when anyone would rightly lose their mind.

It’s painful to remember that. Just as we were living the horror of the pandemic — and I had no pay, as I didn’t have a contract and wasn’t playing — you were fired from work.

Mom, we’ve been through a lot in this life and faced many needs, but we’ve never experienced a situation as desperate as that one.

Sometimes I would open the fridge and find nothing to eat. In the pantry we had only a bit of cornmeal — no bread, rice, beans, flour or pasta.

Cornmeal was the only food left.

And to make matters worse, we didn’t know when the pandemic was going to end. Or when I would be able to play again.

There were many uncertainties, and at moments like these, you see who controls everything. And that despite our plans, which may seem certain and infallible, only God’s will is perfect.

No, Mom, I didn’t go to the 2019 World Cup, and together we carried the heaviest load we could bear.

But, besides our family, God was for us.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Yes, many people left me out, but some answered my calls, like the Nike representative, who didn't cancel my contract and helped us go ahead during that period.

As my two-year ban coincided with the pandemic, I didn’t stop training. I wanted to be prepared for when football returned and I was released to play. The problem now was that I had no club.

Mom, you were there when the unthinkable happened; almost a miracle.

Pia, the new national team coach, gave me an opportunity.

Before I signed a contract with Madrid.

And long before I went to play in the U.S.

It was God, Mom, showing that you were right again and that we must never lose faith. Not because I deserve anything or am better than anyone else, but because He always takes care of me.

And because he sent an angel to intercede for me in the most challenging times.

Yes, I’m talking about Marta, Mom.

The best female player Brazil has ever seen on the pitch jumped in my defense when I was accused of doping. She even sent a video speaking on my behalf at the hearing.

And, later on, when she had the chance, Marta mentioned my name to the national team coach. She argued that I should be called up. It’s true, she’s always done unthinkable things, even more so with a ball at her foot, but I really didn’t expect that blessing.

Can you believe it, Mom?

At 23, Mom, I know I still have a lot ahead of me. And that the best is yet to come.

But whatever my fate is, I want you to know that our family will come first, no matter the circumstances.

I’m finally playing in a World Cup and, for the first time, I have the chance to live an experience that, until now, I had only watched on television.

No, I didn’t think I could make it this far, even more after missing the last Cup due to the ban.

But after everything I’ve been through….

Crossing that highway alone to play soccer….

Facing boys who wouldn’t be kind at all when playing with a girl….

Dribbling Zidane, the true pitbull defender….

Overcoming a two-year ban and the lack of money and food during the pandemic….

Oh, Mom, I see now … It’s time to enjoy ourselves, don’t you think so?

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

When the Brazilian national team enters the field, the eyes of the world turn to us, but they don’t see us as favorites.

And you know what, Mom?

It is fine.

What they don’t know is that this time, it’s not just about our national team or our fans, the millions of Brazilian men and women who want to see Brazil win.

And it’s not just about me either.

No, Mom, this time it’s about our group of women that owes nothing to the teams seen as favorites — a group that has done solid work under our coach, the best in the world.

This time, Mom, it’s about us and Marta, who has made so much for me to be here.

And it’s about you, too, Mom, who prepared, fed, cared for, and supported me even when you suggested I should give up, wanting the best for your eldest daughter.

Being able to represent Brazil in a World Cup shows that insisting was worth it. More than just a winner, I want you to be proud of the brave woman I’ve become — something that was only possible because you, a warrior mom, were there, being a mother, a friend, my biggest fan and the biggest culprit that brought me here.

That’s about it, Mom.

I love you.