“The heart of a Hawaiian lion”: From Fulbright to the Forth Valley

13 mins read

by Shannon Scovel

Chelsea Raymond is a football player, pure and simple. It’s who she is, who she was, and who she always wanted to be.

As a kid growing up California, Raymond learned the game from her cousins, and her passion for the sport carried her all the way through high school. She had hopes to play in college, a dream to represent a university, and was on the path to achieve that dream until a knee injury ultimately derailed her from that goal.

The game she loved and cherished, however, would make its triumphant return into her daily routine in just a few years. She would join a team again, wear a kit again and compete at high level again. That much she knew. The question was, when? And would she ever have the chance to compete for a university?

The answer was yes, but the process would be a little more complicated.

After graduating with a degree in biological science from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo in 2012, Raymond moved to New York to study social work at Columbia University, where she managed to compete on some adult football teams, but she still craved the chance to play for her school. Her masters program at Columbia lasted two years, and as she started to think about her next step, she knew she would find a way to integrate football into her plans. After all, football had been such an influential part of her childhood, and she had already found ways to integrate the sport into her studies as a student at Columbia, one of America’s most prestigious Ivy League institutions.

Raymond in action for the university. Credit: Chelsea Raymond

During her years in New York, Raymond worked with refugee children in the United States and helped them adjust to life in public schools, and she found sport to be one of the most effective ways to teach those lessons. She also volunteered with Soccer without Borders, America Scores and AmeriCorps, programs that helped set the foundation for her current projects in social work and play therapy. Through all of these program, one of the biggest lessons Raymond learned was the powerful ways in which sport, particularly her favourite sport of football, brings people together.

“With the International Rescue Committee, I did an internship there as a social worker [and] some of the kids didn’t speak English when they got [to the U.S.], but when they found out that I played [football], they got really excited, especially the boys,”  Raymond said.

“Where the kids came from, women in powerful position didn’t exist, they didn’t have teachers that were women. I was able to communicate with them through sport without using verbal language.”

Her experience working with the kids inspired Raymond to continue down an academic path, an academic path that she knew would allow her to integrate sports into her work as a student and a researcher. She applied for the US-UK Fulbright Scholarship, a program that offers tuition scholarships for students in the US to study in the UK and help build cultural understanding between the two nations. The University of Stirling serves as one of Fulbright’s partnership schools, and with its focus on sport, health and well-being, Raymond said that Stirling offered the right academic program for her. She hoped her next academic step would help her answer some of the questions that she still had after earning her master’s degree at Columbia in social work, such as “what makes a child open up more?” and “How does using sport help me connect with them?”

Stirling would give chance for Raymond to expand her research on play therapy while also competing for the university football team and volunteering with a youth football programme in the country. Acceptance into the Fulbright program however, remains competitive, with only about three to five percent of applicants earning the tuition scholarship that would allow them to travel to the UK. Raymond put her applicant in and waited. And waited. And waited.

Then on March 23, 2016, Raymond’s dream came to fruition.

The Stirling Experience  

As a master’s student at Stirling, Raymond thrived. She joined the women’s 2s football team, a Sunday club team, and a futsal team. She also volunteered with an adult disability team, and graduated with a masters in psychology with distinction. Her dissertation, a project with focused on sports psychology, as well as the life skills and emotional well-being required for performance, therapy and play, brought her studies in social work, biology, and psychology together, but also left her with even more questions. Raymond ended the 2017 school year having accomplished her dream of playing football at university and having earned a second masters degree. Yet more goals remained, and Scotland, Raymond said, provided her the best location and community to continue to chase those goals.

Graduation day for the Stirling star. Credit: Chelsea Raymond.

“In Scotland, it is so free for you to decide what to explore, whatever questions you develop, it seemed like the perfect place to do it,” Raymond said.

“I’m amazed at how I’ve been able to refine my thought process. My thinking has changed and evolved just in the year and a half, it just blows my mind. It has a lot to do with the academics I’ve encountered in Stirling.”

Raymond had found a home at Stirling, and she went about applying for a doctoral degree at the university, with the hopes of continuing her work on play therapy. Another driving force in her decision to return to Stirling, however, was the possibility of playing on the football team again. When Raymond graduated with her master’s from Stirling last July, she said she thought she might have played her last game of university football. Her PhD and visa materials had not been finalised, and her future remained unclear. She said goodbye to her teammates at the end of the year, unsure when she would see them again, and returned home to New York.

“I really missed everyone,” Raymond said. “Of course, when I was back in New York I was playing adult leagues, but it’s nowhere near this game. You don’t have kits, you don’t go away together.

“People would text me with updates, it was just so great that everyone would text me updates about the team and the game. It told me that I was an important part of the team, and that my presence was missed.”

Yet, Raymond’s Stirling story was not complete. After a lengthy visa process and a stressful few months, she returned to the pitches, this time, chasing new goals, both on and off the field.

“Coming back and seeing everyone again and seeing how people were excited to see me, we had our first game two days after I came back, it was overwhelming to put the kit back on again,” Raymond said. “When I left I wasn’t sure if I was coming back, so it was nice to have that moment, it reaffirmed my decision to come back.”

More than just a team. Credit: Chelsea Raymond

Raymond, now a veteran on the team, and the only player over 25 years old, took on a leadership position this year, becoming the vice captain, and she also accomplished the athletic goal that evaded her in her first year of play: scoring a goal. She described the goal as “one of the worst goals,” but said the team’s excitement for her accomplishment made her want to work even harder and commit more of herself to the team.

Craig Beveridge, one of the coaches for the 2s, said Raymond’s “professional and motivated attitude” has had a positive effect on the team and he credits her for being a role model for her teammates.

Team captain Kayla Grainger agrees.

“Chelsea is a very committed player – you can always count on her” she said.

“She has the heart of a Hawaiian lion and is very passionate about her football.”

Raymond’s story, and her success in Scotland both in football and in her PhD project so far in social work, may seem like a fairy tale, but Raymond is quick to point out that her accomplishments did not come without stress. She said she has found herself saying “yes” to so many of the opportunities available in Scotland that she can become over-committed and has had pay careful attention when it comes to budgeting her time because of involvement in so many activities and programs. Yet, through it all, it is the family that Raymond built with her football friends that she said has helped make this new country and then brought her back to Stirling one year later.

“If didn’t decide to play soccer again and agree to play  for all of these teams, those clubs, those families, I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time in Scotland as much. I spend 75 per cent of my time with people from the team, so I think [saying ‘yes] is definitely one of the biggest one of the attributes that has lead me here.”

Given her academic trajectory so far, Raymond has put herself in a position to give back to her community, share the sport she loves with the next generation, and use football as a way to help those in need.

Featured Image Credit: Chelsea Raymond

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