The vision of Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller’s ponytail hanging out of her football helmet will long resonate as one of 2020’s indelible images. Fuller’s day job is as Vanderbilt soccer’s starting goalie, but she moonlighted on the football team for two games when Vanderbilt specialists got wiped out from COVID-19 and contact tracing.
Fuller made the most of her opportunities, executing a squib kick against Missouri on Nov. 28 and then drilling two extra points against Tennessee a few weeks later. Along the way, she became a national sensation, praised by LeBron James and compelling enough that Mia Hamm watched with rapt attention with her twin daughters.
But as we reflect back on Fuller’s moment becoming the first woman to play and score in a Power Five football game, here’s hoping what she endured to meet her moment doesn’t get lost in history. Fuller’s call from the football team came serendipitously when the roster got depleted, but the part of her story that resonates is what she did to position herself for that call.
Fuller’s career at Vanderbilt featured two broken feet, struggles with weight and the agonizing annual tradition of failing her physical fitness test for the soccer team. She described a lot of tearful phone calls home, a lot of self-doubt and the kinds of struggles that made her dual shining moments in 2020 so gratifying.
Fuller helped lead Vanderbilt soccer to the SEC tournament championship, which culminated the weekend before her moment against Missouri. One received exponentially more recognition, but both were hard earned. “I don’t want people to think I’m just walking in here and this was a cakewalk,” she told Yahoo Sports.
Fuller will play for Vanderbilt in this spring’s NCAA tournament and then graduate transfer to North Texas. She plans to play two more seasons, and her platform has made her one of the most recognizable athletes in college sports.
Fuller’s entire story has the ability to inspire others, as her story of struggle, perseverance and overcoming adversity transcends a few kicks. Let’s hope she’s telling it to a wide audience in 2021 and beyond, as she’s positioned to make a difference after making history.
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