October 10, 2006 - by
Colette Swensen Is The Individual Amongst The Team

Oct. 10, 2006

By Elliott Finebloom

FSU Sports Information


            The poet e.e. cummings once wrote `To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting’. If you sit down and talk to Seminole soccer player Colette Swensen you get the feeling fighting that battle isn’t hard for her.

            Colette is an individual in a world dominated by team. The senior from Davie, FL is a poet, an amateur singer and a self described `mischievous character’. She stands out among a group of 30 but by being herself she finds a way to bring everyone together, which in the world of athletics is one of the toughest things to do.

            “I enjoy lightening the mood on the team. It seems to make the time we spend together more enjoyable. I learn a lot about people by the way they react to me,” said Colette when we sat down to talk. She ended this thought like she did every thought throughout the hour long interview by using the word `period’. “I think by being my crazy self it makes others feel comfortable in being themselves as well. The thing I like about myself is that I don’t judge and I accept people for who they are. I like to see people letting their freak flag fly and staying true to themselves. Period.”

            Whatever Colette does it seems to work. The true walk-on who has had to fight for everything she has gotten has started just one match in her four year career but that didn’t stop Collette from being voted a captain this year. It also didn’t stop her from being the only player to win an award at the 2005 soccer banquet.

            Each off-season teams at pretty much every university in America get together to celebrate the past season and hand out accolades. Plaques are handed out for almost everything you can think of. Players are named offensive MVP, defensive MVP, overall MVP, rookie of the year, etc. At the first soccer banquet under new head coach Mark Krikorian, only one award was handed out. The Christy Peacock Award goes to the player that is the hardest worker and most respected member of the team so it may seem odd an individual like Collette Swensen was given that award but it wasn’t at all strange to anyone who knows Colette.

            “The banquet was a surprise and a half,” said Colette when reflecting back on that night. “People always say that it is about the people around them and that was so true of that honor.”

            Former assistant coach Mick Statham addressed the room when giving the award to Colette. He talked about how he hoped his daughters grow up to be just a fraction of the person Colette is and the countless hours of work she put in when nobody else was looking. It was a moment that will remain with everyone that was there that day.

            “To hear Mick stand up there and say those things about me was special. He is me, just an older British man,” she said with a chuckle. “He said things I would never have expected that just hit a sensitive spot. All eyes were on me. It was kind of funny but it made up for every tough day I ever had.

“My dad always says `just wait for your moment’ and that was my moment. I just felt like everyone in that room was genuinely happy for me and felt that I deserved it. That meant more than anything else.”

            You won’t find one teammate of Colette’s who would argue with a single word that was spoken that day. Nobody has ever had anything but admiration for the work ethic Colette has displayed in her four seasons at FSU and nobody begrudges her anything she gets because they all know she deserves every bit of it.

            “It was a moment that was so fitting because Mick and Colette had such a close friendship,” said fellow senior Kelly Rowland of the banquet. “Colette so deserved the award she got. It was obvious to everybody. She deserves everything that award represents. It was a good moment for all of us.”

            It was the same feeling everyone associated with the team felt inside when Colette played in last year’s College Cup. Here she was, the girl whose collegiate soccer career seemed to be on life support every preseason no matter what she did, was playing on the biggest stage in women’s college soccer.

            “You can’t go into something thinking all your hard work is going to pay off with you sitting on the bench,” said Colette when asked about making it onto the field versus UCLA. “You hope it gets you on the field. For me I got on the field at the College Cup and that was pretty amazing.”

            Pretty amazing for a player that pulls no punches with anybody especially herself. Colette knows she isn’t an All-American player. It is something she has known about herself for a long time but it isn’t something that bothers her either.

            “I have never been the best player on any team I have been on but I always put everything into whatever I do. Anything I choose to do I have to give it my all or I won’t even come close to accomplishing my goals. I am not particularly gifted in any area so it is about working hard for me.”

            That is what she has done ever since she walked on to the Seminole soccer team in 2003. As a teammate of India Trotter‘s at St. Thomas Aquinas and Team Boca, Colette had some calls made on her behalf to get a shot at trying out for the team. She impressed former coach Patrick Baker enough with her fitness level alone to make the squad.

            “Colette had opportunities to go to other schools but she wanted to come to Florida State,” said Trotter. “Her club coach encouraged her to try out. I remember the day they were naming the final roster and she was meeting with (former FSU head coach Patrick Baker) to find out if she made it or not. She didn’t play well in the scrimmage that last night so she was kind of nervous. She made the team and four years later she is our captain.”

            Once she made the team as a freshman, Colette appeared in six games but once again the next season she had to go out and prove herself all over again in preseason. Then as a junior she had to go through it one more time with an entirely new coaching staff.

            “I didn’t worry about not making this team because I knew I put the work in that was necessary,” said Colette when asked if she ever thought about not being a member of the FSU soccer team. “Granted all the training in the world wasn’t going to change me from Colette to (All-American) India (Trotter) but it could take me from good Colette to slightly better Colette. The work you put into it is what you get out of it. I think the hard work pays off and for me it has with a spot on the roster each year.”

            The story of a walk-on earning a roster spot for four straight seasons and playing in a College Cup is a great story in itself but isn’t even close to describing the impact Colette has had on this team. One act of kindness speaks volumes about the type of person Colette is and her vital role to Seminole soccer.

            When Mami Yamaguchi came to Tallahassee from Tokyo, Japan to play soccer she didn’t know anybody. She hardly spoke a word of English. She was pretty much all alone in America. She had been recruited to FSU by a coach who was no longer here. Her world, which was already upside down, was even more unsure than ever before.

            “I was talking with coach Baker until November and then I saw on the Internet that he was leaving Florida State,” said Yamaguchi. “I was stunned. I didn’t know anyone there anymore. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to come to Florida State so I was still preparing to come even though so much had changed. I was just lucky coach Krikorian still wanted me to come and play here.”

            In stepped Colette. Then a junior, Colette made it her life’s work to take Mami under her wing and make her transition to America as smooth as possible. That wasn’t an easy task. As wonderful as Mami is, communicating with her took time and patience. It is a lot of work to totally invest yourself in someone else’s life and even more so when that person doesn’t understand a word you say. It was no big deal for Colette though.

            “You can’t help but like Mami,” said Colette with a smile. “Even though she didn’t know how to communicate in English, you just look at her face and tell she is just the sweetest, nicest person. The more time I took trying to understand her, the more we taught each other. It took time to communicate with her and I wanted to put in that time because I knew for some people it would be too much of a hassle. I saw her as needing a little bit of guidance in a new place. I didn’t want to see anything bad happen to her. She came to America to experience new things and I wanted to show her some of those things.”

            “She helped me so much,” said Yamaguchi as she struggled to find the right words in her limited vocabulary to stress just what Colette means to her. “She is my best friend. She never stops helping me. She helps with everything. Not just speaking English but with life. She helped me learn American culture. She never got stressed or lost patience with me. If I was in her shoes, I would have been stressed. I asked her questions all the time and she always took time to answer them. I want to say so much about her.”

            The two became almost inseparable. Wherever Mami was, Colette wasn’t far behind and vice-a-versa. The two had their own jokes and it seemed like the girl who was always making everyone else laugh was being completely cracked up by a Japanese student with very little command of the English language. For better or worse Mami learned about America through Colette’s somewhat unique vision of Florida State and the world.

            “I taught her an appreciation for good rock music. I am still working on her dance moves. She came home with me and I think I gave her a good look at what an American family is like. She is experiencing things that I would want to experience if I was in Japan. She would have done the same for me if the situation was reversed.”

            That is the type of thing Colette does that separates her from so many other people. When you take Colette on a superficial level you see a person that is a little wild, a little different than everyone else and maybe a little loud as well. But she assures us there are good reasons for that.

            “Being a middle child I have always had to fend for myself and be loud to get noticed,” said Colette unapologetically. “India always says I am loud and louder. She has said that forever.”

            But just seeing the surface, like with so many other things, never tells the whole story. Underneath all the wild hair, which Colette lists as one of her best qualities, the piercings, and the silliness, which there is a lot of, you will find a person that is different in more ways than just the superficialities.

            “For as much talking as I do, I think I am a good listener,” said Colette in a moment of self analysis. “A lot of people overlook the little things. Everyone is usually out to get there own and lookout for themselves. The more you pick up on the little things that affect people on a daily basis, whether it be how someone is doing or noticing they are smiling when they walk in the locker room or trying to turn somebody’s negative point of view to a positive one are the things I like to do. You take the focus off yourself and put it on other people.”

            Putting the focus on other people is what sets Colette apart and is the reason she is universally loved by her teammates. Nobody knows that better than her lifelong friend India.

            “She has such an amazing personality and people feel so comfortable talking to her about anything,” said Trotter “She gives great advice. Whenever anyone needs help on or off the field she is there. She makes people around her comfortable because she is comfortable with herself.”

            What it comes down to in the end is Colette is just being Colette. The people you meet in life who are special and stand out always have one important thing in common. They all aren’t trying to live up to others expectations of whom they should be or trying to be something they are not. It is the people who know themselves the best that are in the best position to know others.

            “I only know one way to be and that is to be myself,” said Colette in the most unassuming manner. “Staying true to myself is the only way I know. If I had to do anything over in my life I would probably do it the same way.

“That is something I learned last year. I had some stuff in my life that made me feel like I was a naïve person. Mick (Statham) was the one that made me realize that it was the only road I know. If I looked back on it I would have done it the same way because I was just being myself.”

            Lucky for the dozens of players and coaches that have come in contact with Colette over the past four years she has just been herself and as another poet once said `that has made all the difference’.

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