Elise Wilcox

S: So just to start, what sports do you play, and how long did you do them?
E: I played soccer starting when I was like5 until all the way through college and I played for Bush, and then at Bush I also played basketball and I ran track.

S: Any awards or leadership positions?
E: For soccer, at Bush, I was on the team that won state and was 3rd in state and I was first team my senior year. Basketball, I was team captain senior year and maybe some other stuff. In track I had the school records for triple, high, long, and the 400. I won State in the long jump and then in college, I was a goalkeeper for the varsity team so I was a four-year varsity letter winner. My senior year I was IVy League Defensive Player of the Year and had the highest save percentage in all Division I Soccer.
S: What school?
E: Yale. There are like some other random things but those were the big ones.
S: How did you get into your sports?
E: I played a ton of sports when I was a kid, my dad was the one that got me into soccer. I played basketball, tennis, dance, everything. I guess soccer was the one I ended up sticking with. At high school, I played soccer for four years, basketball for three, and track for four. I kinda did track because my sister did track so I wanted to and I just kept going for all four years, and then basketball I’m like 5’11” so… and I enjoyed basketball when I was younger and Floyd wouldn’t let me not play so yeah. I just started really young playing every kind of sport. I did T-ball, and volleyball, and pretty much almost everything, like lacrosse, like I just tried all of them until I found one that I really liked. I played for Eastside FC, so the club team starting when I was 11 and played on that all through high school. We won a bunch of tournaments so that was fun!
S: Did you have any role models growing up?
E: When I was a little kid I had a picture of Mia Hamm and Briana Scurry taped to my wall, you know… I think I also had that picture of Brenna Chastain after she scored that goal and she’s like shirtless and kneeling on the field. I think she was my biggest role model.
S: Awesome. So did you face any obstacles growing up?
E: So on my club team there was an A team and a B team when I first started, so I was on the B team. The next year they added a C team and I got demoted to the C team and then I became a goalie. The next year I made it to the B team and the year after I got on the A team, and I was on the A team the rest of my time there and I was starting goalkeeper. I went all the way to the bottom and eventually found my way back up. I think that teaches you just you know, not to give up, and to keep going you know, because it’s easy to get disheartened. And then in college, I wasn’t the starting keeper the whole time. I had to prove myself and win over my coach. So it was pretty tough, I was sharing time with the other keeper who was excellent also. So I played a number of games each yeah but then my senior year, I spent the entire summer training with a goalie coach, twice a week I would wake up at 5 am and go out to the field. I just put a lot of hours in over the summer so that when I came back my senior year my coach was just really surprised, blown away, and I played really fantastically my senior year. I think he was really surprised because usually people play their best their junior year and senior years not as great. I think he’s just really surprised and changed his mind about my athletic career.
S: What about struggles as a woman?
E: I mean, it was interesting because whenever I travel out of the country like Central America or elsewhere, you always see people playing soccer. You know, I went to Honduras, I went to Fiji at some point, and people are playing pick-up soccer and I would always go and join and that was just really weird for them, they would be like “Oh my gosh, this is so weird, there’s a girl,” because it was just only boys who would play that sport. So then when you could be playing with them and I would get kind of rough and play hard and body up against them, they were just shocked so it’s really nice to be in a place where women playing sports isn’t that weird, and it’s cool that I can just kind of join like that. I remember when I ran track at Bush, the year that I broke the 400 record, I would always do my repeats with the boys and they were so much faster than me so having them pace me was a really great challenge. I think it actually allowed me to break the record because I was running with people who were so much faster than me. So in some ways, that could be a disadvantage because the boys were so much faster, it actually put me at an advantage.
S: Oh interesting. Do you ever think like your sports are prioritized less than the boys of the same sport?
E: I mean there’s a lot of talk about the national women’s soccer team, you know against their peers, just much better than the men’s team. Like the men’s team didn’t even qualify for the World Cup this year but the women’s team consistently wins or is at least one of the top teams. And yet the women’s team barely gets paid compared to the guys or they’re forced to play on artificial turf versus the really nice grass stadiums that the guys get. For example, after I finished my college career, there were some people who decided go go on and play women’s soccer and that wasn’t a choice for me because I wanted to go on to my PhD right away. I wasn’t even looking at that option. It’s really hard to make a career out of that whereas for men there’s a lot more like pay in there so I always looked at soccer for being like… “Okay, this is what I’m doing until I’m done with college,” but it wasn’t even in my head that this could be a career just because it’s so different for women’s soccer than for men. But I mean, uh… lemme think of some other instances. I mean the nice thing about sports in college is I mean a lot of times the women’s game would be first and the men’s game would be second, and sometimes the men’s game would get a lot more advertisement and spectators because it was more of the prime time of night. The nice thing is that because of Title IX they have to fund the men’s teams and the women’s teams just as much, and because the football team is so huge, it takes up so much funding, the relative number of women’s sports get quite a bit of funding. Like the women’s soccer team is probably more funded than the men’s soccer team um, you know, just because of rules like that. It was nice to know that there was some institutionalized balance between women’s sports and men’s sports.
S: What was it about soccer than kept you playing for so long?
C: I mean I could go on about the advantages of playing sports. And you know there’s lot sof statistics about it too, like women who play sports throughout high school and college you know are more likely to graduate, more likely to get higher paying jobs. I think part of the reason I play sports are just because of all those different advantages and I think one of the most important things you learn is how to fail and how to bounce back from that. The number of times that I got demoted to the C team or put on the bench or something, and you learn that you have to keep going and eventually all that hard work pays off. For me it was an opportunity to achieve something. I guess It was great to have a team and sense of belonging I think sports was really how I defined myself throughout my life. Now that I’m out of college I’ve picked up running because I just didn’t know what to do with myself when I’m not playing sports. I don’t know I think it was kind of like how I defined myself, it gave me a really strong group of friends and taught me so many important life lessons and I feel like overall I’m a stronger person for it.
S: Do you have any athletic goals for the future?
E: I just ran my first marathon 2 weeks ago – 3 weeks ago, oh my goodness. So when I got to graduate school – I’m in my third year of getting my PhD, I picked up running. So I’ve run 5 half-marathons and 1 full marathon, and my next full is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So I have another race in August and I’ll take another crack at it. I’d really like to get much faster. I’d like to run an Ultra at some point. But I kinda just shifted all that obsessive discipline, kind of hard work mentality into running now from soccer.
S: I don’t know much about running, but what’s an ultra…?
E: An ultra is technically anything over the normal 26.2 miles but it’s usually it’s not like a 27 mile ultra, usually it’s around the range of 50 miles. But that’s a little off in the distance. To qualify for Boston you have to run a marathon in a boston qualifying time, and for my that’s 3 hours and 35 minutes. But you have to run the race faster than the qualifying time because they fill it from fastest to slowest so in previous years you had to beat your qualifying time by 2 or 3 minutes. I’m trying to run a 3:35 which is 8 minute miles so I need to shave off 18 minutes.
S: Oh man that’s lots of work! but it’s good coming from soccer because you know you have that drive and stuff to do that.
E: Yeah. I have a good sense of what’s good workout pain and what’s bad workout pain so I know when to keep going and when to slow down. Running is really nice and I think having sports is really nice especially in grad school bc I’m doing a PhD in medical engineering because sometimes in the lab things don’t work out no matter how much you do everything right. Sometimes the science just doesn’t agree with you and you feel like you’re just not making a lot of progress. But I have running where you put in a certain number of hours you get a certain amount of return and so over the past two years I’ve seen myself get better and better so it’s nice when my work isn’t doing what I want and I’m not making a ton of progress, I have something else in my life that I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress and I feel like I’ve become better and stronger. It’s a good balance that keeps me sane and helps me make my way to a PhD.
S: I guess I’ve never really thought about athletics like that. That’s really cool.
E: Yeah it definitely keeps me balanced
S: Last question, at the end of my project I’m going to be presenting to young students about everything I’ve learned and my goal is to educate them on what it’s like growing up as a woman in athletics but also empower the young girls to play sports. So is there anything you’d like to tell them?
E: I really just absolutely love sports and I think it’s 100% made me the person who I am. It teaches you discipline, it teaches you responsibility, it teaches you leadership, um, I think one of the greatest lessons that you learn in life is how to fail and not give up and sports is a really great way to do that because there’s no way that you’re not gonna fail a bunch of times. The number of times that I’ve let in a goal that was completely my fault or I missed a free throw or something, like you’re just gonna fail so many times but it teaches you how to keep going and like learn from your failures in a very safe way and how to take responsibility for your teammates In real life, failing can have more repercussion. Sports gives you a safe place and learn how to bounceback and keep trying. Learning how to fail repeatedly and not give up is a really important skill in life. Especially if you want to do science.
S: Yeah that’s definitely a track that i’ll be on.
E: I just think it read he’s so many valuable life lessons in a space that’s really safe and it’ll just make you a stronger person. You don’t need to be the star athlete or MVP of the team to get any of these things. You just have to be involved and learn how to show up and be committed every day to anything and just see yourself get better as a result of your hard work… it just all applies. I wasn’t planning on playing soccer after college but like all that stuff that I did is gonna make me so much better at what I choose to do in life.