By Jared Talbot | firstname.lastname@example.org
For Colombian soccer player Juan Calderon, making it on to the field for the Flagler College Saints has been a longer journey than for most players. From a life of privilege in Colombia, Calderon had to leave everything behind because of drug cartels — his home, his friends, wealth, and most of all, his love of soccer.
But after working construction to help his family and transferring schools, Calderon has finally made it back on to the field as a walk on for the Flagler men’s soccer team.
“I had never worked a day in my life,” he said. “To leave my girlfriend of four years, my friends and my life that I loved was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Yet I knew it was for our safety and I knew I needed to work for my family. I had to practically give up soccer for a while after that.”
Calderon grew up in Colombia with his family and had everything he could ever want. His father owned a farm where he was able to play soccer every day. He had his own driver that took him wherever he wanted and he didn’t have to clean his room or make his bed. He described his life as “perfect.”
As he got older, he found himself with a lot of friends, a girlfriend and couldn’t have been happier. But in 2012, that all changed.
“The cartels were beginning to affect my town and nearby towns,” he said. “Just two hours from me there were kids joining militias and the cartels were practically taking over towns. My father’s farm provided for the whole village and the cartels knew this. It wasn’t before long that we had to flee.”
Calderon’s father sat his family down and explained to them that they had to leave Colombia and that Calderon would go with his family, but that his dad would have to stay until he could get a passport because his original was lost when they left the farm. His brother was allowed to stay because the professional soccer team he was playing for was going to take care of him.
The next thing Calderon knew, he had left his family, friends and his whole life behind him. For the next year, he spent his time looking after his family and working to help with any financial problems especially until his father got back.
At 19, he was working construction just to help with his family and things were not easy. His father, however, wanted more for him.
“My father told me that he wanted me to try and get a scholarship for soccer and said I was probably better than a lot of kids anyways,” he said. “I was out of shape, but it felt like destiny when I met a college coach. I was playing in a league and a coach for Southern Wesleyan University found me and offered me a full scholarship to go play for them.”
Calderon went on to play for the Division II soccer program for two years until finally, he accepted the fact that the school was not for him. He wanted a fresh start and told his family this. He found Flagler when doing research into various colleges and not too long after, was accepted.
“I was excited to come here but I wanted to play two more years of soccer,” he said. “I emailed coach [John] Lynch every day for a long time but he never responded. So when I got here, I was unsure if I was going to be able to play. I tried out a few times though and he took me on as a walk on.”
Coming off a major knee injury which sidelined him for the majority of his junior season, Calderon heads into his senior season next fall with high hopes. Lynch, head coach of the men’s soccer team, had nothing but good things to say about Calderon.
“Calderon is a very positive person and is a good influence on the team,” Lynch said. “He is a hard worker and is always pushing himself and his teammates to be better.”
Ever since Calderon first touched a soccer ball, he knew he belonged with a ball at his feet. From a very young age, his father took his brother and him to watch some of the top soccer clubs play in Colombia and to this day, they are some of his fondest memories.
“My father is a big inspiration for me because he had the chance to play soccer at a high level but knew he had to support his family,” Calderon said. “He’s taught me so much about the game as well as my brother who is now playing professionally is Colombia right now.”
From a life of privilege and joy playing soccer on the fields in Colombia, to a life of filled with perspective gained from struggle in a new world and to the fields of Flagler, Calderon is at peace once again.
“At the beginning, I used to say to myself ‘why did this all have to happen?’ Now I appreciate everything so much more,” he said. “I know why I am here now and what I have to do now.”