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Airman overcomes adversity to follow soccer dream

First Lt. Charity Borg, a Headquarters Pacific Air Forces protocol officer, poses with her soccer ball at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, after returning from the Royal Air Force's AIRCOM Indoor Football Championship in the United Kingdom, Nov. 30, 2015. Borg, the goalie and captain for the U.S. Air Force women's team, was recruited to play after a long hiatus away from the sport and the team took bronze in the tournament. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Amanda Dick)

First Lt. Charity Borg, a Headquarters Pacific Air Forces protocol officer, poses with her soccer ball at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, after returning from the Royal Air Force's AIRCOM Indoor Football Championship in the United Kingdom, Nov. 30, 2015. Borg, the goalie and captain for the U.S. Air Force women's team, was recruited to play after a long hiatus away from the sport and the team took bronze in the tournament. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Amanda Dick)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

What happens when a dream you’ve been working toward since you were 6 gets ripped from you? How do you cope, move on and rekindle that dream?

First Lt. Charity Borg, a Headquarters Pacific Air Forces protocol officer, faced this dilemma a few years ago when she was in the middle of her freshman year at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Borg said she had spent 12 years getting ready to play Division I soccer in college and decided to attend the Academy, where she could not only play, but also commission in the Air Force.

“That’s where I grew up, on the soccer field … the amount of hard work, concentration, focus and growth you get from it, and staying calm in the insanity, is refreshing,” Borg recalled.

She earned a starting spot as the goalkeeper her freshman year at the Academy, beating out juniors for the spot.

“The golden dream was all working out for me,” Borg said.

Then, her dream crashed down around her when she said she was sexually assaulted two weeks into the soccer conference.

“It shattered my life; I basically had to drop off the face of the earth for a little while. It stole the dream for me for soccer,” she said. “That season was over for me. I had to step away to take care of my mental sanity.”

After a hiatus, Borg said she was ready to play again and talked with the coaches about returning. She said the coaches told her the goalie spot was hers and to be ready. As she headed into the preseason, another shoe dropped -- her trial date was scheduled for the middle of the soccer conference.

“As a goalkeeper, 90 percent of our success in a game environment is dependent on our mental fortitude and focus,” the protocol officer said. “You have to be on it; you can’t afford to be distracted for a second. Otherwise, your mistakes can and will cost the game.”

Borg said she then went to the coaches to explain the situation and let them know she thought it would be best to sit second string for the season as she worked through all that was going on.

“I handed my starting spot away. It was my decision, but I couldn’t stop crying -- that immense feeling of (being) defeated from the realization of everything that horrible night in October stole from me. But, I’m glad I did, because it was best for the team,” she said.

The goalkeeper went another season without playing, only to have the trial postponed an additional nine months.

Amidst all of this, Borg also started struggling academically, finding it hard to balance the demanding academics with the athletic training schedule. She said she was also strained emotionally and mentally from dealing with the assault and court process. So, she decided to step away from the team.

Anyone who lives, eats and breathes sports knows how difficult it can be when they are no longer a part of one’s life. For Borg, this was no exception.

“I was literally dying inside, especially knowing it was all gone because of something horrible someone else did to me,” she said.

When the trial was over and her mental fortitude grew stronger, she decided to talk to her coaches about returning to the team the spring of her junior year and they were happy to have her back.

After her experience, Borg said she became heavily involved with the sexual assault response coordinator at the Academy and was often referred to as the “baby SARC” due to her impact on the program. During her junior year, she created a video with other victims to address the overwhelming negative and disrespectful attitudes toward sexual assault. Little did she know, this video, and her testimony, would make it into the hands of the Headquarters Air Force SARC.

After working the summer before her senior year to earn back her starting spot on the team, Borg remembered being called in by her SARC, who relayed HAF was inviting her to speak at the sexual assault prevention and response program training conference in Washington, D.C., that fall -- however, accepting this meant another season without soccer.

“I ended up saying yes at the cost of my starting spot, but it was my decision,” she said. “I wouldn’t go back and change it. I understand the impact is greater than myself by sharing my experience.”

Fast forward a couple years, Borg had yet to play soccer again when an opportunity presented itself in the form of the AIRCOM Indoor Football Championships hosted by the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom.

“There has definitely been a hole in my heart -- a hole I am so thankful to say competing for my country has helped me fill,” Borg said.

For this particular championship, the coach was able to recruit outside of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe theater.

“I found her through her amazing reputation at the U.S. Air Force Academy and knew we had to have her represent her country, and she did not disappoint,” said Lt. Col. Derrick Weyand, the 39th Mission Support Group deputy commander and women’s soccer team coach.

Borg said she submitted the paperwork to play, was approved and started doing two-a-day workouts for the month leading up to the tournament.

Once in the UK, the women’s team started on three-a-day practices for the week before the first game. She said the team voted her captain, and she flourished in the position, finding a way to get a team who had been together a week in sync and dominating the competition mid-way through tournament.

Borg said her leadership was about “finding those moments to bring out the best in others, inspiring people to do more than they are capable of and building their confidence when it comes to what they do.

“You bring women together, most who have never played together before, and we have a week to be ready to compete internationally as a team -- it can be hard to bring people together that close, that fast; it’s a challenge to make that happen,” she continued. “But, that’s where I thrive -- when you throw me into that environment.”

It was that type of leadership and spirit Weyand valued and what helped the team win bronze, behind Germany and the UK, in the women’s tournament.

“Lieutenant Borg is one of the most amazing players and Airmen I have had the pleasure to coach,” Weyand said. “As a player, she is a world-class goalkeeper -- not only does she have the physical skills to play at the highest level, but what separates her is her on-and-off-field leadership, which goes unmatched. She has the ability to make people better, and as a result of that, the team wins.”

While the tournament brought her back to a game she loves, it was also a chance to build international relations with militaries from five other countries: Germany, the UK, Holland, Belgium, and Poland. One of the goals of the Air Force Sports Program is to provide such an avenue to build upon those partnerships in the international community.

“We would get out there and play intense completion -- you really whoop on each other -- and then at the end of the night, it was, ‘Let’s share a beer and get to know and understand each other,’” Borg said.

“We’re all part of the NATO alliance, which is the whole part of the tournament -- to foster that relationship,” she continued. “Let’s get to know each other, so when we end up on a battlefield together, we have a better understanding of how each other works.”

Moving forward, Borg said she will be attending tryouts in May for the Air Force women’s soccer team as they train for the World Military Championships. But she won’t forget how meaningful this opportunity was, giving her back a piece of herself and her dream.

“It was incredible to bring together women who were excited and intense about the game, a great environment and good coaching at the same time,” she explained. “It was not only great playing again, but it allowed me to grow my knowledge as a soccer player, athlete and leader … It was awesome and a really incredible experience I will never forget.”

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