I remember arriving in Xenia, Ohio. Knowing absolutely no one but seeing so many smiling faces wandering around, and everyone was speaking with each other. We were a great group of guys ready to travel abroad and play soccer.
Suddenly, everyone became silent. An older man began to speak to us. His name was Kurt Kuykendall, and little did I know, he was about to become my coach and my biggest mentor.
But that is enough about me. This story is about former United States National Goalkeeper Kurt Kuykendall.
“How did your soccer career begin?” I asked.
“Well, in May of my freshman year of college, after only two weeks of school, my fraternity brothers asked me to play goalkeeper for their intramural team at American University,” said Kuykendall. “I said ‘no, I won’t play on your team,’ but they convinced me to, and finally I went to play goalkeeper for their team.”
I laughed. “How did that go?” I asked.
“Well, we lost 6-0, but I had around 20 saves and I really loved it,” said Kuykendall. “I started playing every day.”
I began to smile as he continued.
“I committed to playing every day,” said Kuykendall. “I committed to playing and not only playing, but also playing for the Lord and not myself. I was training every day and one day my fraternity brothers said to me that I should tryout for the varsity team.”
“What did you say to that?” I inquired.
“I laughed at it and thought that there is no way that I will make varsity,” said Kuykendall. “My fraternity brothers said I should, so I tried out. What ended up happening after this tryout was that the University’s starting goalkeeper got injured, and I made the team and the coach put me in. From there, I made All-American and became a starter for the University.”
I was astonished listening to how calmly he spoke about such an incredible accomplishment.
“So what happened next?” I asked.
“Three years from the May that I began playing with my fraternity team, I was jogging across RFK Stadium making my debut for the Washington Diplomats,” said Kuykendall. “Funny thing is that I grew up playing baseball, basketball and doing gymnastics. The muscle memory from all of these sports had prepared me perfectly to become a goalkeeper.”
I listened intently.
“God knew my future and put me there,” said Kuykendall. “People say that that’s impossible, but nothing is impossible. So I ended up breaking my leg in my first year as a pro, but I heard that the U.S. Olympic team was holding tryouts, and I decided to tryout after recovering.”
I was silent.
“I made the team,” said Kuykendall. “Within just a few years of beginning to play soccer, I made the United States National Team. I made my debut against Greece and two months later was signed to the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos’s coach came up with a man behind him, and it ended up being Pele. I was 23 and playing alongside Pele.”
I was still silent. I was enthralled by his story, and he continued.
“I was traveling the world, playing in huge stadiums,” said Kuykendall. “It is amazing how God took me, a complete nobody, and put me on that team.”
“Could you tell me some memorable experiences?” I asked.
“Well, I had the pleasure of Hugo Sanchez scoring on me twice while in Mexico,” said Kuykendall. “While playing with the Cosmos, I remember stadiums selling out. It got scary in some countries. Pele would play the final five minutes of most games on the side of the field closest to the locker room so that he could run out when the game was over. We had no security and were constantly having to run out of stadiums to avoid crazy fans.”
I laughed hesitantly.
“I remember Brazilian Special Forces protecting us, and I remember Haitian troops walking across the field, during the game, and pulling a man out of the stands and beating him,” said Kuykendall.
I became nervous.
“Anyways, I went from playing NASL to playing for the Cosmos and the National team,” said Kuykendall. “It was exciting. Everywhere we went, we went in motor caves. It was incredible. We were able to go backstage at huge concerts and meet great people, but this became bad when people like Rod Stewart would show up in our locker room, thinking it was okay for him to be in there.”
His stories had me captivated. His relentless spirit put him in places he never dreamed of. Finally, I asked a closing question:
“Could you explain your career in one sentence?”
“Going from never playing to jogging down RFK Stadium for the Washington Diplomats in only three years is proof that God is real and that all things are possible,” said Kuykendall.
The takeaway from this interview, do not ever believe that your dreams are out of reach.