Lending A Hand
By Chris Brooklier
Growing up in Dallas, Texas, Stanford defender Alina Garciamendez and her two brothers Erik and Kristian made everything a competition. It didn't matter what it was, it could be as inconsequential as a run down the stairs or as important as a soccer game.
"We always wanted to be doing something, so we'd rearrange the couches into goals and play soccer in the living room," Garciamendez says. "We'd have battles all day and we broke a lot of stuff - shades, windows, and even a T.V. - my mom was always getting mad at us."
Garciamendez was born in California and moved to Dallas when she was four. Both of her parents were born in Mexico.
"My parents raised my brothers and I with a mix of Mexican and American customs, and Spanish was my first language," Garciamendez says.
Garciamendez and her family would visit their relatives near Mexico City every year around Christmas. The time spent there was steeped in tradition, one of which was going to mass.
"Every time I went back to Mexico, I saw more and more poverty," Garciamendez says. "There were a bunch of kids that were barefoot, ill-clothed and begging for money just so they could eat."
During the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, Garciamendez and her brothers came up with an idea to aid that poverty they witnessed in Mexico.
Garciamendez decided she wanted to help the people of Mexico by donating anything and everything she could to the convent right next to the church she went to as a kid in Mexico City.
The wheels starting turning on her ambitious plan when she starting contacting everyone she knew - through email, phone and in her community. By the time she was ready to head off to Mexico, she had collected an astonishing 30 boxes worth of shoes, cleats and clothes.
After finishing packing all 30 cardboard boxes - which took about three days to complete - Garciamendez and family were at the airport, on the way to Mexico. However, trouble was brewing: American Airlines didn't accept cardboard boxes on their flights and the Garciamendez's would have to leave all the boxes in Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport. All the hard work, the planning, and the preparation that went into their efforts were seemingly shot.
"I panicked. I had no idea what we were going to do with the boxes and I was seriously freaking out," Garciamendez says. "But then my dad came up with the bright idea to buy suitcases and put all the stuff in there."
In total, the senior Garciamendez bought 10 pieces of luggage, and they transported about a third of the materials from the boxes to luggage.
"I think it really just showed how determined we were to make our plan go through. I wasn't going to Mexico without something to give to the convent," Garciamendez says.
But that wasn't the end of the troubles on their trip. Before they could get their bags, they had to go through customs, where the Mexican authorities checked and questioned them on all their bags.
"They definitely gave us some inquisitive looks about what was in our bags," Garciamendez says. "It took a painstaking amount of time for them to check all our bags."
Finally they made it to the convent with bags in tow.
"Once we saw all the people's faces it was worth all the effort," Garciamendez says. "It felt incredible that I could make a difference in their lives and bring joy to them."
Garciamendez had achieved all this while in high school. Next on her list: selecting a college.
"My dad went to Stanford for grad school so he always dressed us in Stanford gear," Garciamendez says. "I visited there often and really fell in love with it."
Garciamendez finished her senior year at the highly-esteemed Ursuline Academy with a 4.9 GPA and the honor of being named the 2009 Gatorade Texas Player of the Year.
Going into her freshman year, Garciamendez didn't think she would play at all, but due to the hard work she put in over the summer and the aid of club coach Ryan Higginbotham, Garciamendez started every game at the center back position.
Then as a sophomore, Garciamendez was named as one of the captains of the team. "I was really shocked when they called my name, I really thought they made a mistake." Garciamendez says
Next for Garciamendez was the opportunity to play for the Mexican national team in the World Cup.
"It was a dream come true for me, I played against the best competition including eventual World Cup champs Japan," Garciamendez says.
The biggest thing Garciamendez said she gained from her experience at the World Cup was "bringing 100 percent to every game. The experience made me mentally stronger and I'll bring that back to every game I play at Stanford and beyond."