I’m Alika Keene, and I come from the very sunny state of Florida. I was raised in Tarpon Springs, where I spent the majority of my time outdoors making up games with my neighbors. At an early age, my parents threw me into “organized sport,” which ended up being a very disorganized, flock-like version of preschoolers surrounding a soccer ball and kicking shins. While our coaches and parents laughed and yelled at the kids picking their noses and chasing butterflies, soccer slowly was solidifying a spot as one of the ‘coolest games everrrrr’ in my young mind. A couple years later, my parents signed me up for the local softball team, and I quickly realized that stealing bases and taunting the pitcher with how much I led third base really got my adrenaline running. That, as well as fitting as many pieces of Double Bubble in my mouth while still holding a conversation. Yet, my true love was football – the American one – and although my parents wouldn’t let me play it seriously, that didn’t stop me from joining the boys every day at recess. Everyone knew the word “sport” was an important part of my vocabulary early in my life.
By age 11, my parents had me make the biggest decision of my young pre-teenage life: do I continue playing soccer or softball? Each was taking a toll on my mom’s Corolla, and it would only be harder to sever the ties as I aged. So, in my little 11-year old head, I rephrased the question, “Do I quit soccer or softball?” The answer was obvious. Sure, I loved softball, but I breathed soccer and would do anything to keep playing! It was settled, and once I joined my first travel soccer team there was no looking back. Soccer took up most of my time from then on, but it didn’t stop me from dodging wrenches and cars (any Dodgeball fans?), racing all the kids in class, and playing any game that would leave us panting for our lives at the end of it.
Eighteen years after I strapped on my first pair of boots, my teammate in college showed me a job posting for GirlSportWorks, proclaiming, “Look, Lik, it’s our dream job!” With a bit of snooping on the website, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Combining sport – an activity that has been such an integral part to my development – with girls and in a Spanish-speaking country? It was a homerun for me! Growing up, I understood the struggle of women defining their place as strong and independent, as my mom would share stories from Jamaica. There, as in many places, women were to be seen and not heard. There, women weren’t seen as footballers and weren’t encouraged to play the sport that I have known and cherished my whole life. Reading the description of this job, I saw my mother in these Cusqueñan chicas who might not be expected to be competitive and strong in their sport. I wanted to share the love I gained from an active lifestyle and competition with them. As the cherry on top, I would be immersed in the main language my father spoke growing up, ideally leaving at the end of the year with the ability to keep up with my Panamanian heritage!
This is all to say that I could not be any more excited to work with these young girls with my pahtnah (that’s her Boston accent!) in crime of four years. Lydia (aka Lyds) and I go way back to the end of freshman year, where we met through mutual friends. Since then, we’ve been supporting one another at our games, sharing music and going to concerts, as well as spontaneously talking for hours when we should have been writing essays and studying. Needless to say, it is nice to have a constant flow of contact with someone I have gotten along with so well but lost in the mix of university busy-ness. We already have eaten our way through many of Cusco’s delectable restaurants, but we both cannot wait to for the true reason we came here: our Chicas Dinámicas. Shadowing class left us aching for more, and we’re a mere two days away from a very long and incredible journey with these girls! We hope to do justice to the legacy that Larkin and Caroline left behind, apparent by how sad the girls were on their last days of class. We have all of the secrets they patiently showed us written down, memorized (hopefully), and ready to go! Thank you to all GSW readers and supporters for helping us continue this amazing mission, and hasta pronto!
[Lyds and I taking off]