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Controversial Decision Threatens Budding Soccer Career

Announcer: “Hinkle putting on the moves!”

Star defender for the North Carolina Courage professional soccer team, Jaelene Hinkle has always found her place on the field.

“It’s just like this identity that starts to become a part of you,” she shared. “Especially in college. Like you’re a student athlete. It always was with you.”

Jaelene’s love for the game started on the youth soccer fields of Denver, Colorado. Raised in a Christian home, she learned about her identity in Christ, and committed her life to Jesus when she was 12. 

“At that age, it was like okay, I’m starting to connect the dots and I want to see where this takes me. Like I want to find out who God is.

But as a teenager going into high school, she was more concerned about becoming a better soccer player and making friends.

“I don’t think I ever hesitated or doubted my faith,” she said. “I like know that I’m good and like the Lord created me, but it’s like I want to fit in.”

Jaelene had a stellar high school career, earning a full ride to Texas Tech University. There, she thrived on and off the field and even continued going to church. But now everyone knew her only as Jaelene the soccer player, and, again, she found herself caught between two worlds.

She remembered, “On paper I was doing really well. But like inside it was just like, ‘I’m kind of miserable right now.’ I mean, there was Saturdays where you’d go out and you would hang out with your friends and you’re partying and then I’m like, ‘I have church tomorrow morning.’ And then I’m in church and I’m like, ‘What did I just do Saturday night?’ Like just those like wrestles of like, “I want to fit in here, but I also want to fit in here. But where do I actually fit?’”

Then her lifelong dream came within reach. Her coach told her she had the talent to go pro – if she wanted. 

She thought, “‘Well, yeah. I want to go to the next level.’ I feel like I’ve always wanted to go to the next level. It just always seemed like if that was an option, that I would want to do it.”

But going into the Spring season of her Junior year, Jaelene began having excruciating, sharp pain in her left leg. An MRI revealed she had an extensive blood clot, prompting doctors to perform exploratory surgery.

Doctors told her, “‘Your vein is 80% closed. So you’re not getting any blood flow. The fact that it’s that closed, we can’t get our tools in there. So our next step would be in the second surgery.’ If it doesn’t open overnight somehow on the blood thinners that they had already put me on, their next step was to put a stent in. And he’s like, ‘I’m so sorry to tell you this, but if we have to put a stent in, you can’t play sports. You can’t play contact sports. It’s –you being hit could internally cause bleeding. Like it would be life threatening at that point.’ The one place where people were telling me my identity was, that was about to be taken away and I was just –everything just came crashing down.”

Jaelene, along with her parents, turned to God in prayer.

She said, “The first thing that my mom said to me was, ‘We’re just going to pray. We’re just going to pray all night long. I know that you have the power either way this goes. And I’m not trying to make a deal with You, but like if You allow me to play soccer, like this is going to be for You. I think at that point too I pretty much was like this internal battle with the Lord of like please don’t take this from me.” 

The morning after Jaelene’s second operation, the doctor spoke with the Hinkles.

She described the doctor saying, “There’s no reason it should have happened, but he was like your vein was completely open.’ And he was like, ‘From it to go 80% to completely open,’ he was like – ‘I am not one to believe in God, but like you have gotten a miracle. Like you got your miracle.”

Jaelene made a full recovery and committed all-in on her faith.

“Yeah, it was like no, there’s no turning back after that one,” she smiled. “I wanted to know everything and anything about the Lord.”

After a successful Senior year, Jaelene was called up into Nationals and began playing for the Women’s Professional League. Then, in 2017, she was invited to play for America in two international ‘friendlies’ games.

“When you honestly take a second and like step back,” she said, “and almost have like that outer body experience of just ‘I’m being invited to play the game I love for my country. There’s an emblem of the U.S. flag on your chest.’ Like that’s huge.”

Then, days before the event, it was announced that the team jersey was designed to honor the LGBT community. Jaelene again turned to God. 

She described, “I just felt so convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey. And I gave myself three days to just seek and pray and determine what He was asking me to do in this situation.” 

In the face of opposition and social media backlash, Jaelene withdrew from the games with the support of her teammates. 

“I’m essentially giving up the one dream,” she shared. “Little girls dream about their entire life and I’m saying no to. It was very disappointing. And I think that’s where the peace trumped the disappointment. Because I knew in my spirit I was doing the right thing. I knew that I was being obedient. And like just because you’re obedient doesn’t make it easy.”

Today, she plays for the NC Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League where she boldly proclaims her faith and identity in Christ.

“I don’t question His goodness,” she said. “I know He’s good, I know He’s faithful. And if I never get a national team call up again, like that just is part of His plan and that’s okay and maybe this was why you were meant to play soccer. Just to show other believers like to be obedient.”

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