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After getting a head start on life, Makena Speer uses soccer to reinforce life lessons in herself

ARCHIVE PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Canby freshman Makena SpeerCanby freshman Makena Speer is quite the competitor, and hasn't let a lot of things stop her from doing her thing.

Speer got a head start on life, born 10 weeks premature and at just three pounds, and was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is the buildup of fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain. The diagnosis has resulted in Speer being fitted with a VP shunt to alleviate the pressure.

Apart from having it replaced four years ago when it broke, it hasn't been much of a hindrance, according to Speer.

"My doctor when I was really little said that the only thing I couldn't do was organized wrestling because my head could be pushed into the ground," Speer said. "That could cause my shunt to break by the neck, or wherever it connects. But when I'm playing (soccer) I don't really notice it at all."

A member of the Canby High School soccer team that made a stab into the postseason by besting Glencoe 2-1 in the opening round, Speer has been at it for a while now, seven years to be precise. Speer took up the game at the age of seven, and hasn't looked back.

When she is not competing with her high school squad, she competes with an Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) team. This particular squad competes across the country, and also requires a fair amount of time outside of competition, including practice up to six times a week.

The ECNL team might seem like a lot with high school sports and everyday life, but Speer is taking it in stride.

"It's very intense which is very good for soccer in my opinion because it pushes you to the next level," Speer said. "When I'm with the traveling team, it's very different than being at the high school. It's definitely something I enjoy doing, especially traveling because I feel more connected with the team when we travel with each other. The idea of playing other people from different states is very different because some people from California may be better than teams from Oregon, and it helps our team see what the other teams from different states are like."

Competing against other teams in the ECNL Northwest Conference might help raise her level of play in Oregon, but so does competing against her teammates during the high school season. Speer has locked horns with several ECNL teammates, including the Northwest Oregon Conference's player of the year, Lindsey Antonson. Seeing her teammates across the pitch in different colors helped fuel her competitive nature.

"I think when I saw them in my high school team it actually made me more competitive," Speer said, "because I knew them and I wanted to show them how I've improved through being in high school, and how it's different from being on my traveling team. I feel like I did that with most of the girls that I've played with."

While Speer is most at home in the midfield, she has also had plenty of experience as a defender, on the wing, and at forward. Being a Jill-of-all-trades is an important quality, according to her ECNL coach.

"Our coach on the traveling team has told us before, 'The more positions you play the more vital of a player you are,'" Speer said. "If you're asked what positions you play in soccer and you can only play center mid, or forward, then you're only seen as a player with one position. But if you're a player that says I can play any position, you're seen as a lot more vital to the team. If someone goes down in the defense and there's no other defenders, you could get put in because you're known to play multiple positions."

ECNL is used as a scouting tool for colleges of all levels, and coaches help their players become the athletes college recruiters are scouting. For Speer, playing different positions, balancing school and competition, and a host of other life lessons are a valuable asset as she prepares for her future.

"When I was younger, it was something that I really enjoyed because I got to go against other people that I didn't know," Speer said. "But I also like to compete because I'm competitive and it teaches me about life and how life is very competitive. And that we have to work as a team, and that there's road blocks and you have to learn how to overcome those in life and in soccer. It helps me understand the differences between life and soccer."