Rubina Veerakone started playing soccer at age six. On the first day of practice -- her first ever day of practice -- the coach asked, 'Are you excited to play soccer?'
She replied: 'My dad got me into this.'
Good idea, dad.
Sometime in the coming months, Veerakone, one of seven seniors on the University of Michigan women's soccer team, will lace up her cleats for the final time. The season is half over and the Wolverines are off to a solid 5-2-4 start, so there's no telling when that'll actually be. But when it comes, all the goals, slide tackles and logged miles will have undoubtedly been worth it.
With several of the team's starters besieged due to various injuries and ailments, Veerakone has undoubtedly stepped up despite battling her own nicks and bruises. She's one of several players on the team who were recruited at one position and ended up playing another; primarily recruited as an attacking player, she's found a home on defense, playing in 44 games (19 starts) as an outside back.
She doesn't score as much as she used to -- only one goal and three assists in her college career -- but that's the life of a defender. But there's something to be said about players who get excited about preventing goals rather than scoring them.
"My old club coach used to say I didn't have a defensive bone in my body," Veerakone said. "Playing defense, it requires you to be very disciplined. You have to be aware of a lot more. It's made me a more well-rounded player."
Her parents came to the United States as immigrants: her mother, Maria from Pakistan and her father, Ghani, from Sri Lanka. They came to this country to study. It's no surprise, then, that academics have always been a priority for Rubina and her younger brother, Suniel, a standout sophomore soccer player at Duke.
"For us, [academics] isn't something you do. It's something you pursue," she said. "You aren't granted the quality of education elsewhere that you are here. If you want to make something of yourself and provide for your family, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. Our parents made sacrifices so we could have this life. It's our job to not only make good lives for ourselves, but others, too."
Veerakone, a native of Caledonia on the state's west side, is set to graduate in the spring with a degree in biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience, a course of study that integrates the natural science components of the study of behavior. She plans on taking a gap year before pursuing medical school, perhaps spending the year living with her uncle, a psychiatrist, in New Zealand.
Down the road, Veerakone wants to become a pediatrician. She landed on that path after a series of experiences: taking biology courses on campus (it was her original major before switching to BCN), working with young children at summer soccer camps and shadowing her own childhood doctor.
"When people think of medical school, they think of the rigors and needing to be super smart in order to do it," she explained. "But when I see medicine, I think of being motivated -- being able to face adversity. The things these doctors are able to do for patients and families, the impact is unparalleled. Medicine keeps people educated and can get people excited about science, but above all, it takes care of people."
Veerakone also volunteers once-a-week at the Sunfield Center for Autism, ADHD and Behavioral Health, assisting a team of psychologists dedicated to providing evaluations and treatments of behavioral deficits, as well as increasing awareness of childhood mental health needs.
But more than any of those, the experience that left (and still leaves) a lasting impression are the weekly Thursday evening visits to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, a popular community service activity for student-athletes.
One of her first visits as an 18-year old freshman stands out. That night, she spent time talking and singing Drake songs with a female patient who, like her, was also 18 years old. The only difference is that one of them was in the hospital and the other wasn't.
To this day, that time left an everlasting impression.
"Those visits really made me realize what I wanted to do with my life," she said. "The impact you can make in that field is so personal. That visit, it hit me right there. I realized how privileged I am to study and play soccer at one of the best universities in the world, and that I should be using everything that I have to give back to everyone I can."
Studying and playing soccer at her state's flagship school, Veerakone has fulfilled a dream.
Soon, she'll help others reach theirs.