For some, sports are about getting in shape and showing off a competitive side, but for Schyler Neale, it is so much more than that. The 21-year-old graduate of American University began her lacrosse career at an early age, but little did she know that it would one day take her around the world.
Neale started playing lacrosse in fifth grade while attending Beaverdam Elementary. A local girls team had just started for middle schoolers and the team needed a few extra players. Since that first season, Neale has continued her commitment to the sport for almost 10 years. Neale first took a look at the sport because of her father.
“He played lacrosse when he was in high school and then went on to play a year in college,” explained Neale. “So he definitely got me interested in and then I think I just kind of stuck to it once I started playing and realized it had a lot of elements that I liked.”
After playing multiple positions over the years, Neale began on midfield attack-focused and has since settled into playing midfield as more defense-focused. The appeal of the fast-paced sport mixed with the team dynamic kept Neale involved in lacrosse until her senior year of high school when she decided to reach across the Atlantic for more opportunities.
At 17-years-old, Neale decided to try out for the Irish Women’s lacrosse team. Neale’s mother moved to the United States from Ireland in her 20s, so Neale was eligible for dual citizenship and therefore eligible for the team.
After some research done by her father and a trip to Ireland, Neale became an alternate for the team. However, after one of the players ended up dropping, there was a spot left wide open for Neale to join the team.
Neale competed in her first World Cup with the team in 2013 in Oshawa, Canada. She was with the team again in the 2015 European Championships in the Czech Republic and is set to play in the 2017 Women’s World Cup in Surrey, England just outside of London.
Not only has this opportunity allowed her to travel the world, but it has also had an impact on her relationships with others.
“I’d say mostly I’ve definitely made some of the closest friends that I’ve ever had because the training camps are really intensive,” said Neale. “And if you’re living with people for a good three and a half weeks in really close quarters and you’re eating every meal with them, you’re playing every day games with them, you’re bonding on the field and off the field.”
Since Neale has not been based in Ireland for her last two competitions, her training was self-directed until joining up with the rest of the team a little more than a week before the tournament.
“Especially being someone based out of the States, means that you have to have a lot of self-discipline and making sure you’re getting all your work done and that you’re showing up prepared for the tournament,” Neale explained.
This year Neale gets to experience being on the team a little closer to her teammates. Since graduating in December 2016 with a degree in International Studies, Neale has decided to take a coaching job in England. She will be teaching lacrosse, tennis, and rounders at the all-girls, private Putney High School in London until she goes to train full time with her team in July.
While she has no current plans once the World Cup is over, she does know she wants to work in her field. While studying at American University, Neale focused on development in the Sub Saharan Africa region.
“I think as of now, my major goal, I guess, it to be working in the field of either development or peace and conflict resolution,” stated Neale.
Neale has also considered development through the angle of sports, noting that they help develop skills and create stable environments for children.
“I’ve always been a major proponent of the relationship between sports and development and conflict transformation,” said Neale.
“Even beyond just looking at children and development through sports, also when you look at adolescents and even young adults it’s a really good way to bond people.”
During her time in college, Neale decided to spend some time studying abroad in her regional concentration of Sub Saharan Africa, ending up at the United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya for an extended stay of eight months.
In her first semester abroad, Neale experienced what it was like to adjust to a different culture and how to adapt in a way that she could be both respectful to the culture and feel comfortable enough to be herself.
“Coming from the States and then going to a country in East Africa, where you’re a minority and you’ve never been a minority before, was definitely something that was hard to adjust to,” explained Neale.
In her second semester in Kenya, Neale decided to play a sport to get to know other students better. She ended up choosing rugby. She was living out her belief in the importance of sports and relationships. Between her time with her Irish teammates and her experiences from studying in Kenya, Neale has decided to emphasize the value of making connections within her life and hopes to continue this path with a future in international development.