Who knew discovering a sport at the age of 14 could lead someone to play in the World Cup only a year later?
At first glance, most people will see a girl in APSU soccer athletic wear with a smile that lights up a room and energy to combat that of a 5-year-old on a sugar rush. Most people won’t know this girl has traveled the world playing a sport she loves: soccer.
Pamela Peñaloza grew up in Bogotá, the capital city of Columbia. She said she was the energetic child out of her two sisters growing up and enjoyed playing sports such as basketball, tennis and fencing, but it wasn’t until she got older that she began to find a passion for soccer.
When Peñaloza was around 14 years old, her uncle introduced her to soccer and began to teach it to her.
She said she started out as a goalkeeper but soon found she preferred running and scoring to staying in one place throughout the game, a desire which led her to become a forward.
Peñaloza’s uncle also introduced her to her coach in Columbia, who encouraged her to become an international player. She said she took his words to heart and began to train every day.
The opportunity finally arrived after all of her hard work earned her a spot on the women’s Columbian national soccer team.
Making the team was only the beginning for Peñaloza.
At the age of 15, she traveled to places such as Brazil and Bolivia for qualifiers and went on to play against teams in the U17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan such as Canada, Nigeria and the host team Azerbaijan.
Although Peñaloza has played soccer at such a high caliber, her inner teenage girl shines through and reminds people she is still young at heart.
She loves to hang out with her friends, listen to music and watch movies such as dramas, comedies and romance.
Peñaloza said she listens to a lot of Columbian music but she enjoys music from the U.S. She blushed as she admitted listening to music from Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and various rap artists.
On most nights, Peñaloza can be found having conversations over the phone or on FaceTime with family and friends from Columbia with a big smile on her face and plenty of laughs from both sides.
Peñaloza said she has a close relationship with her parents.
“My parents always supported me and wanted me to be happy,” Peñaloza said. “They always came to my games too.”
Peñaloza said she did not fall victim to the freshman homesick blues despite the distance between Clarksville and Bogotá.
She said the first week was tough because she did not know everyone, but her roommate McKenzie Dixon and her teammates were incredibly nice and supportive of her, making her feel right at home.
After overcoming the language barrier with her teammates due to her inability to speak English fluently, Peñaloza said she has formed a close bond with them.
“We’re like a family,” Peñaloza said.
That close bond will been seen out on the pitch soon and Peñaloza could not hold in her excitement thinking about getting to play alongside her teammates this upcoming season.
“We’re going to kill it,” Peñaloza said.
Coming to APSU wasn’t Peñaloza’s first time venturing into the States since she has family living here.
One of her biggest adjustments moving from Columbia to the U.S. has been the food.
“The most shocking thing is the food,” Peñaloza said. “In Columbia I ate really well but here, I like it but it’s different. It’s too fried and everything is so artificial. In Columbia I used to drink a lot of natural juices but here I can’t.”
Peñaloza said women’s soccer is different here than it is in Columbia as well, with games in the U.S. being played at a much faster pace.
Despite being nervous about the new style of play, Peñaloza said she is eager to take the field. “I’m just really excited to see how it goes,” Peñaloza said.
Peñaloza said growing up playing soccer as a girl in Columbia was a little different from doing it as a girl in the U.S. She said she grew up during “a transition period” and that 10 years ago, it was not often heard of for a girl to play soccer.
Now Columbia has a recognized women’s international team that is well known throughout the world.
Peñaloza said she was drawn to APSU by two of her teammates she played with on the Columbian National team.
She said they suggested to her that she should give APSU a look after they had both been recruited and toured the school.
After talking with coach Kelley Guth and sending over her paperwork, Peñaloza soon found herself on scholarship to play soccer not only in college but in the U.S.
In her debut coming up May 10 through 17, Peñaloza will play her first game with the APSU team in Costa Rica followed by her first season with the Lady Govs this coming fall.
Peñaloza was red shirted for her first season due to test scores she had from Columbia which made her ineligible for her freshman season.
Despite not getting to play, she has continued to train and prepare herself both mentally and physically for next season.
Peñaloza shows that looks aren’t always what they seem.
Behind her room-lighting smile and never-ending energy is a girl that has traveled the world with a determination to dominate the pitch and a love for a sport that brings the world together every four years.
Peñaloza has the heart of a champion and the personality to go with it, but at the end of the day, she’s just like any college student – except with a few more trophies.