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Interview: Simone Charley

Former Soccer and Track Field Standout Discusses life after Vanderbilt and her NCAA Woman of the Year Nomination

Photo courtesy of Simone Charley
Joe Howell

Simone Charley (Soccer, Track & Field) is one of the most decorated athletes in Vanderbilt history. She is a five time First Team All American in Track and Field. She has the school record in the Indoor and Outdoor Triple Jump (44’ 5.25”; 45’ 2.75”). She was First Team All SEC in Soccer and twice Second Team. She made the All Freshman team, as well. She was part of the USA U23 National Soccer Team. She was nominated for the SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Award and won a NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship, given to 174 athletes around the country.

Currently, she is on the preseason roster for the Portland Thorns and is a nominee for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.

You’ve been nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. What does it mean to you be included with the other nominees?

This has been such a humbling experience. There are so many powerful women who have done many amazing things throughout their college career, so to even be considered for the award is such an honor. I am so grateful that I was nominated by Vanderbilt, but more importantly, I am grateful for the phenomenal support system it offered because I could not have accomplished anything if it was not for my amazing coaches, teammates, and staff. It truly means a lot to me to be nominated for this award, and I hope that it shines light on the incredible people that helped me get to where I am.

You have a keen understanding of the systems that help people succeed. Is there anyone particularly who or specific instance of when someone helped you that it meant more?

Wow. This is a challenging question because I feel like there are too many people and instances to name. There have been so many times where coaches from other sports have reached out to me and given me words of encouragement when I needed them.

I would say someone who definitely comes to mind would be David Williams. He has helped me become well-rounded throughout my time at Vanderbilt by helping me stay focused on the bigger picture. He always encouraged me to take full advantage of the many wonderful opportunities Vanderbilt has to offer both athletically and academically. He really challenged me to not limit myself in my thinking and to really believe that I can do anything I put my mind to—especially outside of the athletic arena. We would often discuss how I want to go to graduate school after playing professional soccer, and he opened my eyes to possibly pursuing a career in academia.

To help me get more information about the day-to-day life, Vice Chancellor Williams set up meetings with many of the prominent African American female professors at Vanderbilt for me to meet with and pick their brains on being in academia.

The conversations, the insight, and most importantly, the lasting relationships I developed with these powerful women is something I will have the rest of my life. This is just one example of many of how the unrivaled support system at Vanderbilt has truly shaped the successes I have had both on and off the field. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the many wonderful people who poured into my life while at Vanderbilt.

Did you know you had been nominated?

I found out I was being nominated about a month and a half before the application was submitted and the nomination finalized. I was so excited when I got the email that I was nominated for such an award that I immediately called my parents and siblings to share the news.

What was it like playing and excelling in two sports?

Well thank you! It was exciting and challenging in many ways that I did not expect. I would say one thing I did not foresee was how mentally challenging playing two sports would be. There were many times that I would feel burnt out by not really having downtime in between seasons. I relied on my faith and support system to encourage and motivate me to keep going when it got tough. If it were not for the quality relationships I was able to form at Vanderbilt, I would not have been able to accomplish what I did.

On a lighter note, I really enjoyed being able to bounce between a team sport and an individual sport. I was able to get the best of both worlds by playing two sports that are very different. On the one hand, playing a team sport I got to experience being a part of a family working towards a common goal. I learned how to sacrifice for the betterment of something bigger than myself. In track, you more so are competing against yourself, so I had to learn to push myself both physically and mentally, but also know when to relax under pressure. It really forced me to learn about myself as both a person and an athlete.

I also got to have two sets of teammates which was pretty cool! I am not the most outgoing person, so it definitely helped me make more friends too!

Photo Courtesy of Simone Charley

Worst practice workout ever?

In the summer getting prepared for soccer season, we would do a workout called ‘envelopes’. You start on the corner of the 18yd box and then sprint diagonally across the field to the opposite corner of the 18yd box. You then jog across the length of the 18 to the other corner, and sprint diagonally back across the field to the other corner. You then turn and jog back along the top of the 18 to where you started. That is ‘one’ envelope and we would do two sets of eight. It was tragic.

For track, I have had some challenging bounding workouts that were a different kind of hard. Whereas soccer workouts were normally a ‘I can’t breathe’ hard, track was a ‘my legs feel like jelly’ hard. For track, I would have to do alternating bounds (right, right, left, left) with the weight vest on for 30yds down and back. Then I would take the weight vest off and pull a sled down and back. Then I would unhook the sled and sprint down and back. All of that would be ‘one set’ and I would do that anywhere from 8-12 times.

Favorite piece of swag/gear you got from your two sports?

This is tough since my whole wardrobe is basically Vanderbilt athletic gear. I would say for soccer, we got this long black puffy jacket which is super thick and warm that I basically lived in during the winter. It says Vanderbilt on the back too, which I really liked.

For track, we got this dark grey thick rain jacket that is pretty cool. It has the swoosh on the arm and the Star V on the front. It is my ‘go-to’ jacket in the rainy season here in Oregon. We also got a plethora of cool sneakers for track that I still love to wear and workout in

You are one of the most decorated athletes in Vanderbilt history, do you have an award or achievement that stands out to you?

Being able to represent team USA at the NACAC U23 Championships was a special moment for me. Growing up running track, I remember being in awe of the kids I would compete against that had made the junior USA team. I was not really competitive in my youth track days, so I never really thought that that would be an attainable goal for me. After being at Vanderbilt for a season and hitting a few personal bests, I surprisingly had a shot at making the USA team my freshman year at the USATF Track and Field Championships. My dream of representing the U.S. all came down to my last jump…and I fell short of making it by 1cm. To say that I was heartbroken would be an understatement. I cried about it for a lot longer than I would like to admit. That centimeter motivated me to push myself in workouts because in my head it felt like every rep could make up that centimeter.

Two years later, I finally got to wear the USA across my chest at the NACAC U23 Championships. I still remember where I was standing when my coach got the email and told me that I made the team. I can’t help but smile thinking about it. Although we were in the middle of practice, I freaked out when I found out and called my parents and siblings right after. I am so grateful for Coach Hump and Emil’s hard work in getting me prepared for that.

What did you enjoy most about Vanderbilt (not necessarily athletics)?

I enjoyed the people the most! That is what made my Vanderbilt experience so special because I was surrounded by so many amazing people. The Vanderbilt athletic department is like one big family. Everyone supports everyone…it was nothing to see other sports teams and coaches at your games cheering you on. It really felt like we were all in this together which is something I really appreciated. The relationships I formed with other athletes and Vanderbilt athletic staff are ones that I am so grateful for and will always cherish.

Between school and sports, where do you form relationships with other athletes?

I would say the biggest meeting spot is Hendrix—the athletic dining hall. All athletes eat dinner together in Hendrix every night, so it kind of forces you to get to know everyone as you share a meal together after practice. When you spend so much time together in one building (McGugin), you really start to bond over the shared triumphs and challenges of being a student athlete.

Also, during the summer months, a lot of athletes have to stay on campus for workouts in preparation for the season. The Towers common room was often the summer meet up spot where we would watch TV, play cards, and just hang out. We truly are like one big family!

What’s the best thing to eat at Hendrix?

I was just talking about this the other day with one of my friends, actually. Hendrix makes these teriyaki Brussels sprouts that are heavenly. I know what you are thinking…Brussels sprouts? Really? But yes! Trust me, they will change your entire life. I am not a big vegetable person (I’m working on it), but these Brussels sprouts are amazing. Anytime Hendrix would have them, someone would put it in our team group message to make sure everyone would eat in Hendrix that night. Hendrix’s corn muffins are a close second!

Where’s the best place to watch a game on campus?

The common room in Towers has a nice sized TV for watching sports. I watched the entire 2014 World Cup and numerous NBA finals games sitting on the couches in there. Commons and Rand dining center is also a good place to watch games because they both have a lot of TVs.

Favorite place(s) to eat/things to do in Nashville? New favs in Portland?

As far as favorite food place, I would say it’s a tie between Monell’s and Nama Sushi. Monell’s is like a family style restaurant. Everyone in the restaurant sits around one big table and shares a meal together. It makes you get out of your comfort zone by having to meet new people while enjoying the comfort of southern home cooking. Nama Sushi was one of my favorites because I love sushi! It was walking distance from my dorm and also on the commodore card, so it was definitely my go to!

As for food here in Portland, I really like this Mexican restaurant called Por Que No. They have very good shrimp burrito bowls…it is the only thing I have ever gotten on the menu! I also like a frozen yogurt place here called Salt N’ Straw. They have some pretty bizarre flavors since they incorporate ‘real food’ (like vegetables, rice, etc.) into their ice cream, so it is always fun to try the different flavors.

Why did you decide to pursue soccer after graduation?

I decided to pursue soccer because being a professional soccer player has been my dream since I was in kindergarten. I have always loved playing soccer, and it is something that I have always been passionate about since I started when I was five. Once the opportunity opened up to continue playing, I knew I had to take it! I definitely do miss being in the track world sometimes because it had been a part of my life for so long too. Who knows, maybe one of these days I might put my spikes back on again!

Photo courtesy of Simone Charley

What’s a day like in Portland? What were your expectations?

I normally wake up around 8:00 and eat breakfast. I eat the same thing for breakfast everyday…two turkey bacon, egg, and avocado sandwiches. I then get ready and leave for practice around 9:10 and get there around 9:30. Our practice normally starts around 11:00, but we have our team meeting starts at 10:00. After our team meeting, I will do some prehab exercises for about 10 minutes and then go out and practice. If we have a lift that day, then I will go do that right after practice.

After practice/lift, I’ll normally get home around 2:00. I’ll then fix something to eat after practice…I have really been into black bean burgers lately! And then I’ll usually take a nap for a few hours. I am still trying to figure out what to do with my free time. I recently was asked to train some young triple jumpers (yay for staying in the track world!), so if I have a session with them, I will normally train them and then come back and make dinner!

I have also tried exploring Oregon a little more…There are a lot of cool hiking spots that I have been wanting to try out.

Did you watch the World Cup? If so, who were you pulling for?

Of course!! I am pretty sure all I did in June and July is play soccer and watch soccer. Because I am on Pacific Time, the games would sometimes be as early as 6:00 in the morning, so I would have to set an alarm to watch them. As for who I was pulling for, I really wanted Belgium to win. This past soccer season, Darren had me watch a lot of film on Romelu Lukaku (the Belgian striker) because of the intelligent runs he would make off of the ball. He has become one of my new favorite players, so I was really hoping Belgium would win their first World Cup in their nation’s history.

I also cheered for Mexico because I have been a Javier Hernandez fan since I was young and they have always had a quality team.

What’s on your Spotify playlist?

I like a little bit of everything, so it depends on my mood. I really like India Arie because her music has such powerful and uplifting lyrics. On a day to day basis, I like R&B/soul with a little alternative music so I will listen to Anderson .Paak, Daniel Caesar, Leon Bridges…with a dash of Coldplay. If it’s game day and I want to get pumped up, it’s probably Kendrick Lamar, Lecrae, Drake, and Andy Mineo. Lastly, I have to put Kirk Franklin! I grew up listening to gospel music and I still listen to him almost everyday!

Favorite type of Gatorade.

I learned this past year that I am one of the only people who prefer G2 Gatorade over regular Gatorade. Of the G2 flavors, I would say lemonade (the light pink one) and tropical blend (the dark green one) are my two favorites.