StrongHER

JaNiya Stevens

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Honestly, I thought it was a scam at first.

As student-athletes, we get crazy messages all the time on social media, so I was skeptical when I received an Instagram DM from Jan. (at VfL Wolfsburg)

It didn’t make any sense.

While I played defense on the UTC (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) women’s soccer team, I come from humble beginnings, and I never expected to be contacted by this giant, global soccer franchise, which happens to have one of the most successful women’s soccer teams in the world.

That made me wonder. What does a German soccer club have to do with me?

I soon discovered that Wolfsburg had launched a campaign called StrongHER, which seeks to provide training, education, and mentoring in empowering women to receive equal opportunities both on and off the pitch.

With their partner club being Chattanooga FC, they wanted to tap into their resources and raise awareness for their campaign here in the US, which is where I come into the picture.

After several messages, emails, and phone calls, Jan offered me the chance to collaborate with them on the StrongHER campaign to make a difference in the lives of girls in the Chattanooga area.

Growing up, my path to DI soccer wasn’t the easiest one.

To now join a project that allows me to leverage my platform and experiences to help similar girls β€” girls who look like me and are in the same position I was in β€” almost left me speechless.

This was far more than an NIL partnership.

This was a dream come true.

Work hard and stay patient

I spent much of my youth playing travel soccer, which is not cheap.

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, so I know my commitment to soccer put a financial burden on my parents at times.

But this never stopped them from putting me in a position to elevate my game and accomplish my goals in the sport.

While playing college soccer was always my number one goal, there was a point when I wasn’t sure it was in the cards for me.

I had all sorts of questions and self-doubt that served as mental roadblocks along the way, but I knew if I continued to work hard and stay patient, everything would work out the way it was supposed to.

That’s why I was so relieved when I signed with UTC.

Not only was I going to live out my dreams, but my parents no longer had to worry about paying my expenses.

With that signature, all the sacrifices my parents made had paid off, and I couldn’t wait to make them proud at UTC.

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An impactful opportunity

As many are well aware, being a DI student-athlete is a completely new world these days, thanks to NIL.

Truthfully, I was a little intimidated by the whole NIL situation at first, but my dad was the one who convinced me to build my brand and put my name out there. Obviously, the money that comes with NIL is beneficial, but it’s about so much more than that to me.

NIL opportunities are about connecting with different people and making an impact in your community, which is something I’ve always kept at the forefront of any NIL deal I’ve pursued.

Never, in my wildest dreams, however, have I pictured myself signing an NIL deal with a German Bundesliga club.

But honestly, I just think they resonated with my story, and my story resonates with the campaign.

As a minority, and someone who’s had to work for every opportunity that’s come her way, I fit the demographic of who they were looking for to be a strong leader and mentor.

Today, all I can say is that I feel blessed.

Helping girls overcome obstacles and struggles to realize their dreams β€” well, it’s a dream come true for me.

Growth through adversity

For now, the partnership is a twelve-months commitment.

Aside from contractual obligations, I want to serve as a mentor to young girls based on all the experiences and lessons I’ve learned growing up playing soccer.

Like any sport, soccer has plenty of highs, but there are plenty of lows, too, and I don’t want them to get down on themselves when they inevitably find themselves in these situations.

You’re not always going to start every game.

Sometimes, you’re going to have to sit on the bench.

You might not be able to go to certain tournaments due to excessive travel expenses. Or, heck, you may not even be in a financial position to start playing soccer at all.

In addition to VfL Wolfsburg’s support, I want the girls I’m mentoring to be aware of these situations because I’ve been through them.

And let’s not beat around the bush; those are tough situations to deal with.

In fact, I wanted to quit at times because of them.

But I never did because I had mentors and people that believed in me.

And that’s exactly what I want to be for these girls.

Through StrongHER, they can see that I faced some of the same adversity they’re going through, but I kept moving forward until I realized my dream of being a DI soccer player.

It happened for me, and I’ll do everything I can to convince them that it can happen for them, too.

Everything fell into place

When I was younger, I never thought any of this would be possible.

I’m an early childhood and family studies major, so the StrongHER campaign lines up perfectly with what I’m studying and what I want to do someday.

With UTC, Wolfsburg, and StrongHER, it’s as if everything fell into place; Chattanooga is where I was meant to be in order to connect and make an impact in my community.

Once I see the impact I’m able to make in the months ahead, I believe that will only further encourage me to reach girls beyond Chattanooga.

Through my platform and social media, I’m going to strive to keep getting my name out there to make a difference in as many lives as I can.

In particular, I hope to be someone that can inspire and motivate girls who have the same skin color as me. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against or counted out because of my race, so I think I can play an integral role in providing that relatability these girls need.

Whether it’s being a friend, mentor, or just someone the girls can talk to, I know this NIL partnership is going to enrich my life in more ways than I can imagine.

I couldn’t be more thankful to Wolfsburg for this opportunity, and together, I look forward to empowering the lives of so many different girls in creating a StrongHER tomorrow.