Feature on Troy Ready
Check out this great feature story on former UW soccer great Troy Ready. Check out the full story: http://www.yanks-abroad.com/get.php?mode=otb&id=ready.
Laying the Foundation On and Off the Field
"During the summers, I directed and coached sport camps for kids," he said. "This was the beginning of recognizing the opportunity to influence the lives of others."
Following high school, Ready attended the University of Washington here he was on scholarship playing for the team.
From 1999-2003, Ready was part of a highly successful Huskies program, but personally battled with numerous injuries which had plagued him over the years. When healthy, however, he matured into an explosive player on the left wing.
"My senior year was the redemptive reward after all of the setbacks," Ready discussed of his college career. "As team captain, leading goal scorer and MVP, he led the program to its furthest ever run in the NCAA tournament. "There was nothing like that season. I'll never forget it."
Ready graduated in 2003, and the following summer married Jenny, his high school sweetheart and friend since seventh grade.
The newlyweds then voyaged to Norway for their honeymoon and to search out options of playing professionally in Europe through prior connections that had been made.
"A teammate of mine at the UW was from Norway and had some soccer connections," Ready explained. "So we thought, 'Why not take our honeymoon to Norway?' We ended up staying for almost a month and in that time had trials with three different teams, one being IK Start."
Start wanted to sign Ready, but couldn't finish the necessary requirements for a work permit before the close of the transfer window. As a result, Ready returned to play in his eighh season with the PDL's Spokane Shadow, becoming the clubs all-time leader in matches played. Less than a year later, the Readys returned to Norway to play, while also working with an organization focusing on peace and reconciliation amongst nations.
"When we landed in Norway the second go-round, our main aim was to explore how we would fit into the peace and reconciliation work, but I was certainly hoping to play as well," Ready admitted. "After feeling out the waters we agreed that this wasn't the right long-term fit for us - not to mention that Norway was unbelievably expensive. "I think we came home with 24 cents in our bank account."
The First Tajikistan Trip
As 2005 entered the horizon, Ready was working a second season as an assistant coach with Whitworth University in his hometown when, unexpectedly, he received a call that would greatly shape he and Jenny's future.
"'Would you consider joining our team for a tournament in Tajikistan?'," asked a friend of mine who was working with an organization called Ambassadors in Sport. "After talking it through with my wife and graciously receiving permission from Whitworth to leave for two weeks, I agreed."
The team that Ready was heading to Tajikistan with was comprised of ex and current professional players from Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina and the US. The team was to compete in a four-team tournament made up of the national teams of Afghanistan and Tajikistan as well as Tajikistan's Olympic squad.
"We basically flew straight into the country and the next day had a game against the Tajikistan national team," Ready said of the game. "We hardly knew one another's names, let alone played with each other. Surprisingly, we competed quite well, losing to the national team 2-0. I was exhausted having traveled the previous 34 hours and then playing almost the entire game."
"Our second game was against the Olympic Team in the city of Qurghonteppa." It was in Qurghonteppa, population 85,000, where things changed profoundly for Ready on a personal level as he realized it was there where he would relocate and fulfill his and Jenny's dream of using their lives to help others.
"We've always said that for us, the most gratifying thing that we can do with our life is to give it away by loving and serving others."
There wasn't a specific set reason why Qurghonteppa had such an important impact on Ready, but the combination of the challenges facing the people mixed with their love of the sport of soccer was significant.
"We ended up losing the game 2-1 in the final minutes, and you should have seen the celebrations. When their team scored that second goal, I couldn't help but smile. It was the first time as an athlete that I have ever been glad to lose."
It was also during this game against the Olympic team that Ready met the director of Millennium Relief and Development Services in Tajikistan, which is a worldwide organization providing help in the world's poorest nations. After the match, Ready stayed in touch with the organization which eventually became his path towards moving back to Qurghonteppa.
While the tournament was designed with the purpose of promoting international friendship between nations and those of different cultures, Ready was most taken in when he had the opportunity to meet the individual people of Tajikistan who sparked his desire to return someday with Millennium.
Back to the United States
After the trip to Tajikistan, Ready returned to the United States and signed with the Portland Timbers of the USL.
Injuries again took their toll on Ready, but his experience with the organization was overwhelmingly positive and he continued to live his life aspiring to improve those less fortunate in the community.
"I loved it," Ready said frankly of his experience with Portland. "I mean you always wish you'd played in more games, scored more goals, won more games, but honestly it was in many ways a dream come true."
His final season in 2008 was possibly the most taxing, concluding with post-season surgery and another long road of rehabilitation.
"I was heavily involved that final year with the Timbers Community Outreach and was recognized for my humanitarian efforts," Ready informed. "They do great things in the community and it was a joy to be a part of it all."
Less than a month after the season came to a close, Troy and Jenny had their first child who they planned to take with them back to Tajikistan when they made their permanent move.
The move to Tajikistan
When Ready and family arrived in Tajikistan in 2009 to work with Millennium Development Partners, they found themselves first undergoing an intense immersion program aimed at making them familiar with the Tajik way of life, language, and the culture.
For an extended period of time, they lived with a Tajik family without connection to the world in which they had left. For Ready, the initial breakthrough came in communicating with the people through the sport of soccer.
"This family we lived with didn't know a single word of English and we didn't know a single word of Tajik," Ready said of the experience. "The goal was just to start learning the language and to watch how they do life. So we wake up the next morning, we have a seven month-old and it was like 'Okay, what do we do from here?'."
"I walked outside and saw two of the young boys that lived with this family and then noticed that there was also an old raggedy soccer ball. I didn't know how to do anything Tajik, but I knew how to do this."
"We just started kicking it back and forth," he continued. "Within ten minutes there were probably 20 young kids around. Before I knew it, I found myself in this obscure village in the middle of nowhere on a dirt field playing soccer."
"Afterwards we sat down and for the next 45 minutes I would point to something like my eyes and they would tell me the Tajik word for eyes. All of the kids were noticeably enjoying me attempt the new words by giggling and clapping at my rare successes. So I guess that was my first Tajik lesson which started with a soccer game."
The conditions in Tajikistan were what most Americans would describe as brutal. Piercing heat, regular electricity cuts, and sometimes days without running water.
"Sometimes it is a matter of survival," Ready said of the daily hardships faced by the Tajik people. "Two winters ago was really difficult on the country. People burning their fruit trees, which were their livelihood just to stay warm enough to make it through the winter."
Despite witnessing these conditions, Ready and his family felt more determined than ever to help the people that surrounded them as this was now the main focus of life.
"We stayed centered on trying to engage the people and building relationships. We made it a priority to take the posture of a learner, seeing how we could potentially fit into what the Tajiks were already doing to better their lives."
Several months into learning the language and culture, Ready and his family settled down in Qurghonteppa where Troy finally began work for Millennium while Jenny stayed home to raise their son and engage the community of women near their apartment.
Among Ready's first endeavors was to join up with Swiss Michael Wernli who was directing Millennium's Youth Sports program. It was there that Troy began to learn how to organize and facilitate youth tournaments in the city and neighboring villages.
The Return to Soccer
While Ready was working with Millennium and focusing on providing opportunities through sports for young people in Qurghonteppa, he was also aware of the continuing zeal to play the game at a high level.
Injuries had taken their toll on Ready, but he was still only 30 years old and felt he could still contribute. This past February, he decided to approach FC Vakhsh, who play in the top league in Tajikistan and have historically been among the strongest teams in the country, last winning the title in 2009.
While Ready could not be paid for his services at Vakhsh due to the nature of his visa, his motivation towards joining the club was twofold. He knew that he could fulfill his passion to play competitively as well as make contacts with the club that could possibly help join some of the projects with Millennium.
"We went to the president of the club and gave our pitch. It was bascially, 'I have played professional soccer in the states and I already have a visa through this organization, so you don't have to pay me anything. Maybe we could partner together by using the pro players for youth camps or other projects.'"
The club agreed to give Ready a trial, which was successfully completed. Ready compared the level to that of his days at the University of Washington.
"They shared that I was welcome to stay and be a part of this team," Ready said with a smile. "I was really excited. I still didn't know exactly how it would evolve, but within a few weeks of being on the team I had developed more friendships than the first eight or nine months. It's the beauty of being on a team."
Ready been away from competitive soccer for almost two years, but it did not take long for his skills and talent to come back to him. The feeling he had when stepping back on the field was a relief.
"It was fantastic being on the field again," Ready said as he described the feeling of playing again. "For the previous nine months I had felt like 'I don't know how to speak the language, I don't know where to buy supplies, but...I know how to play soccer!' It was unbelievably encouraging, even from an emotional standpoint."
Becoming one with his teammates was never more clearly indicated than back in June when Ready and other Vakhsh players gathered around the television to watch the World Cup - the Tajik players cheering on the United States for their new American friend.
"When Landon Donovan scored the goal to put them into the next round, I jumped up and started dancing around the room giving them all high-fives," Ready exclaimed. "That was a memorable moment."
Things on the field however were not completely the same for Ready as they were in the back in the United States. Cultural differences were apparent but most of them were on the amusing side.
"I'm from the Pacific Northwest, one of those wacky ones that loves the rain. During one of the spring training sessions it must have been 65 degree so all these guys were bundled up as if caught in a snow storm and I'm wearing shorts," Ready said with laughter. "I think they thought I was going to die from the cold."
"The choice for hydration was also an initial shock. The Tajik players don't replenish with water. They drink hot tea. I'm telling you, there's nothing that quenches your thirst in 110 degree weather like hot tea," Ready joked sarcastically.
Shortly after making the team and before he could even make a league appearance, Ready's debut season with Vakhsh was cut short for reasons both good and bad. The bad being an injury that forced him to miss several months, while the good being that Jenny was pregnant with their second child. The Ready family departed from Qurghonteppa in August while FC Vakhsh ended up finishing the season in third place.
What The Future Holds
Jenny gave birth to the couple's second son in October. The entire family intends to return to Tajikistan in January to resume their work with Millennium.
Troy is still pursuing soccer aggressively, but is also making long-term plans to establish himself as a coach, knowing his playing days are winding down. Since arriving back in the United States, Ready has been coaching at Whitworth University in Spokane and has been working towards obtaining his coaching licenses through US Soccer.
"I was especially intentent this year about learning from coach Sean Bushey at Whitworth University, who in my opinion is as good as it gets. Coaching for me is really the next step for the days ahead in terms of having influence in Tajikistan."
Over Thanksgiving, Ready spoke at length with the staff at Vakhsh discussing next season. Ready is ready to give it another shot both as a player and exploring the avenues to begin coaching as well.
Ready is excited to lead Vakhsh into the season and looks forward to partnering the club with Millennium's efforts to help the community in their daily lives. He is also appreciative to his former club, the Timbers, who have donated two full sets of jerseys to help in his efforts.
"I have stayed in contact with the general manager and director of the Timbers Community Outreach, and am unbelievably thankful for their commitment to the community in Portland and to those on the other side of the world."
"I'm hoping to inspire some of these first team players to begin investing in the youth of the community," Ready says optimistically. "They need to know that they are being watched and have a responsibility to give back. Maybe they'll become addicted to giving."
As for his playing time with Vakhsh, when Ready suits up next year to help lead the club up the standings in Tajikistan's league he will be doing so with eyes towards the future. Contributing to the team will open up more opportunities to connect with those living in the city.
"At this point I have already pushed playing at the elite level as far as my talent would allow," Ready described. "So now, my aspiration is not only to compete, I'm also playing to further the platform for the future by gaining some credibility as a coach and soccer figure within our city."
"I love playing. I'd do it until I was 90 if my body would let me," he insisted. "Realistically, everything playing wise is a bonus as I am starting to look toward transitioning into coaching."
As Ready prepares to make the transition towards coaching in the coming years, he does admit that in addition to working with the youth of Tajikistan, he would be keen on taking the game to the highest level in the country, giving the people increasing hope through the sport of soccer.
"I am also very interested in coaching at a high level," Ready said with optimism. "If you are talking about shooting for the stars sort of dream, it would be that someday I would be part of the Tajik national team staff, bringing Tajikistan to the World Cup."
The Greater Meaning
Even though they have only been in Tajikistan for just over a year, the journey to the country has not only been personally fulfilling to Troy Ready and his family, but it has also begun to make actual differences in the lives of the Tajiks living in Qurghonteppa.
When Ready returns to Tajikistan next month he hopes to continue the lifelong mission of meeting the needs of others.
"I am surrounded by a family and friends who are doing similar things with their lives," Ready said of giving back. "I mean, my closest friends are working with refugees in Chicago, teaching in South Africa, and heading a leadership development organization in Portland. They are my heroes and inspire me to continue."
"In fact, one of them always says the best thing you can do is to just keep showing up," he continued. "99 percent of doing this sort of work is showing up. We would all see eye to eye with the sentiments of a tent worker following the earthquake in Haiti who shared, my goal is to save lives. With the limited resources that I have, I will exhaust them."
Equally important for Troy and Jenny will be teaching a valuable lesson to their two sons who they hope will have a similar perspective in life.
"They will know two languages and have a unique world view. More than anything, I hope that they would see mom and dad loving and living for others, and then go on themselves being intentional with their lives to serve and bless those they come into contact with."
As for soccer, Troy Ready is happy that his soccer ability has given him the platform to live a life that is centered on helping others.
Soccer is indeed the global game with hundreds of millions of kids having dreams of becoming a professional player. Of the few that succeed in this dream, even less choose to use it in furtherance of an even higher goal. Ready feels honored and privileged to have the chance to do so.
"I have yet to find a more fruitful way of engaging people than through soccer," Ready concluded. "For some it's being a physical therapist or a nurse, for others it's through teaching or counseling. For me, it's the game of soccer. Simple as that."
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