She's striking a balance

Colleges: With great dedication and a little help from family and friends, UMBC striker Nicole Grinspoon juggles soccer, schoolwork and motherhood.

College Soccer

October 19, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Unlike the typical kid-carting weekend chauffeurs that do the cheering, Nicole Grinspoon is a soccer mom from an unconventional side, still determined to keep her life as normal as possible.

This is her normal: being married with a toddler; taking 19 credits this semester at UMBC, where she's a starting forward for the women's soccer team; interning twice per week at the Maryland Public Defender's Office; and finding a night or two to wait tables.

A rare chance to relax comes in the locker room before each home game, when the 21-year-old makes sure to save a little extra time to just sit and listen to music.

By the middle of her pre-game warm-up, her smiling, soon-to-be 2-year-old girl, Kaila, can be found racing down the hill that leads to UMBC Soccer Stadium.

"I'm always yelling to my mom to please watch Kaila; she gets down that hill in a hurry," Grinspoon said.

"Kaila is going to be 2 in December and, of course, it's completely changed my life," she said. "It was definitely a surprise, and it changed a lot of things - but definitely for the better."

While change was inevitable, the astounding thing is how Grinspoon has managed to keep some important parts of her life the same after she learned she was pregnant in the spring of 1999, the end of a freshman year that began with her being named the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year in the fall.

She said at first there was definitely a thought of not playing or going back to school, "but those were quick thoughts."

"I know a lot of people who have kids, and they're like, `I don't know how you do it; I can't do it,' and the whole thing is, once they get like, `I can't do something,' then they're not going to do it," she said.

So Grinspoon does it - with a surplus of help.

Her husband, Mark, a chef, is there. Two sets of grandparents are there. And Kaila inherited 22 aunts - the UMBC Retrievers women's soccer team - to baby-sit whenever called upon.

Grinspoon, who scored a metro-area-best 31 goals in her senior year at Catholic High when she was Nicole Brooks, takes on her demanding daily grind the same way she challenges a defender one-on-one.

The sociology major, on pace to graduate on time this spring, has a 3.4 grade-point average and is planning to continue on to grad school at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, seeking advance standing to earn a master's degree in one year. The striker on the soccer field has five goals and two assists for the Retrievers, who have gone 6-0-1 to improve to 7-5-1 overall and 6-2 in conference play.

And then comes the family.

"When she comes back from school and practice, it's not like she can rest for a while. She's got to pick the baby up and then do the mother thing and the whole family thing," said her father, Tom Brooks, a 1972 UMBC grad whose 34 career goals rank third all-time in the men's program. "She's done it, and I don't know how she's done it. Her 24-hour days are truly 24 hours."

Maybe that explains why Grinspoon kept the Retrievers' first overtime appearance brief by scoring the game-winning goal, a header, in the eighth minute for a 1-0 win over East Carolina earlier this season.

After missing the 1999 season due to her pregnancy, she returned last season to play in 13 games before going down with a knee injury that required surgery in February. Since she was 9, playing in her Canton neighborhood with boys because there were no girls, soccer always has been a mainstay, and she isn't ready for that to change.

"Soccer is something I've always loved to do, and I wasn't ready to give it up - even under all these circumstances," she said. "I still have the same passion for the game, but I definitely have different priorities. I don't live or die for the game, but I still love to play."

Through it all, UMBC coach Michelle Salmon says it's the same Nicole - if anything, better.

"She's matured a lot, both as a person and a player. She's still got her witty sense of humor, and when she gets on the field, she'll still talk the trash and do all the rest just like everybody else," Salmon said. "And Nicole has such a tremendous attitude of how she approaches it all. You're never going to hear her complain about anything. Right now, she has a bruise on her foot, and when she strikes a ball well, it can act up. So I was giving her a hard time the other day: It's not worse than labor is it? She said, `God, no.' "

Her dedication doesn't go unnoticed.

"She has a lot of responsibility, and her love of the game is apparent," said senior captain Jen Wilhelm. "Most would have just given up, said, `Forget soccer, I have enough on my plate.' But she didn't, and no matter how frustrated she may get with something that's going on, she still can't stay away from the game. It makes you think twice before whining about anything."

Kaila doesn't stop talking these days (she'll tell you her mommy is No. 7) or moving. She's at every home game with Nicole's parents, who quickly learned to come with a plan. The elder Brooks just may be running more now than he ever did as a player.

"My wife and I have to take turns watching the game and watching Kaila, because she's always on the run - up and down that hill. She goes from the time we get there until the time we leave. She's entertaining," he said.

Grinspoon wants to become a social worker to help juveniles some day. It's another goal made possible with a lot of assists.

"The balancing act is only possible because of the support I've had from my family and friends," she said. "I just know where my priorities are. There's never a question about what I have to do and what responsibilities I have, which gives me a good direction in life."

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