Definitions: Drew Klingenberg’s Senior Column
Yes, it’s true.
I am both a Klingenberg and a soccer player. This is potentially the first time I’ve ever introduced myself by these two identities, and it will probably be the last. It’s not that I’m not proud of these two titles, because I am — it’s just that I hate the unwarranted and negative questions/attention I receive from discussing these topics, on top of my destructive mindset resurfacing the torture I put myself through in years past. For this reason, I tend to keep these identities hidden. Yes, if you haven’t guessed by the last name, I am the brother of Meghan Klingenberg, Olympic hopeful and star of the United States Women’s National Team.
It all started after a flurry of interviews that regarded both myself and my sister as soccer players, always probing about a begrudging strife that materialized into a ‘sibling rivalry’ that never existed. Yes, we were part of a competitive, military family that couldn’t get through a complete board game night without all hell breaking lose, but I never once rivaled my sister. It’s always been a healthy relationship we’ve shared, and I respect her tremendously for her work-ethic and poise. The interviews, though, became a monotonous reiteration:
“Yes, we compete against each other to make each other better.”
“Yes. I’m genuinely so proud of her because she’s worked for her accomplishments harder than anyone else I’ve ever met, and she is the one that got me interested in playing soccer.”
“Yes. I have ambitions of getting to the highest level.”
It was like a script I’d been reciting for years; every interview was just like the last. Same answer, same dialogue, but it was the last question that I always dreaded. It was a question that has haunted me for years that overwhelms me with disgust and torment.
“So, I only have one question left.”
Here it comes.
“Who is the better soccer player, you or your sister?”
And just like that, it was a battle of superiority. We just talked about how she’s one of the best players in the world, so how am I supposed to answer a question like this? What a great deal of people don’t understand is the torture this question places on me. To most, it’s a jokingly playful question that could make the piece better by forcing a rivalry, but deep down it was just another reason why I considered myself a permanent second place.
What they don’t understand is in my later years of high school, I was destined to prove everyone wrong. It was a vicious cycle of working out three times a day, thinking I wasn’t good enough, and then going out again for another couple of hours to prove to myself I was good enough.
I had completely let myself, as well as outsiders, define me as “Drew the soccer player.” I let myself rot in a shadow I created, and I couldn’t force myself out of it. I had let the definition of who I was spiral out of control into overall uncertainty and hatred in myself because of an unattainable goal I couldn’t reach.
However, when I think of definitions now, I say fuck that.
It all became a learning experience and process here at Penn State that started out with my soccer coach at the start of my collegiate career. He sat me down on multiple occasions and we talked about me. Just me, as an individual soccer player. My coach respected my talent for what it was and not because of anything else. He liked the way that I had my own flare for the game, that I was different. He saw that difference as a strength, not as a weakness. He saw me in a way I failed to see and it was something that I took with me the rest of my career.
I had also cultivated relationships on the soccer team that I know I will never forget. I met people who respected me for me, not because of the last name that hung above my locker. I respected them for their individual talents and they respected me back. It was a mutual relationship where names or legacies did not mean anything. It was an environment that allowed me to thrive and practice and be myself on the soccer field all while having my own sort of anonymity. The inclusion of me being my own little component on a team that made up a bigger machine that is Penn State men’s soccer made me feel like I belonged. And it all came to fruition when we took down Northwestern on Senior Day my sophomore year to win the B1G for the second year in a row. It was an inclusion that made me value my talent as an individual and helped me see that I had my own spotlight. It was a force that made me grow to understand that I could control what I thought about myself as an athlete and not what others thought.
Penn State also allowed me to open myself up to new challenges. I was an enthused marketing major always passionate about learning more. I gained an aptitude for the study of marketing and all of its intricate networks and idiosyncrasies. Off the pitch, I was able to delve into non-grassy fields that appealed to me personally like consumer behavior, global marketing, sports marketing, etc. They were topics that I felt enough passion about where I would take classes just for the hell of it. My never-ending love for English and writing also blossomed with some help from fantastic professors. It was a minor that I am so happy about obtaining. It opened my world to new ways of thinking and people who helped shape and literally workshop the person who I am today. Thanks to all of my academic colleagues opening themselves up to a greater conversation rather than just “how drunk did you get over the weekend,” I was able to have the opportunities to explore different social issues and areas of my personal life. I also wouldn’t have shaped my passions for non-fiction writing from these discourses without your help.
In my final year of college, I made the at-first hesitant decision to join Onward State, but it proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was a fitting home to me through and through, and I truly solidified my niche in college with the inclusion that Onward State provided me. Writing has always been where my ideas are most effective, and finally I was able to portray my restricted opinions through a publication that gave me a chance. As kind of a self-proclaimed misfit, I was taken in by a group of extremely intelligent individuals who showed me it was fine to be different. Like going to Denny’s at 3 in the morning is normal, having a few too many drinks on a Tuesday was sometimes okay, and standing up for what you believe in is the pinnacle of confidence. I became more of myself through my opinion posts. I had garnered a voice that was able to speak more openly about myself, and express how I felt about different issues.
And throughout the whole process, the most important element that held the glue together was my family. Between my parents and my sister, they stuck with me through the worst of times and they smiled with me through the of best times. My parents are easily the best people I know (without bias) and they have provided me something that I will never be able to give back to them. The phone calls and talks to help me fight through a telling time in my life was something that helped me monumentally. Whether it was a bad grade on a test or just doubt in my overall ability, they helped me pick up the pieces. Coming up to my soccer games here at Penn State, going out with my friends and I, giving me the opportunity to earn a world-class education and just pushing me through my collegiate experience: they both are just unbelievable people. The constant unconditional love and support they provided helped me salvage myself out of a self-destructive mindset.
My sister Meg was always my biggest advocate. She always sees the best in me and has never let stupid things like outside distractions disrupt our friendship. She would walk to the end of the Earth to defend me and I know she’s proactively done that for me for as long I’ve lived. I am beyond pleased that I have had a sibling like her.
I am a Klingenberg and a soccer player, but I’m also so many other things as well. Quintessential college is about finding yourself, and not only did I do that, but I also shed an unwanted identity that I have harbored for years. The blue and white fever that started when I first stepped foot on campus has been unmatched and the amazing feeling I get reflecting on my four years will linger in my being for the rest of my life. The person I was coming into college is not the same person leaving. I’m now just Drew, without anyone else’s approval, and this has been the best gift of all time. I am able to control my own happiness and be able to explore who I really am. It’s a definition that I’m continually always working on, and it’s something that will represent me and who I am for the rest of my life.
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About the Author
The Nittany Lions participated in a max-out lifting session to mark the end of winter workouts.
Gaines was committed to the Nittany Lions for nearly a year.
Sophomore forward Tessa Janecke also earned CHA Player of the Year and Forward of the Year distinctions.