O Captain, My Captain: The Story of Chelsea Leiva

There’s an interest in the flashy lifestyle and pizzazz of a superstar athlete: the money, the self-centered tweets and the luxury of it all. America recognizes these athletes and supports them.

There’s a more unique and peculiar interest in a humbled superstar athlete, too, but it goes unrecognized. To be selfless and incredibly talented is not unheard of— it’s just the mere fact that being humble while in the spotlight can be rare.

Bring forth Chelsea Leiva, an athlete that falls into the latter category. The Panther redshirt senior forward has made, and is still making, her mark throughout the University.

On Oct. 5, 1991, Leiva was born into a West Palm Beach household filled with Cubans: two older brothers, a mother and a father— all bare-bone competitors. It was only fitting that Leiva picked up a bat and decided to get initiated into the world of sports at a young age.

“I think I started playing tee-ball at three [years old],” said Leiva.

Life at home was busy, with every sibling of Leiva’s on the move. Being inside was almost unthinkable. Regardless, Leiva adored her childhood.

“I loved [my childhood]. My brothers and I played sports, and we were constantly outside,” said Leiva. “We would play video games, but we would come home from school and go straight outside.

Leiva’s brothers played baseball while she would play soccer. Amongst the frenzy of big games, loads of dirty jerseys and cleats brimming with dirt, it made the moments shared at home that much sweeter.

“When we were home, it was awesome. We were also really close with my grandparents. It was always family-oriented,” said Leiva.

Parents in the life of an athlete give love and support, something Vivian and Albert “Corqy” Leiva provide no matter the circumstance.Family, love and care were the foundations of Leiva’s childhood, which made the transition to sixth grade and beyond an easier ship to sail. Saint Juliana Catholic School in West Palm Beach was Leiva’s home throughout middle school.

“I talk to maybe two or three people still from [Saint Juliana],” said Leiva. “We always look back on how strict it was. No ankle socks, no hoop earrings, no nail polish— it was like jail.”

As chuckles from Leiva reverberated throughout the room overlooking the basketball court, she painted a picture of whom she was during those younger years.

“I thought I was the coolest person alive. With sports and everything, I probably thought I was a big shot,” said Leiva.

Before finishing her time at Saint Juliana, Leiva made her mark. Almost every major sport was graced by the ever-busy athlete: basketball, soccer, softball and track and field.

“One time, I left a track meet — literally ran off the track after crossing the [finish] line — to go to a soccer game,” said Leiva.

After stepping off the grounds of the Catholic school for the last time, Royal Palm Beach High School harbored the young athlete from 2006 to 2010. Chelsea Leiva didn’t just start off her freshman year of high school on the right foot, she put both feet forward, set herself and jumped straight over the top.

Her first sport, and she wasted no time in trying out, was volleyball, a game she has never played before.

“The first sport that I played in high school was volleyball, just because it comes so early in the fall,” said Leiva. “So, I played junior varsity. I had never played volleyball before high school. Right away, [coaches] were like, ‘We gotta move her up to varsity! She’s really good.’”

Statistic majors, take these numbers down: 116 kills, 71 service points and 53 blocks. Those were Leiva’s senior year volleyball stats. After nearly doubling every national average, why would such a dominant player choose soccer over volleyball?

“Volleyball’s fun — it’s fun to watch, too — but I love soccer. There’s no other route. That’s just the way it is,” said Leiva, while also noting the greater amount of experience leaning towards soccer.

After excelling in both soccer and volleyball, full ride scholarships were flowing into the mailbox of the Leiva household. For soccer, almost every school in Florida came down from the mountaintops to seek out the unique talent of Chelsea Leiva. Florida Gulf Coast University, Stetson University, the University of Florida and University of South Florida were just the tip of the iceberg. FIU proved to be the warmest home for Leiva, and for good reason.

“It’s close to home and close to my parents,” said Leiva. “Honestly, I felt that right away, once I got here, it was meant to be.”

Leiva mirrored her impact during her freshman years of high school and college. As a first-year player, the skilled forward had 10 goals, 22 points and a conference-best five game-winners. Freshmen athletes usually are flustered and mixed with emotions, but the script was rewritten with the Palm Beach native.

“I was so scared. But I was also really anxious and ready to learn from a different coach, someone who has a different perspective on the game,” said Leiva.

The achievements and record-setting numbers are continuing to grow. Leiva is on pace to become a top five goal scorer for FIU, and, at the time of writing, she’s sitting comfortably at number three all-time for FIU in points.

Just as the numbers were being spewed out at Leiva, her humble attitude, as alluded to before, began to show. This isn’t about her— it’s about the team.

“I honestly want to leave [FIU] with no regrets, knowing that I gave 100 percent each day,” said Leiva. “But I want the team to succeed; I want us to go far. I really think we have the opportunity to win the conference.” said Leiva.

This is a most characteristic answer from the captain; an answer that portrays the mold of Leiva. During 2013, her senior year, she was ready to lace up her cleats and take off sprinting, ready to do anything for her teammates and coaches. Unfortunately, the next bit of news that trickled down hindered her ability to help guide the Panthers.

Leiva would be sidelined for an entire season due to an ACL tear.

The frustration, the choice words — all of this was bundled into one melting pot of emotion.

“As soon as the injury happened, I knew right away,” said Leiva. “I heard a big pop. I felt it… I knew it was over. The hardest part was telling my parents.”

The Leivas were ready to help their daughter move onto campus once they were given the news. Her father displayed even more emotion than Leiva, realizing that his pride and joy wasn’t going to be able to participate in the sport she loves.

“When I told them, my dad was even worse than I was. He was really mad,” said Leiva. “I told him, ‘Dad, it’s just a knee.’ But [2013] was the hardest year ever.”

Fully recovered and feeling stronger than before, Leiva is wasting no time in giving the team every ounce of energy from head to toe. She has something that is unique: “nevma polymisti,” which is Greek for “warrior spirit.”

When asked where her warrior spirit comes from, Leiva said, “It’s just passion. I’m very competitive; my whole family is. When you know your team can win these games, you get really passionate and want to win.”

As the end of Leiva’s collegiate career comes nearer, there’s one thing that will be missed most about it all.

When posed the question, she looked down and exhaled a breath of air. Before uttering the words, she took a small moment to collect her thoughts, smiled and looked out the windows towards the court below, her eyes filled with heartfelt emotion.

“[I’ll miss] being part of the team and seeing the girls all of the time. When we are all together, it’s just hilarious. It’ll be weird sitting at home and not having anyone say, ‘Hey, let’s grab a bite to eat.’”

This last year for Leiva is special. The roster is full to the brim with talent, with each coach working to oil the machine that is the FIU Women’s Soccer team. Through the ups and downs, each moment is proving to be worthwhile and life-altering for Leiva.

From tee-ball to NCAA soccer, the latest chapter is ready to close and this ship filled with memories is ready to dock. A ship with a worthy captain: a captain named Chelsea Leiva.

About the Author

James Profetto
:Staff Writer for FIU Student Media. Majoring in Broadcast Media. Sports guru with a passion for movies, music and getting to know people. Aspiring play-by-play commentator. You'll see me on TV one day.

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