VICTORVILLE, Calif. — Victor Valley Rams soccer player Jackie Hererra is not your typical community college athlete.
The 44-year-old mother of two just started playing soccer a few years ago, when she enrolled her daughter in a youth soccer program. The coaches recommended that the parents join a soccer league to learn the game.
She did and it immediately sparked a fire.
Wanting to learn more about the game, Herrera signed up for a soccer class at VVC. She began training and continued to improve her game when her husband encouraged her to try out for the Rams soccer team.
“My husband is so happy,” said Herrera, a Lacaro Cardenas, Mexico native who speaks English as a second language. “He said ‘I told you, you can do it. You can do whatever you want. You are very good at sport and academic achievements. So why not?’
“My kids are so proud. My 9-year-old daughter says, ‘Mommy I want to be like you and play soccer (in college).'”
Victor Valley soccer coach Michael Bradbury overlooked Herrera at first.
“There were 30 women out there trying out for 20 spots,” Bradbury said. “I could tell technically she was a little behind, but athletically she was outstanding. She was in better shape than 80 percent of the team.
“The only reason I could come up with to cut her was because of her age and that wasn’t a good enough reason.”
Bradbury felt that the team would benefit from having someone inspiring like Hererra on the team so the mother of two slapped on her shin guards and laced up her cleats.
“She’s three years older than me,” Bradbury said. “She can out run (her teammates) and she’s telling the girls exactly what I want to tell them without me having to say it. Here’s a lady who almost trained the entire year just to try out, to maybe make the team. She’s sending my message. That I’m going to keep players that are dedicated, committed, self-motivated and mature. ”
Herrera has seen action in six games, including one start, getting playing time at forward, midfield and on defense.
“If you asked coaches within our conference how old she was based on the way she moved on the field,” Bradbury said, “when they heard at the conference meeting at the end of the season that she was 44, their jaws dropped. If you watched a game you would not be able to pick her out.”
Though Herrera is a natural athlete, she did face her challenges as being the most senior team member competing against girls just a little more than half her age.
“Its hard for me,” she said. “At first they would look at me like what are you doing here? But now that they know me and know how I play. They are very nice and respectful of me.
“The mentality you face for the challenges, you have to work for. To compete with (the other girls), sometimes I think I can’t make it when some girl is running faster than me. But it’s only mentality.”
Bradbury, in his 13 years of coaching at VVC, has never had an experience quite like this.
“She is very unique,” Bradbury said. “I have seen programs at the junior college level that have allowed older players. The oldest I had witnessed was 36. I never personally thought that someone like Jackie would come along to my program.
“She is a role model and the girls look up to her. The first words out of their mouth (about Jackie) would be a compliment.”
Jackie’s family — her husband Raymundo, daughter Denisse and son Randy — are her biggest fans.
“My players would be looking down the sidelines and say, ‘Wow’ with (Jackie’s) children jumping up and down cheering (for their mom),” Bradbury said. “The reaction of the team, the way they responded … (to) her youthfulness. You couldn’t do this unless you weren’t able to adapt to an environment that could be super intimidating.”
Born in Mexico, Herrera moved to the US in 1992 after meeting her husband, who was on vacation in Mexico. She worked in the sewing industry and was a stay-at-home mom before taking an English as a second language class at VVC.
She plans to continue playing soccer and will transfer to Cal State San Bernardino to continue her education to become an accountant.
“Even if I don’t make the university (soccer team), I will try out,” she said. “Why not? If not, I will continue to play in the women’s soccer league here. I love it.”
Her coach sums it up best.
“She’s telling women of America and the girls on my team to never stop dreaming because dreams can come true.”