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Soccer Mom: Rochester United player chasing her dreams at age 30

Shelby Packard is living out her soccer passions this summer while playing for Rochester United FC. She’s doing with her two favorite sidekicks — her 5- and 2-year-old daughters — in tow.

United FC player Shelby Packard
Rochester United FC player Shelby Packard and her daughters Kayleigh, 5, and Oaklyn, 2, on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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The “what-might-have-been” questions had hung in the air for too long.

So, Shelby Packard set out trying to answer them. The 30-year-old native of Tampa, Fla., did it in a decidedly unconventional way: By toting her 5- and 2-year-old girls to soccer practices and games, Kayleigh and Oaklyn off to the side playing while their mom's Rochester United FC teammates and coaches occasionally joined them.

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That went on this spring and summer, when Packard played for the Women’s Premier Soccer League team.

This has been a “team” in every sense and Packard’s gratitude is immense for the way she’s been treated and the opportunity she’s been afforded.

A star soccer player and four-year high school varsity player in Tampa Bay, Packard never gave college soccer a try, too burned out on the game at the time to keep going.
But it later ate at her: What might she have become had she played college soccer? After all, she was a potential Division I player.

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“I did high school soccer all four years and was also on a club team,” Packard said. “Plus, I was very involved in high school, in two academic clubs, in marching band and concert band and taking high-level classes. I was doing a lot with the combination of it all. Once I got to college, I didn’t have anything left for soccer. By then, I just wanted to play intramurals.”

Packard never vacillated on that choice. But once those college and nursing school days were done and there finally was time to breathe, that’s when it hit her.

Back at it

“I got that competitive urge back,” said Packard, who married at 22 and had her first child with husband Jonathan Packard at 25. “I did a few triathlons, training for a few months at a time for those races. But I didn’t love those. I never found any (exercise) that I loved other than soccer. (After college) I ended up regretting that I didn’t play college soccer. I see this as now my time to prove myself.”

There was a family move to Knoxville, Tenn., and along with it a sudden re-immersion into soccer for Packard. She found adult leagues to play in, her favorite ones the co-ed variety where the competition was highest.

Third-year women's soccer franchise Rochester United FC has a pack of local players this season who figure to be impact players.

“I played as much as I could,” Packard said. “I made friends and played on better and better teams. I played for about a year and then got pregnant again.”

Six weeks after having had second-child Oaklyn, she was back on the pitch, subbing herself out of games briefly in order to nurse her new daughter. Then it was right back out there.

Packard’s soccer flame was lit in Knoxville and it’s not gone out since.

Finally, just more than a year ago, there was another family move, only further north this time. This one landed them in Rochester, with Jonathan having received a fellowship to work in emergency medicine at Mayo Clinic.

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Packard had wanted to give the Women’s Premier Soccer League a try while in Knoxville, but there was no team within driving distance to join. But upon doing her research about Rochester, the discovery was made that the city housed a fourth-year WPSL team, Rochester United FC.

Any foot-dragging by Packard about moving to a cold-weather climate was lessened upon learning about this WPSL franchise.

Packard tried out for the team a year ago and was assigned to Rochester United FC’s reserve team. She was told at the end of that season by the Rochester United FC coach at the time that it was unlikely she’d ever ever make the top team.

That was all it took. Now Packard was really “all-in.”

“He told me that I didn’t have the collegiate-level training that was needed,” Packard said. “I took that hard, but it motivated me. I don’t like when people tell me I can’t do something. So I tried hard to work on my fitness, which had been my weakness. I headed to the gym and worked out as much as I could.”

That got the 30-year-old where she needed to go. She made Rochester United FC’s top team this spring and spent this entire season being among its top players, at midfield. The team’s final game is today in Fargo, N.D.

Husband is a No. 1 fan

Packard did all of that — including 90-minute practices five days per week starting in March — while getting ample support from her No. 1 fan, husband Jonathan.

“I love that she’s doing this,” Jonathan said. “It’s super fun to watch her. There is some juggling of our schedule that goes with it, but it is something that Shelby gets so much enjoyment from. I love walking into games with our kids and them yelling, ‘Hi Mommy.’ ”

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Packard has appreciated the stiff competition that the WPSL offers, calling it tougher than any co-ed league she’s ever experienced. She’s also appreciated the mix of players that are on her team, with a handful of women approximately her age, a few recently out of college, a few in college and about six fresh out of high school, many of them bound for college teams in the fall.

The broad range of ages has been a plus for Packard.

“I wasn’t sure how that was going to go,” she said. “But I love all of these girls. The 17-18 year-olds, I really enjoy practicing and playing with them. They are all sweet and shy. They remind me of myself when I was in high school. I try not to be too motherly with any of them. I want them to know I respect them. I don’t want them to feel weird because I’m 10 years older than them.”

Packard hopes to be back on the team next season and to continue working on her game this coming off-season. But she’s not sure either will come to fruition.

Trying to make it happen with two kids under the age of 6, and with a husband who is gone much of the day, is no easy feat.

But she is hoping that somehow, some way, she is back out there and better than ever.

“I regretted that I didn’t play in college,” Packard said. “But this has been my opportunity to prove myself that I would have been good enough to do it. This gives me another chance to live out my dream.”

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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