Athlete Spotlight: Yi Du

Sophie McDonald
Sports Editor

10,484 miles.
That is how far freshman goalkeeper Yi Du is from her hometown of Shanghai, China.
Du is the first Chinese soccer player in Racer history and had six saves in the Racers’ first game against Ball State, three saves in the 2-1 loss against Western Carolina and two saves in both the 1-0 win against Troy and the 2-1 loss against Bellarmine. But she has not always played soccer.
At 8-years-old she began playing basketball with dreams of becoming a professional, but after six years in the game those dreams were dashed.
“The coach in the youth game tried to recruit some new player and kicked me out,” Du said. “Because I’m not tall enough there is no future.”
It was that heartbreak which led her to the game of soccer.
“I really wanted to be a member of a sports school so my coach transferred me to soccer team to be a goalkeeper because (she said) it’s similar to basketball,” Du said. “I don’t know to be honest, I just did it.”
Despite her success in the sport, Du said most children in China don’t play soccer because of the time commitment.
“When I was in a sports school we had a training class four hours each day,” she said. “It’s really hard so the parents don’t want the kids to do hard things, they just want the child to do easy things.”
Her father was not in favor of her moving across the world to go to school.
“He don’t really want me to come here because he want me to stay with him,” she said. “So before I come here we had very big fight.”
With her mom’s support, she pursued Murray State under the encouragement of Sun Wen, 1999 FIFA World Cup team member and Olympic silver medalist.
“(Wen) told me how important it was to come to a university, it’s not enough to just graduate from high school,” Du said. “If you want to do things, if you want to help people you must have some ability but if you don’t have ability from a university it’s not possible.”
After sending her parents photographs of Murray, her mother said she will visit in the future and her father is rethinking his initial reaction to her move to the U.S.
“My father changed his mind,” she said. “He thinks maybe it was a wise choice; it’s a different experience of life.”
Growing up as an only child, Du said she enjoyed her mother’s good cooking and spending time with her dog, but the 6-foot 1-inch athlete never received encouragement from her parents.
“(My father) never says, ‘You did good,’ he never, ever, ever said these words,” she said. “It’s total different because I know the parents here always say ‘good job’ to their children. My parents don’t say that. If you did good they say nothing but if you did something wrong they will tell you.”
Her new teammates on the soccer team are Du’s favorite part of Murray and it is from them she received encouragement and admiration of her athletic ability and as a person for the first time.
“They always tell me, ‘Good job, Yi,’ and ‘Well done,’ they always say those things,” she said. “I just think I’m doing my job, being goalkeeper and saving the goal and the ball, I think this of my job, I should do this and try my best to do it, but they always say, ‘You did good,’ and it makes me really happy.”
According to Du, her position of goalkeeper is uninteresting.
“For others they can get a goal whatever the position but for the goalkeeper the only thing you can do is stay there and watch the whole game,” she said. “If you make a mistake people are going to say, ‘Whoa, how terrible the goalkeeper is. It’s easy to catch ball, how she can let the ball pass?’”
Regardless of the pressure, Du said she plays the game for the moment of victory that comes with a saved ball.
“It’s hard but sometimes when you save a goal you save the whole team so it makes me feel like a hero or something,” she said.
Five years ago, she had a shining moment of heroics she said she will always remember.
“We had a game with Japan and the Koreans, and we played in Japan,” she said. “Our team is not the best one but finally we got a championship because I saved a lot of balls.”
After the 90 minutes of that game were over, Du said the score was 0-0 and a shootout began.
“I saved four balls and that’s a lot,” she said. “They also put my picture in the local newspaper and I am so proud of myself at that moment.”
Even though Du’s ability to play soccer moved with her to the U.S., her ability to understand the language of her surroundings is still a work in progress and is the hardest part of her transition to Murray, she said.
“The others, my teammates, they’ve already make some new friends in school because it’s easy for them because they use the same language,” she said. “Even the other international students (on the team) speak English, so it’s not a problem for them. But for me, I always do things alone. My teammates do love me and they try to talk to me but I cannot understand so it’s hard.”
However, she said she is determined not to let the language barrier affect her contribution to the team.
“Right now in my life here (soccer) is not the only thing but the most important thing,” Du said. “Coach gave me the chance to be here so I want to show her she just did a wise choice.”
In the future, Du wants to influence other Chinese athletes to pursue university sports and studies.
“I have like a dream I would like to help some Chinese player who is really good at sports things,” she said. “In China we don’t have that much chance to go to university because we spend lot of time on training so some of us don’t really have the chance after they graduate high school, they just stop and have to find a job by themselves. It’s like they spend a lot of time on something but finally they’ve got nothing.
“But I think they are good enough to come and play for colleges, so maybe in the future I can do something to help them to finish the university to use that talent.”
Coach Beth Acreman said she has been happy with Du’s addition to the team.
“Her English is really good for it being her second language,” she said. “I think she’s really mixed in well. She’s got a fantastic personality which will really help her, she’s very outgoing and is fun to be around and I think she has come in with the right attitude to play well here.”
A few technical changes were made to Du’s game, but Acreman said the Shanghai Friendship graduate has handled it well.
“The American style is different than the Chinese style,” Acreman said. “The goalkeepers aren’t used to punting the ball or goal kicking the ball as much as she’s had to do here, normally defenders do that for them in China, but she came in and has been hardcore. The running is a lot harder here than she’s used to but she’s handled that well and I would say her personality is helping her out. She’s very confident and mixes in really well with the girls and we’ve been really happy with everything.”
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