A middle-aged woman walked over to a restaurant table where Ashlyn Harris sat finishing her meal.
Harris remembers the woman paid for her food and said, “You are much younger than me and you don’t know me, and I guess I really don’t know you, but … you saved my life.”
It wasn’t the first or last encounter of its kind for the Orlando Pride goalkeeper.
By sharing her past struggles with depression, aggression and addiction, Harris has forged deep connections with fans that extend beyond the soccer pitch.
“There’s a gentleman who’s older, over 50, who said I’ve helped save his life, who’s contemplated suicide for I don’t know how long,” Harris said. “He shows up every week to give me a hug, to wear my jersey. If that keeps someone alive, you bet I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that I take the time to go over, say hello, give him a hug, see how he’s doing. Takes less than five minutes.
“Five minutes is worth saving anyone’s life.”
Harris returned from a long injury recovery to play in the Pride’s 5-0 win over Sky Blue FC on Saturday night.
While she had to take a two-month break from NWSL and U.S. women’s national team matches, Harris has used social media channels and various public events to make sure she never lost her connection with fans.
Her injury changed the conversation surrounding the goalkeeper situation for the national team. Harris and Alyssa Naeher were front-runners, competing to take over for Hope Solo. Harris fans worried she might fall too far behind or lose her spot altogether to a younger player called up to help while she recovered.
The concern was theirs alone.
“Next year is when it really matters,” Harris said. “Right now it’s an off year, so lineups are changing, personnel are changing. This is a year to test things out and see how we do. I think it’s good for overall growth for some of these young kids to come in and evolve and not freak out every time they come into camp.”
She wasn’t always so level-headed. It took years of personal reflection and seeking help from…