John Garvilla recognized his daughter’s natural athletic talent when she was 5 years old.
Garvilla, who lives in St. Charles, is a former college soccer coach and athletics director, so he spotted her abilities early. She was fast, coordinated and loved playing ball.
Samantha Garvilla, now 18, started playing soccer and basketball competitively when she was 8 or 9. She excelled and her father could see her playing as a high level athlete in the future.
She was 11 when she tore her ACL in her right knee. Her father told her she had to chose between basketball and soccer. There was no way she could play both having suffered this injury. He tried to push her toward golf.
“I have an artificial knee,” he said. “I didn’t want my daughter to walk like me.”
Samantha chose soccer. She played club soccer year round. She trained hard and stood out on the field. She was 12 when she tore her ACL again. After the rehab, she was undeterred. She refused to quit the sport she loved.
During her freshman year at Francis Howell High School she was recruited by Darlington School in Rome, Ga., to attend on a soccer scholarship. She was training four to six hours a day at school, and she loved it.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said.
The team was getting ready for regionals the beginning of her sophomore year. She was playing in a scrimmage when she went in hard for a tackle.
“Right away, I knew what it was,” she said. “By the third one, you know.”
It was the ACL in her left knee this time. The surgeon told her that there was no way she could go back onto the field.
“Your knees are not going to hold up,” he told her. “You’re not going to last.”
She was devastated to leave Darlington.
It wasn’t just the torn ACLs. She had suffered 12 meniscus tears and has undergone 10 surgeries. She came back to Francis Howell to finish her sophomore year.
The beginning of her junior year, she decided she wanted to play goal, a position less prone to the injuries she’s had. This would be late in a young athlete’s career to switch, but she told her parents she was committed to playing.
“There are certain things you can’t teach,” her father said. “Speed, height, athleticism. She has a teachable spirit. She loves the game.”
He made sure she had access to the best trainers in the country. She didn’t have the experience playing goalkeeper in as many games as her peers, but she was fearless. Her family started getting contacts from Division 2 colleges. They sent her highlight reel to more places. And, Samantha started getting offers from Division 1 schools.
“What a lot of people saw was raw talent,” John said.
They took their daughter around the country to visit colleges that were recruiting her. They were still considering the offers on the table, when Samantha asked her father to take her to the doctor.
She had bruised her back in practice and her entire middle area was hurting. The doctor asked if she had been feeling bloated, and she said she had.
She wasn’t injured, the doctor explained, after she ran a test.
Samantha was pregnant.
She called her mother hysterical. Her mother picked her up, and they walked out the back door, while the doctor broke the news to her father.
When she saw her father, she broke down and said: “Daddy, people are going to point at me and say that’s the girl who ruined her life.”
John told her that people may point, but God had a plan for her.
“You’re going to get through this,” he said. “We’re going to count this baby as a blessing.”
Kim, her mother, said she went through all the stages of grief about the loss of what could have been her daughter’s future. She suggested considering adoption, but Samantha said she wanted to keep the baby.
Her parents are still raising a 15-year-old and two 13-year-old sons, so they told her this child would be her responsibility, although they would support her and help her as much as they could.
Samantha cried a lot. She told her boyfriend. She couldn’t accept the idea of giving up her baby.
“I had the ability to raise him. I have the support of my family. There was no reason except it would have been easier for me,” she said.
She accepted an offer from St. Charles Community College to play soccer on a scholarship there. She plans to use her financial aid to pay for daycare.
She delivered her son Braxton on Feb. 11.
Her mother said that shortly after her delivery Samantha said it was good that the baby came a few days early. She would have six weeks off and be back in time for practices by spring break. She would be ready to play when the season starts in her senior year.
“The dream has never wavered,” Kim said.